Last week I was in France to meet research colleagues in entrepreneurial education from around Europe at the yearly 3E conference. One of the hot topics was assessing students through reflections. Of the 52 research papers presented, 39 touched upon reflection or assessment one way or another. Naturally, I spent the week reflecting much around how to assess students summatively or formatively through reflective assignments. What better way to end this week than to write down some of my reflections here on my blog?
I will first share some aspects of what was presented at the conference. Then I will give some of my own reflections based on a decade of working with reflective assessment with my own students and with apprenticeship educators around Sweden. These reflections are structured around a ‘stairway model’ of progression in how to assess students in value creation pedagogy.
What did scholars bring up in their papers?
Let’s first briefly summarize some key things written in the papers presented at 3E. I won’t share all the 52 papers here, but if any of the phrases below triggers your curiosity, send me an email and I will share that paper with you. I’ve not read them all, but I did a quick PDF search around reflection and assessment. Some illustrative phrases were:
“…combining experiential, vicarious and reflective learning” (Aadland et al.)
“…writing reflective essays” (Farrokhnia et al.)
“In reflective coaching, the coach aims to trigger inner development” (Gabrielsson et al.)
“…requires students to become reflective, critically aware” (Higgins et al)
“…through reflective practice [students] can increase their understanding of their own weaknesses” (Lynch et al)
“…encouraging reflective learning through a learning-by-doing approach (Martina et al)
“…four interconnected stages: active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation, and abstract conceptualization” (Politis et al.)
“The reflective educator must be prepared to re-design their teaching” (Robinson & Shumar)
“…we ask students to write reflective journals” (Solbreux et al.)
“Reflective Essays on what learning students gained” (Somià)
Reflection is a job for students, it seems. Only one paper treated the teachers’ own reflections. Some papers see reflection as something that happens implicitly as an effect of learning-by-doing, wheras others explicitly ask students to write weekly logs/journals or post-action reflective essays.
The session with Prof. Britta M. Gössel at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
The paper with the strongest focus on student reflections was written by Britta Gössel, a well-known and much appreciated scholar in our field. Naturally, I had to attend that one. And it was packed! Britta had planned to include an interactive workshop. But that was now impossible! So she first presented her paper that treats the follwing question: How can the development of key competencies in sustainability and entrepreneurship become visible through reflection logs? Then we discussed this for half an hour in plenary.
The engagement from people was substantial. It was obvious how much the topic engaged people. How to assess students through written reflections? What tools and methods can be used? What theories can underpin it all? How to make student reflections interesting and deep, instead of boring and annoying for both students and teachers? How can teachers make time for giving students feedback? And how to analyze the textual data?
In her article, Britta wrote about how she had used the university’s learning platform to collect student reflections. Students were asked to reflect weekly for around 15 weeks, and then to do a meta-reflection in the end of the semester. Afterwards, Britta had made word-clouds in an attempt to grasp the text and analyze which competencies students had developed. Here is a word cloud around entrepreneurial attitudes:
An a-ha moment for me – the value of apprenticeship education for entrepreneurial education
From the discussion it was apparent that most participants struggled with getting reflective assessment to work well in practice. How to vary the questions students reflect upon? How to collect the reflections? How to give good feedback? How to treat the textual data in terms of analysis? Some participants shared their experiences. Britta listened attentively. This was really a hot topic for the 3E community. Some of my closer colleagues remarked to the audience that I might be able to give some answers to Britta, since they know that I’ve worked extensively with digital student reflection.
There and then I realized something. My research on apprenticeship education could actually be quite useful for the 3E community. In parallell to my work with entrepreneurial education, I have spent the last 8 years working intensively with apprenticeship educators in Sweden. We have developed a digital tool for reflective assessment that is widely used by around 20.000 people in Sweden. I think we now have some 3.000 teachers and 17.000 students on secondary education level working with us specifically with reflective assessment. Last year, I summarized the learnings around assessment into a stairway model that I’ve written about in Swedish here and here. I mentioned the model in the plenary, and it triggered a lot of interest. So I thought I’d share a translated version of it here.
The stairway model of how to assess value creation pedagogy
I do a lot of research on ‘value creation pedagogy’ – letting students learn through creating value for others. The most extreme form of value creation pedagogy is apprenticeship education, where students spend 50% of their time at a workplace. Their teachers face some extraordinary demands on their assessment regimes. Therefore, they need to have a rather different assessment strategy. The teacher’s need for structure and control over the learning process needs to be combined with a large space for students to improvise and be creative in value creation. I therefore liken it all to jazz. If there is any phenomenon where many people together succeed in combining structure with creative improvisation, it is jazz. Value creation pedagogy in its most advanced form is like big band jazz, where teachers take the role of jazz orchestrator and distribute the initiative to students based on different pre-determined themes and “chords”.
Having successfully helped many apprenticeship educators around Sweden to manage their assessment in digital ways, we developed the stairway model to explain what we’ve seen. The stairway contains six steps, illustrating progression in assessment work through an increasing level of sophistication for each level up in the stairway. I will briefly go through the six levels below. To the right in the figure below, I relate to the jazz metaphor.
Level 1: Reflection
The most basic assessment strategy is to let students reflect in a digital logbook. It can be compared to loose jazz phrases by occasional jazz musicians. Free reflection gives a lot of room for improvisation but is not very structured or coordinated. Such an assessment strategy is easy to get started with but does not support the assessment of more sophisticated learning journeys. It also takes a lot of time for teachers to interpret large amounts of unstructured text when it is time to grade.
Level 2: Portfolio thinking
Assessing students’ competence by examining their creations has a long tradition in aesthetic-practical subjects and is called portfolio assessment. The creations are often linked to experiences and abilities through reflection, so-called portfolio thinking. This makes students active co-creators of formative assessment rather than passive recipients of grades. Combinations of text, image and video provide good opportunities for such assessment in digital form. We can see this strategy as a kind of pre-recorded solo jazz that is sent to the teacher. It allows for a great breadth in performance and also a clear structure for teachers. However, it does not provide as good support in what students need to do in order to learn how to create different works.
Level 3: Activity-based assessment
At the third level, the learning journey is more clearly described through series of action-oriented assignments. Here we begin to see the benefits of structure in combination with improvisation. With a set of different assignments, relatively sophisticated learning journeys can be textually described in action form. This is the first step where we see greater time savings in the assessment work. Here, the teacher follows students as a kind of jazz conductor with a pre-planned arrangement for the whole class. Each action-oriented assignment is a kind of chord the student can improvise to in the outside world and then reflect upon with a combination of text, tags, image and video. The chords are put together in arrangements (content packages) that students are expected to improvise upon during longer time periods, often a course, a semester or an entire year.
Level 4: Three-party collaboration
In the fourth step, a key person is added outside the school and becomes part of the digital assessment work. This step is common in vocational training with supervisors in the workplace who also read students’ reflections. Just like in jazz, the audience here gets an active role to play by giving inspiring feedback, what I here call assessment for motivation (AfM). Achieving a time-efficient tripartite collaboration in everyday life has proven to be almost impossible without digital support tailored to the purpose.
Level 5: Community of practice
In the fifth step, the teachers begin to exchange content packages with each other. This facilitates the dissemination and testing of more sophisticated learning journeys. It is more difficult to compose a unique learning journey yourself than to orchestrate a class based on an existing learning journey that someone else has composed. Therefore, the teachers benefit greatly from being able to share activity-based content with each other. Together with vocational teachers, we have been working with content packages since 2019, a way of working that has quickly become widespread. Today, there are about eighty different content packages developed for all national vocational programs. I guess that within a few years we could hope to see a spread of different content packages also for entrepreneurial education.
