Entrepreneurial education – a scholarly field with no future

I will never forget the day I met Dénis Gregoire, an entrepreneurship researcher who deliberately stopped doing research in entrepreneurial education. We met in 2011 at the BCERC conference in Syracuse, USA. I had read his work with admiration, and was indeed starstruck when I met him at one of the evening receptions. What he said has stayed with me ever since: “Ah, so you are doing research in entrepreneurship education! Very interesting field indeed. But it has no future, so I have had to leave it” (or something along those lines, I did not have ny dictaphone on). And indeed he has left: his last cited article on the topic according to his Google Scholar profile is from 2007.

Stubborn and new to doing research (I was an IT entrepreneur for a decade prior to signing up for PhD studies), I was not put down by his comment, but pursued research explicitly and exclusively focused on entrepreneurial education in its many shapes ever since (i.e. both enterprise and entrepreneurship education). But now, four years later, his comment has started to reappear in my head again. And I will try to summarize why.

How a scholarly field evolves

Burbules has stated (here) that the development of a scholarly field is determined not only by what research is done and what findings emerge, but also by who is included and excluded through the conditions set up by journals, conferences, editors and reviewers. Each decision to include or exclude a contribution / contributor shapes the future of that field. And while rejects are being issued every day in the academic field and need to be considered a part of the painstaking process of doing research, their stated reasons also say something about the future of a field. In his case it was Burbules’ own scholarly field “philosophy of education” which in the 1980s had come to realize that it had excluded women over a period of several decades. Indeed a limitation for a scholarly field to only include male contributors. If you were a woman in a Philosophy of Education conference evening reception in the 70s, someone could certainly have said something in line with Gregoire’s comment, had it been a woman talking to another woman new to the field: “There is no future for women in this field”.

ETP: “Don’t even think about it – we WILL desk reject you!”

Back in 2012 one of the leading journals in entrepreneurship (ETP) put up a note on their website that they no longer accepted any contributions in entrepreneurship education. It was later taken down, but it sent a powerful message to the research community. Don’t bother us at ETP with any educationally relevant findings. We don’t want them in our fine entrepreneurship journal. And sadly it makes sense. For a scholarly field to reach academic legitimacy, it must keep clear lines between what counts and what does not count as part of that field. Entrepreneurship has its own academic legitimacy problems it needs to take care of. And education obviously is a very different field from entrepreneurship, so the message was logical. And it added to Gregoire’s statement of the scholarly dead-end of entrepreneurial education.

Some recent failures

What made me think of Gregoire this year was my soon-to-come PhD defense, meaning that I need to hand in those last couple of articles for publication attempt. I emailed a contact at one of the leading journals in my field, one of the very few ones with ambitions beyond entrepreneurship (AMLE), to ask if they were interested in my work. The reply was disappointing, and with implications beyond my own work. The study objects in my work were not entrepreneurs or business school students but students in primary education, so the editor was not interested whatsoever. Go see a general learning journal was the polite reply. So now we know that in order to be relevant for top journals in the scholarly field of entrepreneurial education, we need to be careful not to pick the wrong kind of students to study. This is exactly the kind of interdependence Burbules talks about, now shaping the scholarly field of entrepreneurial education. Who knows how many rejects have been issued, by AMLE and by others, due to “wrong” dataset in the interdisciplinary field of entrepreneurial education, or due to other delimitations deemed necessary to stay within the narrow confines of “entrepreneurship”?

Next up was an attempt to get a paper accepted in a special issue by another leading journal (JSBM). This time they had explicitly asked for contributions that addressed the disconnect between entrepreneurship and education. Great! Let’s submit. And so we did, and got a “revise & resubmit” in April, happy so far. But then in second round we were rejected. And why? Well, for many reasons probably, but a primary reason was that our paper was addressing the wrong audience – educators. It was not deemed to be within the audience of the journal, which is arguably entrepreneurship, or “small business” as the journal title reads. So not even when a special issue editor asks explicitly for interdisciplinary contributions it is okay to be just that – interdisciplinary. In addition to that, the main reviewer rejecting us asked how we could posit that Customer Development by Steve Blank was entrepreneurship and how we could assume that a reader was familiar with Sarasvathy’s work. Some dark part of me wanted to reply: “Let me Google that for you”, but by then the scholary discussion was already over. For the sake of openness to readers to make your own interpretation, I provide the full review here. It constituted the only viewpoint on which the decision to reject was taken. Its resentful style could be viewed as rather amusing, had it not been for my career taking a further step down the drain from it and leaving other interdisciplinary ent-ed researchers at similar peril.