Level 6: The scientific teacher
The most sophisticated approach we have seen is when teachers not only exchange content packages with each other, but also analyze all students’ reflections and recordings collected with the digital reflection tool with scientific analysis. The purpose is to see which different activities give which effects on students’ learning. I’ve written an entire book about this approach, but it is in Swedish. It’s called ‘The Scientific Teacher’.
What next for the entrepreneurial education community?
I’ve experimented with digital reflective assessment for a decade now, both in my own teaching and with apprenticeship educators. But it has been a challenge to get entrepreneurial education scholars to join this intriguing work. A few early pioneers have joined – Mats Westerberg in Luleå, Sarah Robinson in Århus, Philip Clegg in the UK and of course my colleagues at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. But the large majority has not yet formed a “collective entrepreneurial intelligence” around this topic. Maybe the 3E conference in France can be a new starting point here?
Let me know if you want to work with me on action-reflective challenges!
If you email me, I can share with you some intriguing results from my latest cohort of entrepreneurship students. To trigger your curiosity, have a look at the figure below! It summarizes the quantitative self-coding of 350 reflections from my students having conducted 30 different action-reflection challenges centered around interaction with something I call “S-persons”. An S-person is defined as:
“A significant stakeholder relevant to your project but NOT part of your project or emotional owner to your project (i.e. NOT your idea partner, other close partner, funder, sponsor, internal coach, corporate coach, teammate, etc)”
These 30 challenges can be found in a content package I’ve made available here. You can easily try them out at your own program/course, and afterwards we can compare the data sets in a scientific way. The statistics shown in the figure below are rather intriguing, I think. But as interesting as statistics can be, it is in the qualitative reflections that the most interesting stuff resides. This year, over a period of 8 months, I received around 90.000 words of emotionally strong reflections. It’s around one book. So if you read one book a year or more, you will have time to read your students’ reflections too. And the students loved to reflect in this way! One student wrote to me:
“The module was a perfect way of thinking in new and more innovative approaches to reaching S-persons. The way it has been designed is almost like a video game where you are challenged to complete a specific set of tasks. Unfortunately, what we unlock by completing these tasks is not food, money, or tangible assets but rather invaluable knowledge and experience that might be taken for granted or overlooked.“
That heartwarming quote tells me that we might be onto something important here.
[This is an English translation of Chapter 9 found in my new book in Swedish about value creation pedagogy, see link here. Thanks to Google and to Hugh Mason for help with this translation]
There are many good examples of students who learn through creating value that contributes to a more sustainable world (see part two). Value creation pedagogy is an effective way for students to learn more about sustainable development. Teachers gain access to concrete tools and methods that help students develop their ability to act on sustainability issues. Students get to try out an important future skillset in practice — sustainability development — a role that will soon become a necessary part of most professions. The chance that they choose a life path that contributes to a sustainable future then increases dramatically. We have seen in our research that identity development requires learning-by-doing. More specifically, doing that is specifically directed toward creating value for other people, animals, nature and for the planet at large.
Chalmers has a long tradition of fostering sustainable development. It has been a core value for as long as I can remember and, for decades, every single report students write has been required to relate to sustainable development. Over the years, we have also trained many social entrepreneurs at our School of Entrepreneurship. They have since gone on to dedicate their lives to create value through cancer medicines, algae production, underwater power plants, medical devices, water purification products, educational apps, biochar methods and much more. I myself have also run a social enterprise for almost eight years with a focus on UN global sustainability goal four — good education for all. Before that, I ran a company in environmental innovation that helped truck drivers to save fuel. So I have been immersed in questions about sustainable development throughout my adult life.
Nevertheless, this was by far the most difficult chapter for me to write.
Two halfwit middle-aged engineer types
As a white man in middle-age, I find my thinking limited when I consider sustainable development. Perhaps, as a square engineer, I’m morally sluggish. Or maybe it’s because, as an entrepreneur, I have always allowed pragmatism to prevail – “If the customer pays, I’m doing the right thing”. What is right or wrong is always contingent and debateable, surely? Well, that’s what I saw in a cartoon long ago, showing a satisfied entrepreneur with a briefcase.
However, sustainable development is different. It is difficult to negotiate with biodiversity that has disappeared, or with dictators who use refugees as political weapons. Today, growth, satisfied customers and profitability alone cannot dictate what is “good”. Increasingly, the issue is what kind of world we want to pass on to our grandchildren, and so how our actions today contribute to a socially, ecologically and economically sustainable future. I have had to reassess and learn anew.
A friend of mine, Göran Christiansson, has also become my teacher here. We joined Chalmers at the same time, but only got to know each other last year, through a book writing circle in which we both participated. His book is about both the footprint we each leave behind and the handprint we may leave on others’ backs as we nudge them towards living in more socially and ecologically sustainable ways too.
Yet I must say that, like me, Göran also seems a bit of a halfwit. It was only at age 45 years that he realized that the problem of sustainability was himself. In his book, he writes about leaving a well-paid engineering management job at roller bearing corporation SKF to become an organic farmer in the Dutch walnut tree industry. Determined to reduce more than his own footprint, he also wrote a book that inspires others to do the same. Every middle-aged engineer who is as much of a halfwit as me should read Göran’s book when it’s finished, then share it with their friends.
Two twins growing up in different places
Working with your footprint and handprint creates value for many different others: for humans, society, animals and nature. “Value creation pedagogy” and “learning for sustainable development” then seem very similar. Semantics may hold me back in making a distinction between them, for, when I asked a teacher how value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development can be combined, I got an interesting counter-question back:
“How do you not work with learning for sustainable development when you work with value creation pedagogy?”
It’s a good question – the similarities are striking. Maybe learning for sustainable development is an identical twin to value creation pedagogy, separated at birth and growing up in two different families in two different places? If so, it’s understandable that they developed a little differently, because nurture matters as much as nature. Figure 9.1 shows how I try to sort these two twins apart.
When I read literature about learning for sustainable development, I recognize a lot from my own field of research. In both fields, authors write that it is possible to teach “about” and “through” respectively: to lecture about the phenomenon itself, or to let students learn through action by being allowed to act. Why not strike a balance between both? For some reason, the emphasis is usually on learning “about” sustainable development and learning “about” being entrepreneurial. This leads to an unbalanced curriculum.
Figure 9.1 Comparison of value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development.
There are many similarities in the ways both value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development are treated in schools. Both phenomena have problems with low priority despite support in formal curricula. Both present challenges in practical pedagogy and assessment. Both raise strong feelings: in value creation, interaction with unpredictable outsiders can easily become an emotional roller coaster, while sustainable development raises anxiety about climate and social injustice in young people that triggers some to become angry activists like Greta Thunberg. Also, many technologies, such as genetically modified crops, stem cells, irradiated food and nuclear power, start to appear unpalatable.
Both value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development imply questioning the status quo and trying to find new tools and working methods that are better for humans, animals, nature and the planet. Thus, both share the difficult challenge of simultaneously applying action, social activism and a critical approach in order to overcome society’s managerial mentality — the widespread preference for the status quo. As early as the 16th century, Machiavelli wrote:
“…nothing is harder to organize, more likely to fail, or more dangerous to see through, than the introduction of a new system of government. The person bringing in the changes will make enemies of everyone who was doing well under the old system, while the people who stand to gain from the new arrangements will not offer wholehearted support, partly because they are afraid of their opponents, who still have the laws on their side, and partly because people are naturally sceptical: no one really believes in change until they’ve had solid experience of it. So as soon as the opponents of the new system see a chance, they’ll go on the offensive with the determination of an embattled faction, while its supporters will offer only half-hearted resistance, something that will put the new ruler’s position at risk too.”
I think the length of the quote is justified by our context. I could even have made it longer by including words from the following page in Machiavelli’s book: “the visionary who has armed force on his side has always won through, while unarmed even your visionary is always a loser.” So, a school must not hesitate to arm its students with the tools and methods they need to succeed in making our world more sustainable. Value creation pedagogy offers a strong arsenal of weapons that I perceive its twin sister lacks, so I must also highlight some differences.