Be careful out there!

The learning generated from this anecdote has implications far beyond our little contribution attempt. This was likely a reviewer anchored in education, and thereby not so well versed into the scholarly field of entrepreneurship. It seems not only doing research is difficult in an interdisciplinary field, so is reviewing and editing such work. You would perhaps need to double the amount of reviewers – two from education and two from entrepreneurship – since neither field arguably understands its neighboring galaxy (yes, they are that far apart these two domains). And have both a guest editor and main editor committed to interdisciplinary work, which seems to have lacked in this case. Otherwise you risk ending up in a situation of the deaf trying to communicate with the blind and vice versa – leading expert in one field, not even novice in another.

This leaves entrepreneurial education scholars with no high ranked outlet for their work. And in academia you will not survive for long without at least one or two articles in a relatively high ranked journal. Performativity requirements are being enforced everywhere. So you leave the field. Or you die sooner or later as a scholar in the field by being ejected from the system for non-performance. Or you have it as a hobby. That is what Gregoire saw in 2011, and that is what I now see too in 2015.

Some survival strategies

One of my articles is about two distinct flavors of entrepreneurial education – egoistic versus altruistic. We want it into a high ranked journal, so we are considering to cleanse it from any mention of education. Given that it is a requirement for all top journals. That way we at least have a chance of getting it into a leading journal, and stay in scholarly business as researchers. Another way to survive is to do quantitative research with massive randomized controlled trials. But while that method renders highly publishable work, you end up on the far side of the rigor versus relevance scale. Such results are thus not deemed so useful for practitioners according to many educational researchers (I won’t bore you with a long list of references here, but check out Reeves here). It is a way to stay in business, but perhaps not a scholarly way to make an impact on educational practice.

Another option is to do research outside of the academic system. And that path I am also testing. Some of my largest studies are done from my newly started research methodology venture. But that is not something we can count on many scholars to do. Instead we will likely see a strait jacket development of the field for many years to come. And the continuous stream of lower ranked journals accepting a wide stream of articles with varying quality (some very good indeed).

A final option I will test before putting out the light is to try getting published in top education journals. But if their understanding and appreciation of the scholarly field of entrepreneurship is as low as evidenced above, it will turn out to be yet another dead-end. Indeed, the educational researchers in my home country of Sweden have been frowning at entrepreneurship entering their field ever since they heard about it, probably asking themselves “What can those capitalists possibly contribute with that we haven’t already thought about?”. When you are done explaining the most basic aspects of how entrepreneurship indeed can contribute, you will most likely have run into the 8000 words limit, excluding a possibility to also make a novel contribution.

POST EDIT: Stuck in the middle with you

This blogpost generated a fair amount of feedback through social media when initially posted. Researchers from more than one European country outside my own stated that they very much recognized their own situation in the above description. One had been advised to leave the field since it was deemed uninteresting by many editors of leading journals. Another had tried publishing in educational journals instead, but had encountered similar interdisciplinary challenges but from the other end. Yet another had received good advice from education journal editors, which signifies that it could be a viable survival strategy – of course depending on university policy at those places you are employed today or where you want to get employed in the future. Many entrepreneurship scholars are limited by what ABS ranking stipulates, which limits possible action. From this we can conclude that entrepreneurial education will in the forseeable future repel talented scholars and thereby limit its progress as a scholarly field of study. Practice will thereby have to continue spearheading any developments, leading to a continued theory deficit in the field – particlulary learning and education theory.

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Please help me develop a new educational philosophy! I have four questions…

After six years of action-based research on entrepreneurial education I am about to finalize my doctoral thesis. It will be about value creation as a new educational philosophy, or learning-by-(using-knowledge-for)-creating-value-(to-others). I view this as an attempt to build on Dewey’s educational philosophy of learning-by-doing, trying to give a more firm answer to the question Learning-by-Doing-WHAT? Or, what should we let our students do in order for them to learn more in-depth and also to develop entrepreneurial competencies?

I have made a 10-minute video about it in English here and in Swedish here. I have also written a summary of entrepreneurial education for OECD where I outline many of my perspectives on this educational philosophy. The English version is here, and the Swedish version is here. I’ve also recently written a working paper outlining some differences between self-focused and others-focused entrepreneurial education, read it here.

The usual case for a doctoral thesis is that it will be read by almost nobody. The usual reader frequency is about 2 people – the opponent and the supervisor. This time however I know that there are people out there who are interested in this educational philosophy already. Some have  started using it explicitly, whereas others are already working like this but not labeling it learning-by-creating-value.

Therefore I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask for some help with my doctoral thesis. I have formulated a couple of questions below. Any attempt to give answers to these questions is highly appreciated. E-mail me, comment on the blog, Tweet me or call me. I have also made a web survey where you can type your thoughts on these matters, please find it here. Here are the questions:

Why is it so rare for teachers to ask of their students to create value to people outside class? I have discussed this question on page 12 in my latest working paper “Two Flavors of Entrepreneurial Education”, which you can find here. My guess so far is that it is a combination of a couple of reasons. One possible explanation could  be  that  today’s  teachers  view  themselves  as  suppliers  of  knowledge  and  view  their  students  as customers, i.e. a “students-as-takers” culture.  So the idea of regarding them as givers of value to others never crosses their mind. Another explanation could be that adults don’t perceive youths as capable of delivering value to outside stakeholders, and therefore seldom give them a chance to even try.

Why do students get more motivated and learn more in-depth from creating value to others? Much of my work has been about discussing how, when and why students learn when they create value to others. For example, in my lastest working paper linked above I have dug into motivation theory to try to find answers to this. But from a very practical point of view, what is the difference here? Any reflections are appreciated here!

How can we get more teachers to work with value creation pedagogy? While it is perhaps a nice idea in theory to let our students learn by creating value to others, how do we get our fellow teachers to start applying it in their classrooms? Educational change is perhaps one of the most challenging issues in our education system today. So what are the challenges that need to be overcome? What are the neat tips and tricks that get it going in practice? How can we increase the rate of adoption among teachers and schools?

What are the most illustrative examples of value creation pedagogy out there? We humans understand by example. When we hear about how something is applied in practice in a concrete way, we get what it is all about. So what are the most illustrative and insightful examples of value creation pedagogy out there? What value was created, for whom, and why? What did the students learn from it, and how did it connect to curriculum content? How was each student supported and assessed by the teacher, during the process and afterwards?

Please continue to my web survey and give me some much needed answers and reflections:


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“It’s the teachers fault!” Students attacking their entrepreneurial teachers

We humans like when things go our way. When we don’t end up in unexpected trouble, when we don’t end up as prime target for angry rallying people. We prefer smooth operation, and a moderate level of change. I think this is a main reason why truly entrepreneurial education is very rare in education today. Without using proper tools, entrepreneurial education is often a recipe for teachers ending up in trouble, stress and calendar strain due to the complexity of interacting with the world outside schools and universities. Therefore, most teachers don’t make their teaching as entrepreneurial as they perhaps would like to, out of self-preservation. Why mess up your life? Why not just do what the system expects in terms of traditional chalk-and-talk and keep your calendar open to family, leisure and relative calmness.

My working definition of entrepreneurial education is when we let students use their knowledge to create something of value to stakeholders outside our school / university. This requires relations to be established with such stakeholders, a time-consuming job that someone has to assume responsibility for. My way of solving this is to let my students establish these relations themselves, on behalf of our university. They generally like this a lot, but it always results in both strong positive and strong negative feelings. When people from the outside world like what the students are doing it leads to strong personal growth, pride and a feeling of meaningfulness and relevancy (and of course deep learning of curriculum content). When on the other hand these same external people dislike what happens in the collaboration process, and from time to time things end up troublesome, the students’ emotions are rather characterized by strong anguish, discontent and distress. The same thing happens when the outcome of the process is uncertain. To most people, uncertainty is really scary. And what happens then is that their resulting emotions need an outlet. Who better to direct these negative emotions to than to your own teacher? After all, it is the teacher’s fault that the course is not as structured and predictable as all the other courses provided by other teachers. And why the hell can’t the teacher just tell me what will happen now? At Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship we have seen this every single year for two decades now. Indeed, when I was a student here myself, I was one of the most emotionally explicit students, rallying againsts my teachers a lot.

I often try to tell both my fellow teachers and our students that negative emotions are an important part of entrepreneurial pedagogy, and that it is a good sign that we are doing something quite right. This does not always lead to people calming down, neither my colleagues, my students nor myself. I wonder how I had reacted to such an “excuse” for educational messiness and ambiguity 15 years ago when I was pouring my own anguish and distress over my teachers.