The most obvious difference between value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development probably lies in methods of action. I have searched the literature on learning for sustainable development in vain for advice to teachers that is both concrete and theoretically well-founded about how students should develop their action competence. Maybe such advice is out there but, if so, it is well hidden. This is then a strength of value creation pedagogy that can be offered to teachers working with sustainable development. It offers a tried-and-tested toolbox with an easily explained purpose — to create something of value for others — which develops students’ action competence.
Another difference concerns values. Value creation pedagogy has its roots in entrepreneurship, which is classically associated with individualism. In contrast, learning for sustainable development has a focus on poverty reduction, climate activism and reduction of injustice, and so is inherently rooted in collectivism. Thus the two phenomena may be pictured as addressing a shared challenge from opposite directions, meeting in the narrow middle ground in today’s polarized society. During my last two years as a doctoral student I made a significant transition towards collectivism, recognising that students might be empowered by creating value for others. The addition of the two words “for others” left some of my research colleagues with individual-focused perspectives on classical entrepreneurship behind, but opened many new friendships in schools.
A third difference is philosophical. Value creation pedagogy is built on the philosophical platform of pragmatism: if something is useful, it’s good (and vice versa). I wrote about value creation as pragmatism in my first book, so I will not repeat myself here. Turning now to the twin sister, I am just getting acquainted with her philosophical basis. I sense that sustainable development rests on the same moral-philosophical ethics as Kant’s writing on idealism and world citizenship. Sustainable development seems more to be about the ideal world we want in a distant future, than the world we have today and what is pragmatically possible for an individual to do here and now. Therefore, learning for sustainable development presents political challenges for schools that adopt it. Such schools become politicized from the corner of collectivism rather than individualism.
A fourth difference I perceive arises from the first — powerful identity development. When tools and methods for value creation pedagogy and its assessment are used by teachers, we witness young people undergoing a profound change in their self-image. They assume a new role in society, seeing themselves more as value-creators for others. This new identity guides their future choices. No doubt many climate and social justice activists undergo similar identity changes, but rarely as a direct effect of an educational initiative. Yet, if we encourage our two twins to move in together, the education system might deliver new Greta Thunbergs and Malalas like an assembly line, ready to take action on environmental and social development issues … just as teacher Maria Wiman predicted (see chapter 4).
Complementary strengths in learning for sustainable development
While this book aims to share the joy of value creation pedagogy, she does not offer all the answers. Her sustainable twin sister’s parents put tremendous effort into exploring what is valuable beyond money. The UN’s seventeen global sustainability goals may represent the most sophisticated value model the world has seen, divided it into 169 sub-goals. What a gift for the value-creating teacher: one hundred and sixty-nine possible starting points for students’ value creation!
Sustainable development requires systemic innovation on a scale that individual entrepreneurial people and groups can seldom implement alone, as well as calls for action in political and collective dimensions that entrepreneurial methods rarely cover. For example, an interesting method called backcasting starts with a vision of the future that is desired, and then works back in time back to the present, along the way identifying leverage points where effort now can most effectively bridge the gap to to the desired future. Highlighting what is absolutely crucial for the future in this way can then guide students’ experimentation in the present.
Another advantage of learning for sustainable development is its solid base in both the natural sciences and social sciences. An inherently interdisciplinary phenomenon tears down classroom walls and connects subject silos to reveal a more meaningful whole. Value creation based on the global sustainability goals facilitates co-planning, co-assessment and subject interdisciplinarity, linking seventeen compulsory curriculum subjects to seventeen ethically mandatory sustainability goals to offer a giant matrix with 289 boxes within which teachers and students can grow. Matrices are popular in school. Or, in any case, common.
On an emotional level, learning for sustainable development can also contribute a lot, since it is all about the world that youths will soon take over. Students’ concerns about sustainability are well documented. Eight out of ten young people are anxious about the future, and four out of ten to such an extent that they are hesitant about having children of their own. Teachers now get an opportunity to turn that anxiety into something positive and meaningful, making education a platform for sociopolitical activism that simultaneously strengthens students’ motivation to study, their democratic values and their knowledge across all the sciences. This bridges between traditional and progressive pedagogy, creating a better balance between two of schools’ most central missions: the democracy mission and the knowledge mission. The two twins may be the missing superheroes we need to make this happen. Teacher Sara Nelson (2021) captures this succinctly in her thesis on education for sustainable development:
“value creation pedagogy offers a sustainability didactic approach that can be both playful and hopeful at the same time as it is meaningful and creates value for someone else – and is for real.”
Two complementary perspectives
One way of looking at the difference between value creation pedagogy and learning for sustainable development is to frame it as an analog for two classic contradictions: individual-versus-collective, and process-versus-outcome. I see value creation pedagogy as more focused on individuals and processes, offering many specific tools and methods to help individuals navigate processes of uncertainty, emotionality and innovation. Sustainable development, on the other hand, seems to me more focused on collective society, its ideal state and the enormous transformations of social systems that need to take place for us to realise the future we all desire, so serving as a “north star” for a school that seeks to educate citizens for the future.
Making these two distinct phenomena seem similar is then perhaps unnecessary. Their fundamental differences are what make them complementary. Being entrepreneurial without some form of ethical compass or vision can be dangerous. Consider pirates, careless technology entrepreneurs, criminal syndicates and unfettered financial speculation. Discussing major challenges around a sustainable future without offering the means for individuals to take action seeds alarmism and unnecessary anxiety. These twin sisters really seem to need each other.
Making a difference: directly and indirectly
My study of sustainable development made me realize that actions can have either a direct, or indirect, impact on a sustainable future. For example, a direct impact might result from choosing to cycle instead of driving a car, to sort your own waste, or to clean a beach together with friends. An indirect impact might arise from debating sustainable development in the media, influencing organizations to take a more sustainable direction for the future, demonstrating about sustainable development in streets and squares, calling for a boycott of unsustainable products, or encouraging others to sort their waste. Much like my friend Göran’s difference between footprint and handprint, but in other words.
Direct impact is easy for students to achieve and politically unproblematic for teachers. However, it risks overlooking root causes and structural societal problems in which governments, companies, public actors and the non-profit sector play important roles. Indirect impact often requires more knowledge and offers greater risks for teachers to support, such as potential criticism from parents, colleagues, managers, politicians and others. Researcher Derek Hodson (2013, p.328) likens it to riding a tiger:
“Those teachers who promote political involvement and develop action skills are riding a tiger, but it is a tiger that has to be ridden if we really mean what we say about education for civic participation. It is an exhilarating ride for both teachers and students.”
Concepts in learning for sustainable development
Finally I would like to mention some organizations which have developed ready-made templates for teachers who want to work with sustainable development. The pitfalls of such templates are covered in Chapter 4, primarily the risk that students may feel low motivation if they do not participate in the design of activities. Many templates for sustainable development lack the waist of the spider diagram (see Chapter 6) — the opportunity for students to interact with and create value for outsiders. This may be a temporary problem if our two twins are allowed to hang out regularly. But beware.
Even so, templates can certainly be an easy way for time-stressed teachers to get started. An excellent and current overview of different templates for learning for sustainable development in Sweden is offered by Remvall (2021, pp.99-102), citing organizations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the World Wildlife Fund, the Global School, Brevvännerna, Keep Sweden Clean, Ashoka, the UN and the Swedish Consumer Agency. Materials for teachers are offered on all these organizations’ websites.
Almers, E. (2009). Action competence for sustainable development: Three stories about the way there. University of Learning and Communication,
Baumol, WJ (1990). Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive. Journal of Political Economy, 98(5 Part 1), 893-921.
Björneloo, I. (2012). Action competence on the schedule. In K. Rönnerman (Ed.), Action research in practice – preschool and school on a scientific basis Lund: Studentlitteratur. pp. 141-153.
Bursjöö, I. (2014a). Education for sustainable development – abilities beyond the curriculum. Research on teaching and learning, 12, 61-77.
Bursjöö, I. (2014b). Education for sustainable development from a teacher horizon: context, competencies and collaboration.
Fohlin, N., & Wilson, J. (2021). Meaningful learning – democracy and conversation in school. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Hodson, D. (2010). Science education as a call to action. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 10(3), 197-206.
Hodson, D. (2013). Do not be nervous, do not be flustered, do not be scared. Be prepared. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 13(4), 313-331.
Hodson, D. (2014). Becoming part of the solution: Learning about activism, learning through activism, learning from activism. In Activist science and technology education: Springer. pp. 67-98.
Hodson, D. (2020). Going beyond STS education: Building a curriculum for sociopolitical activism. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 20(4), 592-622.
Holmberg, J. (2019). Unsealed water? – then expeditions are needed! In J. Algehed, E. Eneqvist, C. Jensen, & J. Lööf (Eds.), Innovation and Urban Development – A research anthology on organizational challenges for the city and municipality of Borås: Stema. pp. 65-76.
Holmberg, J., & Holmén, J. (2020). Co-creative adaptation work – Backcasting expeditions for Agenda 2030. Stockholm: Sveriges Kommuner
och Regioner Holmberg, J., & Robèrt, K.-H. (2000). Backcasting — A framework for strategic planning. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 7(4), 291-308.
Johnson, C. (1988). Enterprise education and training. British Journal of Education and Work, 2(1), 61-65.
Kemp, P. (2010). Citizen of the world: The cosmopolitan ideal for the twenty-first century.
Lackéus, M. (2021). The science teacher – a handbook for research in school and preschool. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Lans, T., Blok, V., & Wesselink, R. (2014). Learning apart and together: towards an integrated competence framework for sustainable entrepreneurship in higher education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 62, 37-47.
Machiavelli, N. (2009/1532). The prince. Penguin books, UK.
Mogensen, F., & Schnack, K. (2010). The action competence approach and the ‘new’discourses of education for sustainable development, competence and quality criteria. Environmental education research, 16(1), 59-74.
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. (2014). Sustainable development in school – please stay tuned. Stockholm: Naturskyddsföreningen
Nelson, S. (2021). Education for sustainable development – An exploratory study of “sustainability didactic approaches” for subject teachers and teacher students Master thesis, Lund university, Lund.
Remvall, I. (2021). Method book for change heroes – sustainable and value creation pedagogy in the future-oriented school. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Schindehutte, M., Morris, M., & Allen, J. (2006). Beyond achievement: Entrepreneurship as extreme experience. Small Business Economics, 27(4-5), 349-368.
Spahn, A. (2018). “The first generation to end poverty and the last to save the planet?” – Western individualism, human rights and the value of nature in the ethics of global sustainable development. Sustainability, 10(6), 1853.
Stagell, U., Almers, E., Askerlund, P., & Apelqvist, M. (2014). What kind of actions are appropriate? Eco-school teachers ‘and instructors’ ranking of sustainability-promoting actions as content in education for sustainable development (ESD). International Electronic Journal of Environmental Education, 4(2), 97-113.
Tiessen, JH (1997). Individualism, collectivism, and entrepreneurship: A framework for international comparative research. Journal of Business Venturing, 12(5), 367-384.
Örtenblad, A. (2020). Against Entrepreneurship (3030479374) Springer
 See also book by Remvall (2021).
 See Hodson (2013, p.324) in Learning for Sustainable Development and Johnson (1988, p.62) in Entrepreneurship Education.
 See, for example, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (2014).
 See Bursjöö (2014a).
 See Schindehutte, Morris and Allen (2006).
 See Hodson (2014, 2020).
 See Machiavelli (2009/1532, p.23).
 Some examples of central writings are Almers (2009), Mogensen and Schnack (2010), Stagell et al. (2014) and Lans, Blok and Wesselink (2014). See also Björneloo (2012).
 See Tiessen (1997).
 See Lackéus (2021, pp.84-96).
 For a moral-philosophical review of learning for sustainable development, see Bursjöö (2014b, p.45-48). See also Spahn (2018) and Kemp (2010).
 Hodson (2010, p.204-205) writes about politicization of education.
 See Holmberg (2019).
 See Holmberg and Holmén (2020) and Holmberg and Robèrt (2000).
 See Hickman et al. (2021).
 Read more about the school’s democracy mission in Fohlin and Wilson (2021).
 See Baumol (1990) and Örtenblad (2020).
 See Jensen (2002).
 The difference is well described in Hodson (2013, p.328).
In this chapter, I take a more detailed look at what value creation pedagogy is. Word by word, I go through key details and perspectives. It will be a bit of word-twisting, because if our words are limited, the world we live in will also be limited.
I’m not the first to focus on students’ value creation for others in education. Medieval apprentices and Freinet’s pedagogy of work were far ahead. Several of my contemporary research colleagues have also touched upon the idea before. But perhaps value creation pedagogy is the most specific semantics that has been proposed. I often think that the accelerator pedal we today call value creation pedagogy has always been there. With a whole host of pedals for teachers to choose from, however, too few feet have hit the exact pedal this book is about. A more specific semantics puts the headlight on a rarely used accelerator pedal that has been shown to make the educational car rush forward like a newly charged electric car. There are of course many more nice accelerator pedals – other educational ideas that give different desirable effects, but you can read about them in other books.
The meaning-seeking student
Research certainly takes time. After four years of work, we had come up with four words – learning by creating value. I wrote about this in my licentiate thesis in 2013. But what happened then was that many people misunderstood us. They believed that we meant that students would learn by creating value for themselves. Which all teachers already work with every day. So we had to spend two more years researching two more words – for others. I wrote about these two words in my doctoral dissertation, which was completed at the end of 2015, and in a research article published in 2017. Focusing on “the other” creates a deep sense of meaning in us humans. Meaning-seeking is in fact one of humans’ strongest driving forces. A telling example is the so-called parental paradox. Why do so many want to have children when it is so obviously hard and stressful? Well, because it increases the sense of meaning in life. Own happiness and meaningfulness with others are two different phenomena, for both parents and students. Value creation pedagogy can thus be a way to reach unmotivated students tired of school – perhaps it is the lack of meaning they are tired of?
Six words in six years
I do not know how time efficient we were when it took six years to research a new combination of six everyday words. But the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had probably been pleased. He loved linguistic issues and emphasized the importance of broadening our views with the help of everyday language. In my research, I have been able to clearly see how these six words broaden the views of many teachers.
When I try to trace in retrospect how it was possible to expand with two such short words that change so much, it is difficult to find the exact time in the mailbox. However, my published research articles provide clues. Words that are published can never be changed afterwards, so it’s a bit like searching among frozen thoughts. The first place we wrote about the phrase learning-through-creating-value-for-others was in an article from 2016. I and my supervisors then wrote about how students’ value creation contributes to bridging the classic gap between traditional and progressive education. Traditional education often means teacher-centered lectures for passive students, solitary student work in silence and exams. Progressive education is instead said to be about student-centered, interest-based and active learning, often in groups.
Our 2016 article was also a way to promote a better balance in schools between sharply differing perspectives, rather than further contributing to the trench warfare between traditional “chalk and talk” teaching and progressive “loosey-goosey” pedagogy. In the article, we call value creation pedagogy an educational philosophy. Even today, I do not know if I should call it an educational philosophy, a method, an approach or a way of working. Students’ value creation can express itself in so many different ways. Here in the book, I opted for calling it a way of working.
A longer definition of 31 words
There is also a longer definition of value creation pedagogy:
Let students learn by applying their existing and future competencies in attempts to create something, preferably novel, of value to at least one external stakeholder outside their group, class or school.