Yesterday I found myself (again) in front of ten students rejecting my attempts to explain that negative emotions are natural to the process – “This is entrepreneurship!”, “This is what you signed up for!”, I tried to say. Rejecting this, they instead asked me to confess all my mistakes made as a teacher during the last six months. And boy did I confess. “Sorry for putting you in such an ambiguous situation with outside stakeholders holding you accountable. Sorry for trying to give you a really good educational experience, it was all my fault. And I even did it on purpose, knowing how bad you would feel about it. Let’s all go back to traditional class-room lecturing with no real-life content. Then you can get your 100% waterproof course-PM. You will know exactly what will happen, every minute of it all.”

I don’t know if they forgave me. They are probably still upset with me. So I thought i’d write this text to reflect on it. One good thing that we have now that didn’t exist 15 years ago is the entrepreneurial toolbox of effectuation, customer development, appreciative inquiry, design thinking etc. I think this can be a way to simplify for the teacher and streamline the complex and emotional roller-coaster process that entrepreneurial education can result in. It could also serve as an explanatory base for the students, to show them what they are experiencing and why they feel so bad about it. One of my favourite quotes is from Blank: “If you are not prepared to fail, you are destined to do so”. Read more about these tools here in my paper for OECD on entrepreneurship in education, or watch my short 10-minute videos about it here.

But entrepreneurial and experiential education will keep leading to emotionally distressed students at times. And what should they do with their negative emotions? Whose responsibility is it to cure them from their uncertainty and ambiguity fever? And what is the best way to break the news? Ideas anyone?

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Bridging the traditional versus progressive education rift

Two years of writing and testing out my ideas in practice in the municipality of Sundsvall, Sweden, have now taken me to finalize an article and submit it to a scientific journal for publication. The idea put forward is that tools from the entrepreneurship domain can help teachers bridge between traditional and “progressive” pedagogy, allowing for combining standardized curriculum with individual students’ needs and abilities. This is one of the most important challenges in education according to Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor in education.

In the article I also outline and define the idea of value creation as pedagogy, or “learning-by-creating-value” that we have worked with at Chalmers for two decades, and that has the potential to be used on all levels of education, from preschool to university. This idea has been adopted by the people I work with in Sundsvall, see their video in Swedish here, and their website here.

If you want to read it, send me an email and I could probably send it to you. Since it is in double-blinded peer review right now I cannot post it here.

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Presenting at a webinar for OECD on value creation as pedagogy

Today I will be speaker at a webinar hosted by OECD, topic is a practitioner paper I have done for OECD on Entrepreneurship in Education – what is it, why to do it, when to do it, how to do it. Attendees are researchers, teachers and school managers from around Europe interested in the topic. It is a preparation for a conference in Berlin in November where around 100 researchers, school principals and teachers will spend a week to discuss entrepreneurship in education. All of these activities are part of the Entrepreneurship360 project hosted by OECD, read more here.

In this webinar I will be focusing on what entrepreneurship is, why it is relevant and why it is often neglected, and how to do it in practice when applying a “value creation as pedagogy approach”. My slides for the webinar can be found here: Webinar OECD 141024.

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Three research-informed ideas hopefully contributing to best-in-Sweden for Sundsvall’s schools in 2021

Tomorrow I am in Sundsvall talking to around 200 school management people.  My task is to give a background on entrepreneurial education / learning, and to propose some ideas for the future to school managers in Sundsvall in their ambitious mission to become Sweden’s most successful school municipality by the year 2021 in a prestigious ranking by SKL. They found me through a Youtube film I published 1,5 years ago on my research, and they have identified my idea of learning-by-creating-value as an interesting strategy to achieve educational excellence (the idea is outlined in my dissertation here). It goes well with their focus on improving the value creation ability of the public sector in Sundsvall, a mission articulated by the “managing director” of Sundsvall, Stefan Söderlund. I have spent the last couple of weeks outlining three ideas that hopefully can inspire them to achieve their goals. These three ideas are outlined below.