However, these words did not take 31 years to arrive at, but they came about already in the summer of 2015 when I gradually started writing my doctoral dissertation. The definition is described in more detail in Table 1.1. The rest of this chapter gives a detailed description and discussion of each phrase.
Let students learn
The main purpose is learning, although students often perceive it as the purpose being to create value for others.
by applying their existing and future
Students may apply competencies they already possess and those they are now learning for the first time.
The exercise aims to develop both knowledge and skills as well as attitudes. A summary word for all this is competencies.
It is the attempt that counts. If no value for others is created, learning can still occur. Students learn a lot from failing.
This is a creative exercise. Students are expected to create something that did not exist before.
the result is some kind of human creation (artifact). A physical (can be touched), intellectual (ideological) or cultural (social) creation.
That it is new is not a requirement but is desirable. From new for the student to new for the world. The more novel creation, the more emotional process.
It should be possible evaluate the creation – hopefully the creation then also turns out to be valuable
to at least one
At least one external stakeholder needs to be able to give feedback about the value that was created or not for him / her / it (can also be animals / plants).
The more external the recipient of value, the more powerful the exercise becomes, but also the more frightening and complex.
outside their group,
A first step is to let students do something valuable for other students in the class.
The next step is stakeholders outside the class but within their own school, within the safe boundaries of the school.
The most powerful step is to involve stakeholders outside the school. But also the most frightening and complex.
Table 1.1 Detailed definition of value creation pedagogy.
Let students learn…
Value-creating activities are a means of strengthening the end goal of student learning. It is by letting students create value for others that we better achieve the goal of deepening students’ learning. However, the difference between means and ends can cause confusion. Some teachers ask me what would happen to the school’s core mission if students are allowed to focus on creating value for others. I think the question is reasonable given the steady stream of pedagogical trends and ideas we have seen over the years that often disturb teachers’ focus on the core mission. Do we really get more learning by spending a little less time learning? I understand if this can feel a bit backwards at first glance. Who believes that we get to our destination faster by leaving the motorway and instead taking a smaller road? How many vocabulary tests should now be replaced with eating mold cheese?
What we have seen is that something that may initially feel like a detour here becomes an exciting shortcut. By devoting say 3-5 percent of the time to strengthening students’ sense of context and meaning, we get much more effect from the 95-97 percent of the time that still focuses on learning. It becomes like a leverage effect, see figure 1.1. The teacher succeeds better with the help of the skewer. A small stone (value-creating activities) helps moveing the many times larger stone (students’ learning). If the students for a while get to feel that the goal is to create value for others, they will be strengthened in their learning of knowledge and skills from the curriculum. Means and ends do not even have to be part of the same process. A value creation process in language class can spill over and have a positive effect on students’ involvement in completely different school subjects. A bit like a butterfly effect of learning.
Figure 1.1 Students’ value creation for others as a lever for strengthened learning.
… by applying their existing and future …
Learning is strengthened when knowledge is used in the real world. That’s how theory and practice are mixed. The focus can definitely be on topics that are currently being treated in a specific subject. At the same time, previously acquired knowledge and skills play an equally important role. In-depth and meaningful learning is often based on newly acquired knowledge being integrated with what the student already knows. Such reinforcement of meaningfulness then helps in retaining knowledge in long-term memory. For me, for example, the Spanish word bocadillo has stuck in my head forever. I can still clearly see in front of me that sandwich stand in Madrid where I tried to apply my theoretical knowledge practically.
The value of linking theory to practice may be obvious for many teachers, but how do we make it happen in practice? Here, value creation pedagogy can help teachers. Students get support in integrating new and old knowledge and skills, simply because everything is mixed naturally in “real” situations. The multifaceted reality seldom respects the strict separation and sequencing of the curriculum in different subjects and learning objectives.
Knowledge, skills, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, values and physical movement patterns are sometimes simplified into a single word – competencies. This word represents a very broad view of what learning can be. For me, the word competencies has therefore come to represent a higher level of learning. A key advantage of value-creating activities is that students’ learning is broadened to include the entire creation we humans constitute. Body as well as soul. We are now touching upon an important point, so let me explain what I mean in more detail.
Early in my research career, I fell head over heels for researcher Peter Jarvis’ theories on human learning. He wrote, like few others, about the crucial role of emotions in learning, that it is the whole body with its network of hundreds of billions of empathetic nerves that learns. Not just the cerebral cortex. For me, who had experienced a kind of learning-by-burning that ended abruptly in a plush sofa, Jarvis’ theories felt right on target.
We tend to like when our students are happy and harmonious. But according to Jarvis, harmony is a situation of non-learning. What is needed for us humans to learn in-depth are emotionally strong experiences marked by dissonance, perhaps confusion, perhaps even a bit of magic. This is illustrated by Jarvis with a few different figures on learning, summarized in Figure 1.2 below. If we want to achieve deep learning, we need to leave the calm but boring harmony of the straight line and dare to enter the dissonance bubble where students have to stretch a little bit outside their comfort zone.
But how can teachers make students experience emotionally strong experiences without throwing everyone involved into impossible complexity, assessment splits and painful uncertainty? Here I see value creation pedagogy as a functional and practically feasible way to achieve Jarvis’ vision of such powerful whole-person learning. If we succeed, students develop complex skills, not “just” isolated knowledge, skills or attitudes. Now, the word competencies is a strongly simplified word for what students can be expected to learn from value creation pedagogy, but it is in any case more versatile than talking about “just” knowledge, skills or abilities. I want you to think about all this when you see the word competencies in this book in the future.
Figure 1.2 Dissonance-based learning. Inspired by Jarvis (2006, pp.20-23).
… in attempts …
As is well known, reasonably difficult tasks are preferable. But what is reasonably difficult when it comes to trying to create something valuable for others? At first glance, this may seem very difficult, perhaps even impossible. Many teachers who have asked their students to create value for others have also told about the initial confusion a task of creating value for others can cause among students. Therefore, it is important to clarify that it is the attempt that is important. It can even be said that many students probably learn the most from their failed attempts to create value for others. However, this is not to say that teachers should maximize the level of difficulty, or that it would be good for students to never succeed.
Challenges need to be given in appropriate doses and gradually increased. Then we hit the narrow corridor called “flow” where we balance on the fine line between anxiety and boredom. The challenges we face are then in balance with our own ability. For my own part, I ended up in six months of flow when I went to an English-speaking real estate agent in Madrid. He gave me a room with a talkative and charming gentleman in Argüelles named Juan Carlos who then woke me up every morning for almost six months with a happy “¡Hola Martin! Qué tal?”. My anxiety about becoming homeless decreased, but I never got bored. I learned fluent Spanish in one semester and at the same time got to create some economic (room rent) and social value (good company) together with Carlos.
Some confusion should not deter you as a teacher, even when students are worried, protesting or demanding more clarity. Instead, we can use the confusion as a lever for enhanced learning. Students are forced to stop, think, turn and turn things around and finally move on. Then with revised mental models and deep learning as a result. But the confusion can be of the “right” kind. Researchers often talk about productive and unproductive confusion.
I myself try to strive to be clear about what is to be done (create something of value for someone else), why we do this (because it strengthens our own learning), how it should be done in practice (yes, that’s what this book is about), but not say much about how it will go for the students. It’s up to them. And they need time. Not necessarily lesson time but calendar time. Give them a week to think about it.
However, teachers need to be prepared to support students when they experience different types of negative emotions such as dissonance, headaches between expectations and outcomes, feelings of impossibility, worry or anxiety, fear of failure, misunderstanding, frustration and much more. At the same time, it is precisely these difficult-to-digest emotions that build the basis for the euphoria and arousal a successful attempt to create value for outsiders can result in. Just as in a roller coaster, it is not possible to imagine peaks without the occasional deep valley. When we leave the straight line in school without much emotion bubble and instead sometimes go into the carousel of dissonance, we have to deal with both positive and negative emotions among students, and also among teachers. In fact, this is precisely why the effects on students’ learning become so strong. It’s the emotions that do the trick.
… to create something…
We humans have always loved to create things. The evolutionary history of our species provides many examples of this. Mastering fire, creating practical stone tools, creative use of red ocher paint in various rites and cave paintings, development of linguistic symbols for communication and myth-making, construction of various floating fabrics and not least new methods of using the earth. The author Lasse Berg writes about homo habilis, also called handy man, who already several million years ago had a unique handiness in creating things.
Handiness is one of three timeless and uniquely human strengths our species possesses that can help explain the power of value creation pedagogy. Two other uniquely human strengths are social ability towards others and creativity in relation to different challenges and opportunities. Sure, there are animals that possess handiness, social ability and creativity, but no other species on earth possesses and uses these three abilities to the same extent as humans. This has given us enormous benefits over millions of years, and largely explains why our species has become so dominant on earth. Berg writes that these abilities have made us invincible. What if we could take advantage of them a little more often at school to make students join us? This is exactly what value creation pedagogy can contribute with.
Figure 1.3 below shows the three strengths in relation to value creation pedagogy. The space shuttle in the figure is on its way to high student motivation for school work. It is powered by three launchers filled with three different types of liquid learning oxygen. We can call it handiness oxygen, socializing oxygen and creativity oxygen.
Figure 1.3 Space shuttle on its way to increased student motivation for school work. The shuttle has three launchers filled with three different types of liquid learning oxygen. The figure shows the students in the driver’s seat, a place we adults should give them when we can. Teachers can instead coordinate the space shuttle’s journey across the sky of learning from a control center on the ground.
Letting students create things gives our space shuttle power from one of the three launchers. Students usually enjoy creating things, just as most people do. It can be drawings, reports, posters or brochures. It can be digital creations such as websites, blog posts, videos, podcasts or games. It can be social creations such as campaigns, sketches, sporting events, performances and games. Allowing students to work with concrete creations can deepen learning in an extremely powerful way, and is a central piece of the puzzle in many different socio-cultural learning theories in the spirit of Vygotsky. Through their own creations, students understand the knowledge material better.
Isolated creation, however, is seldom enough all the way forward. If the purpose of the creations is vague, or if no one cares about the students’ creations, well then the space shuttle still risks crashing into flume and indifference. Therefore, the large launcher with socializing oxygen in the middle is needed, which we will get to very soon. But before we get to the space shuttle’s main launcher, we’ll take a closer look at the bottom launcher that is filled with creativity oxygen.
… preferably novel…
Creating something new that becomes useful to others is often called working creatively. Now that the school according to the curriculum is to stimulate students’ creativity, it is fortunate that there are aesthetic subjects. There, students get to create new things in, for example, music, carving, drawing and sewing. Some of the students’ creations also benefit others, which is required for it to be called creativity in the full sense of the word. I have met many craft teachers, art teachers and music teachers who say that value creation pedagogy comes naturally to them. This is how they have always worked with their students, they say. Great.
But the school still needs to do more. Creativity is one of the most important and most in-demand skills in our society. Routine occupations are increasingly disappearing and are being replaced by occupations that require the ability to think anew, deal with new situations, identify new problems and create new solutions that help others. Creativity is also an important source of meaning in the lives of many people. All teachers therefore need to participate in the work of stimulating students’ creativity, not just the aesthetics teachers. Many aesthetics teachers can also do more to make students’ creations more valuable to others.
Creativity in school is admittedly difficult. Many of the school’s cornerstones hamper students’ creativity, such as clear routines, focus on predictability, detailed curricula for what is to be taught, focus on not making mistakes, assessment in relation to what is right, focus on results, individual work, competition, grades and much more. Some even say that knowledge and creativity are in fundamental conflict with each other.
To make creativity manageable in school, it is therefore often simplified into a focus on coming up with new ideas. It is of course beautiful with intuition and imagination as a basis for thinking anew. But it takes more than that to develop genuine creative ability. Students need to be able to put their ideas into action in practice, preferably in authentic social environments. Students also need to try to get the new creation to be of use and joy to someone else, preferably people outside the school. There are thus four perspectives to keep track of, see figure 1.4 below. Here, value creation pedagogy can facilitate teachers’ work with creativity in practice. When students are allowed to work to create value, they naturally get to experience all four central perspectives on creativity. Students who are allowed to take action and try to create new value for others then develop their creative ability. The value that is created can be new to themselves (everyday creativity), new to the whole world (genius creativity), or something in between. But what exactly is value? We’ll get to that now.
Figure 1.4 Guide to what is required to promote students’ creativity.
… of value …
What does the word value really mean? I was asked that question one day in early November 2015 when the world-famous professor Saras Sarasvathy was at Chalmers in Gothenburg to oppose my dissertation one last time before it was to be printed. Life as a doctoral student is seldom glamorous, but sometimes it shines. It was a magical moment when she examined the idea of value creation pedagogy. She really liked the subject and said that if John Dewey was alive today, he would probably have been a professor of entrepreneurial pedagogy. But she also saw something no other reviewer had seen before. I had completely forgotten to write about different meanings of the word value in my dissertation on value creation pedagogy. Embarrassing!
The ensuing Christmas did not turn out quite as usual. Instead, I found myself buried in all literature of the world about this partially ungoogleable word in five letters. I learned that value as a concept has been studied for hundreds of years by economists, mathematicians, philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and many others. The word got its own chapter in my dissertation, and I have continued to read and write a lot about value ever since. For the interested reader, there are many in-depth texts. However, such in-depth study can fill an entire book, an entire life even. Therefore, this will be a very short summary of the word’s intended meaning.
The word value can be said to have one, two, three, five, ten, seventeen or more meanings, depending on the context and who you are asking. When the word is given one meaning, it is often economic value that is meant. “What is the product worth?” the buyer wonders and then thinks of the price in monetary terms. Many economists like to see the market price of a phenomenon as its true value, and then mathematically calculate supply and demand. Sociologists instead divide value into two meanings by distinguishing between value and values. They let economists handle value in the singular and study many different types of values in the plural. Within sustainable development, three meanings are often discussed – economic, social and ecological value. With a three-phronged income statement in their annual accounts, organizations can show how the year turned out from three different value perspectives – so-called triple bottom line accounting.
In the book I will use a division of value into five meanings which I briefly go through below and which I first wrote about in my dissertation. I also distinguish between value for oneself versus value for others, because the five values can be created either for oneself or for others. It gives us a total of ten meanings, where the classic perspective economic value for oneself accounts to a mere tenth. This gives us a value flower as shown in Figure 1.5. The flower is a simplification. It is probably possible to come up with hundreds of different kinds of values. We must also not forget value beyond what we humans like. We live in an anthropocentric age where, out of recklessness, we often put humans at the center, to the detriment of animals and nature.
Now follows a brief review of the five times two perspectives in the value flower.
Economic value is often function-oriented and transaction-based, calculated in the money paid or saved when various goods and services are exchanged. Economic value for oneself is usually called a salary or payment and is something you get when you have created or delivered something of value to others. Economic value can also be about economizing, trying to be more resource efficient. Some also help others create financial value, such as banks that help their customers manage money.
Figure 1.5 The value flower with its ten different perspectives on value (5 × 2). Translated from Lackéus (2018).
Social value is about making people happier or alleviating their suffering. It is a broad category – what people value in life is multifaceted and partly subjective. Some examples of social value are having close relationships with other people, expressing their identity, learning new knowledge and skills, improving their personal health and feeling safe and secure.