Idea 1: Focus on the how-to question. Articulating ambitious goals is the easy part, whereas the difficult part is identifying stategies that really work. Drawing on my proxy theory stipulating that instead of focusing on the entrepreneurial competencies, we should focus on the critical events leading to developed entrepreneurial competencies. Applied to general schooling this means that school authorities should identify critical events that they believe create a superior school, and then steer the schools towards generating such critical events, for example making students interact with the outside world, create value to outside stakeholders and work for prolonged time in teams, preferably months or even years.

Idea 2: Change perspective on value creation. Instead of asking outside stakeholders to create value to the students by participating in class and giving guest lectures etc, students should be asked to create value to external stakeholders, leading to deep learning and increased sense of meaningfulness and relevancy. Here I relate to John F Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

Idea 3: Measure in new ways. Beating the competition means you have to innovate. An old saying is that what you measure is also what you get. So if you want to improve your results one way can be to try articulating novel indicators of success and measure them across the entire municipality with novel IT-based methods, replacing the good old yearly student questionnaire on goal-related factors. I propose an integration of the three aspects formative assessment, systemic quality assurance and in-depth project outcome review. This approach is based on my research recently published on an emotion based approach to assessing entrepreneurial education, published here.

These three ideas could hopefully inspire some people in Sundsvall. Here are my slides (Framtidsinspiration Sundsvall 140917 handouts) in Swedish from my talk. Please come back to me in seven years and I will tell you if they made it to the top!

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How our entrepreneurship students learn and how we can improve assessment of entrepreneurial learning

An intriguing master thesis was completed just before summer by one of our students at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, read it here. The student, Christoffer Kjernald, had taken a theory from my research and tested it on his classmates. He labeled it “the proxy theory”, and it basically says that activities can be used as a proxy for assessing development of entrepreneurial competencies. Instead of assessing the entrepreneurial competencies themselves which is very difficult, the assessment could focus on certain kinds of activities leading to the development of entrepreneurial competencies, such as meeting potential customers, presenting for investors, managing other master thesis students and searching for funding. The proxy theory is described in-depth in my dissertation here and in a published article here.

By interviewing 12 fellow classmates approaching the end of their education, Christoffer uncovered a list of 12 different kinds of activity that they stated to be important for their own learning at the entrepreneurship program. The two most important activities were working with the same group of people for a long time and meeting potential customers in an early phase. This is in line with my own research having found that interaction with the outside world and team-work experiences are two of the most important kinds of events leading to development of entrepreneurial competencies, see my dissertation here. He also furthers my research by specifying that different kinds of presentations to others generate different kinds of learning. Presenting in front of classmates generates different kinds of learning than presenting for potential customers. And presenting for potential investors generated a third kind of learning, different from the learning generated when presenting for classmates and customers. This implies that when we label student presentations as a teaching technique, we are describing it way too shallow. The audience and context are very important factors for which learning outcomes are generated among the students.

He further found that out of these 12 different kinds of activity, only five of them are explicitly assessed at our master program today. While we today are assessing if the students make cold calls, make school presentations and meet their idea providers, we do not assess whether they make customer presentations, search for funding, manage other master thesis students or take major decisions. As Christoffer points out it is perhaps not so easy assessing activities that are not experienced by all teams. It could also lower the motivation and engagement if students are not doing these activities on their own initiative, but as part of a formal assessment. Still, it is highly interesting to see that activitiy based assessment holds much further potential here at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. What does this imply for education programs where activity based assessment is not at all used today? Perhaps this is a straightforward and smooth way of increasing the level of entrepreneurial competencies being developed among students in many different kinds of education and age.

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Slides from Framtidsfrön study and from seminar Göteborgs Stad

Here are some slides from this week’s seminars. On Tuesday I presented a study I’ve done together with Framtidsfrön. The slides are in Swedish. Download them here: Presentation av resultat – förstudie Framtidsfrön 140520 – handouts On Thursday I held a full day workshop / seminar at ABF. The slides are in English. Download them here: Full day seminar in English – Göteborg – 140522 – handouts

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Slides from biomimetics conference

Tomorrow I am speaker at a conference focusing on biomimetics and interdisciplinary innovation. Here are my slides (in Swedish) from that conference: Gränsöverskridande innovation – Biomimetik 140328 – handouts

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Slides from Gothenburg and Sarpsborg

The last week I have presented my research on two occasions – in Gothenburg (GR Utbildning breakfast meeting) and in Sarpsborg (Norwegian conference on entrepreneurship in education). I promised to add my slides to this blog, and here they are: Presentation Sarpsborg 140226 – Handouts

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