Enjoyment value is when you do things out of pure joy and to have fun. It can be deeply engaging and creative work tasks, cultural experiences or experiences where you get to do or learn something new. Such activities are often both challenging and inherently inspiring and can lead to a mental state of flow where people are completely mesmerized, feel competent and sometimes lose track of time.
Influence value is when people gain influence, reputation, power or other influence on others in society, for example for managers, politicians or celebrities. Influence value can also be about everyday actions that deeply affect another person, such as parents who raise their children, employees who help customers and colleagues at work or teachers who help their students grow. Central to influential value is people’s desire to perform, a deeply human driving force. People’s need for meaning in life can also be satisfied by gaining influence over others.
Harmony value is about the value of a harmonious whole, either culturally or in relation to justice, ecology, equality or the public good. It is an often collective and conditional type of value that is situation-dependent and based on common values. It is therefore often a more complex type of value that comes into focus in more advanced societies. An everyday example is that many cinema visitors want popcorn, even if they otherwise never eat popcorn. A more complex example is the UN’s seventeen goals for sustainable development, a kind of value model with seventeen meanings. They are about trying to reduce global poverty, hunger and climate change and instead promote health, equality, ecology, security, sustainability, inclusion and more.
Value for oneself is often called self-interest or egoism. Sensory experiences, satisfaction, power, wealth and becoming a winner are often discussed here. This perspective is many economists’ favorite perspective and is illustrated by their view of human as a homo economicus – an economically self-optimizing being who needs to be given incentives to do good for others so that it also benefits oneself. The goal is value for oneself and the means is value for others.
Value for others is often called altruism or being a social being. Here, creative actions that make a difference and that give a sense of togetherness and meaning together are often discussed. The focus is on relationships, job satisfaction and commitment. Many sociologists see human as a homo sociologicus, a social being who does good to others by her own inherent power. The goal is social cohesion and the means is that value is created by many and for many. A beautiful collectivism, but it is probably seldom that simple. In practice, value for oneself and value for others are often closely linked, which is illustrated by yin and yang in the value flower. Doing well by doing good.
These ten different perspectives show the incredible breadth of different kinds of values that students can create for others when they work to create value in school. But why is that other person so important? We’ll get to that now.
… to at least one external stakeholder …
We humans actually care much more about others than we think. Unlike all other species on earth, we have a strong mutual altruism, we really care about each other. Evidence of this unique behavior can be found in biology as well as sociology, anthropology, psychology and evolution. It’s about dopamine, but also about empathy, morality, pathos of justice, peer pressure, equal treatment and respect. Contrary to what many people try to make us believe in today’s individualistic society, we humans are usually really polite and helpful to others, and we also like to be. Cooperation is in fact such a hallmark of our species that evolutionary scientists call us humans “ultrasocial” beings. The author Lasse Berg (2006, p. 265) describes our social side as follows:
We have a desperate need to belong together, of human closeness, of being able to help each other in larger groups, of getting appreciation, of getting to feel the warmth of solidarity. It is this community that gives our lives its meaning. We perish from loneliness.
There seems to be a deep human need to help others. Not only our loved ones, but also complete strangers. We humans seem to prefer to stick together, cooperate and uphold moral principles.
Now perhaps avid egoists object to this sugarcoated version of human nature by saying that all these forms of kindness and helpfulness are just a kind of disguised or delayed egoism. A way to appear in better days, to be part of the gang, to get own advantage later, to avoid exclusion or to get a higher status in the group. Purely evolutionarily, there are also clear survival gains from collaboration. This is especially true of species that manage an equal-for-equal strategy – helping those who contribute and punishing those who exploit others.
Here, perhaps, it does not matter much exactly why we humans love to help outsiders. In this book we do not have to solve the almost eternal question of whether humans are capable of pure altruistic selflessness or not. What matters is that so-called prosocial motivation theory works well in practice to motivate and engage school students. Social interaction with external stakeholders in order to try to help them seems to be a surprisingly powerful learning oxygen, and deserves its place as the largest and most important of the launchers on our spaceflight towards motivation for the schoolwork moon.
Surprise has been a recurring pattern during the decade I have spent studying students who try to create value for others. Teachers are surprised that students are so motivated. Students are surprised that they get to do something they feel so strongly about while at school. Parents are amazed at all the exciting things students get to do at school. Outsiders in the surrounding community are surprised when students take up space in the community and contribute. It seems to be precisely the interaction with and value creation for outsiders that is the biggest source of surprise. Adults find it unexpected to see competent children who contribute.
My own surprise has mainly been about why value creation for others is so unusual in school, and why I, as a nerdy Chalmers researcher in the Department of Entrepreneurship, am one of the few who suggest this to teachers. Especially when so many teachers agree and recognize the power of students’ value creation for others. How long have you teachers really known about this elixir of learning? And a slightly more serious question – why has such powerful learning oxygen been used so rarely in school so far?
I honestly do not know the answer to that question. Maybe the way we have chosen to organize the school has this unexpected side effect? Or is it perhaps a widespread view of children and young people as passive recipients of education and discipline instead of active and capable rocket pilots? Maybe it’s a Piaget-inspired assumption that students have not yet reached the stage of development required for them to be able to help others with something? Juul (1997, p.11) writes in his book on competent children that we adults have “made a decisive mistake when we assumed that children were not real people”. Qvortrup (2009) believes that we seem to see young people in society as incompetent human becomings or not-yet-adults, and regrets a widespread view of them as unable to contribute to society before the day they got their first job.
When I ask teachers if they think that their students would be able to handle value-creating activities aimed at outsiders, I often hear that “my older students would probably be able to do it, but maybe not my younger ones”. Both primary and middle school teachers have said this. It makes me wonder if students too seldom get a fair chance to use and develop their inherent ability to create value for others here and now. To paraphrase the child psychologist Margareta Berg Brodén (1989):
Perhaps we are mistaken – perhaps students are competent to create value for others.
… outside their group …
A natural start in value creation for many students is to be able to do something that helps a classmate. It probably happens quite naturally in all the classrooms in the world. According to evolutionary biologists, we are ultrasocial beings. But how often is it a conscious strategy on the part of teachers? In fact, more and more often. A phenomenon that is becoming more widespread in schools is cooperative learning. One of the recommended strategies is to make the students mutually dependent on each other in a positive way, for example by letting them need each other to succeed in something. This often strengthens both learning and social ties. A kind of win-win situation.
It is worth remembering that competitions rather represent a negative interdependence, a kind of win-lose situation. When some win, others can see themselves as losers. We can not conclude that competitions work only by measuring the breadth of the winners’ smiles. I have a research colleague in the UK who has made it her most important research endeavor to strongly object to the widespread competition in education. There are absolutely other ways to create interdependence than to make the majority of our students feel like real losers. Both cooperative and value creation pedagogy describe such alternative ways.
It is not easy to draw a line between cooperative and value creation pedagogy. The question is also whether it even makes sense. But I do not want to repeat here all the fine strategies that cooperative learning has developed over the years. They have also already been nicely described in many other books. So let’s pretend for the moment that some kind of boundary goes when students do something that becomes valuable to someone other than their own group or teacher.
A natural next step in value creation is to go outside one’s own class but still remain in one’s own school’s safe environment. This is probably already happening in many schools around the world. Students who help on an outdoor day, sit on the student council, hold a sports lesson or exhibit their work at a school fair. Here, value creation pedagogy can contribute with new perspectives that reinforce what is already being done. I am convinced that students can be persuaded to take much greater personal responsibility in cross-class activities.
Four simple control questions I usually ask myself when I hear a customary story about what is already being done at a school are:
· Did the activity build on a student’s own idea or passion?
· Was something done that had not been done before at that school?
· Was concrete value created for others that the student received feedback on?
· Did the students get to try and try again and learn from their mistakes?
Four simple questions taken from each of the four corners in the diamond model in Figure 6.5 in Chapter 6. With a few simple steps, what is already being done at a school can have a much stronger effect.
… or school
When students are allowed to meet people outside the school, it is usually called Collaboration school-work life or Collaboration school-world. However, this does not seem to be a particularly prioritised issue in our society. How often do study and career counselors with their hats in hand come to both teachers at their own school and representatives in working life, and ask: “Could you consider letting these students get a little knowledge of the world around them?” In school, it should not really even be an issue. Yet every year, career counselors are tirelessly heard reminding their colleagues that knowledge of the world around them is the Whole School’s (damn) responsibility. I sometimes wonder quietly, is not it the responsibility of the whole society? What happened to the saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child? Instead, it feels as if career counselors are responsible for a difficult cooperation with polite but fundamentally uninterested people.
Counselors I meet usually appreciate value creation pedagogy. Almost every year, they invite me to their big national conference where they talk about counseling issues. I have been there a few times and really felt among friends, but I rarely have anything new to tell. The seven or thirty-one words are always the same. I guess counselors like the change of focus from a distant future for the students – “What do you want to become when you grow up, little friend?” – to activities here and now where students can create value for others outside the school. I also think they like the change of perspective. Instead of the outside world creating value for the students through the usual study visits, school visits and fairs, the students create value for the outside world in thousands of different ways. There is probably no more powerful way to get a feel for a future profession than to take action and try it out in practice here and now.
There are many school activities that are almost value-creating, but that stumble on the finishing line in collaboration with outsiders. A blog no one reads, a job interview where no one is to be hired, a student parliament where no real decisions are made or an exhibition where visitors only come to be nice. Students are certainly not stupid. They quickly see through an activity that is not meaningful. But they play along, especially if it is to be assessed. However, we adults can do better.
I am often struck by how small the piece of the puzzle is that needs to be added to reach much further. Do exactly what you are already doing, but add a challenge to the students to try to create concrete value for those you still intended to meet outside of school. Students often have hundreds of ideas if they get the chance to brainstorm, and it does not matter if they fail. It is the attempt that counts. Think sandwich in Madrid.
Something that is also often missed is how much students can achieve when all three launchers are full of learning oxygen. An entire class that goes to great lengths to make a difference can build up extensive knowledge in an area in just a few months.
A circular process of immersive flow
Now it’s time to put all the words and phrases together into a whole. It is not an easy task. There is a risk that it will be a simplification that does not capture the full magnitude of the phenomenon. But Figure 1.6 nevertheless shows a circular process that includes much of what I have just described.
Figure 1.6 value creation pedagogy illustrated as a circular process of flow.
A good starting point is strong emotions. Few things can trigger our imagination and creativity as much as emotions. Hopefully, the fantasizing then leads to some form of creation, a concrete result, perhaps a prototype or an experience that can be tested on outsiders. Did it become valuable? What did they think? When students receive much sought-after feedback from outsiders, we again get strong emotions that trigger new imagination, creativity and new creations. Then it goes around, round after round. Throughout the circular process, students continuously gain new energy and motivation through constant dialogue with the outside world. Emotions are aired with outsiders, ideas are tested, creations are displayed, values are created.
Hopefully, the process is also characterized by flow, defined by creativity researcher Csíkszentmihályi as a good balance between challenges and one’s own ability. In that case, students occasionally lose track of time. They start doing school work during breaks, voluntarily. When that happens, we know we’ve got them into flow. Then nothing can stop them from learning in-depth.
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 Freely translated from Wittgenstein (2010).
 See Blenker et al. (2011), Jones (2011) and Vestergaard, Moberg and Jørgensen (2012). There is also closely related literature that deals with entrepreneurship as value creation, mainly Bruyat (1993), Bruyat and Julien (2001) and Fayolle (2007).
 See Lackéus (2013).
 See Lackéus (2016, 2017).
 See Gärdenfors (2006) and Frankl (1985).
 See Rizzo, Schiffrin and Liss (2013). See also Baumeister et al. (2013, p.511).
 See Baumeister et al. (2013) and Metz (2009).
 See Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).
 Read more about traditional versus progressive education in Labaree (2005) and Cuban (2007).
 See Lackéus (2016, p.53) and Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016, p.790).
 Dewey (1939) has very wisely written about this in his book on value.
 Read more about the important role so-called prior knowledge plays in e.g. Hattie (2011, p.25) and Jonassen and Land (2000, p.14).
 Read about this in Smith and Ragan (1999, p.27).
 My favorite text is his book Towards a comprehensive theory of human learning (Jarvis 2006).
 See, for example, Shernoff et al. (2003).
 See Csíkszentmihályi (2008, p.74).
 See, for example, D’Mello et al. (2012) who writes about how confusion can strengthen learning.
 See Berg (2005, p.144-186) and Harari (2015, p.83-120).
 See Berg (2005, p.206).
 Read more about human creative joy in Goss (2005), Metz (2009) and Feldman and Snyder (2005).
 For an overview of Vygotsky and his Russian successors, see Engeström (1999). See also Strandberg (2009).
 See, for example, the definition of creativity in Reid and Petocz (2004).
 See OECD (2019), Zahidi et al. (2020) and IBM (2010).
 Metz writes about this (2009, p.8).
 See Lindström (2006) who writes about difficulties in incorporating creativity in school.
 For an in-depth look at what inhibits creativity, see Ramberg de Ruyter (2016).
 Ramberg de Ruyter (2016, p.39 and 47) describes how the National Agency for Education and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise see it as trying to dissolve the dichotomy between knowledge and creativity.
 According to Lucas and Venckute (2020).
 See Boud, Cohen and Walker (1993), especially Mulligan (1993) and Postle (1993).
 Read more about different perspectives on children’s creativity in Hoff (2010).
 See, for example, Graeber (2001), Stark (2011), Dewey (1939), Boltanski and Thévenot (2006) and Helgesson and Muniesa (2013). Texts by me, see mainly Lackéus (2016, p.11-19; 2018; 2021, p.35-46).
 This review is a brief summary of an article by Lackéus (2018). See also Lackéus (2017) for an in-depth reasoning about value for oneself versus value for others.
 Read more about this in Seligman (2012) and Costanza et al. (2007).
 Read more about the “flow theory” in Csíkszentmihályi (2008).
 Read more about this in Fiske (2008) and in McClelland (1967).
 See Baumeister et al. (2013).
 For more information, see Boltanski and Thévenot (2006).
 Read more about conditional value in Sheth, Newman and Gross (1991).
 They are described in the United Nations (2015).
 See Batson and Shaw (1991).
 According to Bregman (2020, p.232-234), many see themselves as helpful but others as selfish.
 According to Berg (2005, p.265).
 This is the basic thesis in Bregman’s (2020) book about man as basically good.
 See, for example, Neuberg and Schaller (2013) and Tomasello (2014).
 Read more about this in Batson and Shaw (1991) and in Batson et al. (2008).
 See Neuberg and Schaller (2013, p.25).
 See Axelrod and Hamilton (1981, p.1393).
 Piaget’s work with children’s developmental stages has had a great impact on pedagogy during the 20th century, but in recent years has begun to be increasingly questioned, see Egan (2002).
 Berg Brodén’s phrase “Perhaps we have made a mistake – perhaps children are competent” was quoted in the introduction to Juul’s (1997) book Your competent child as an important source of inspiration.
 See Fohlin et al. (2017, pp.115-130).
 The colleague’s name is Catherine Brentnall, see for example Brentnall, Rodriguez and Culkin (2018).
[This is an English translation of the introduction found in my new book in Swedish about value creation pedagogy, see image and on link here]
Actually, it is a bit too early for me to write a book on value creation pedagogy. After many years of research on the subject, I still do not think I understand the phenomenon well enough. Too many key questions remain unanswered. Too many powerful moments I myself have experienced and been able to observe as researcher amaze and confuse me. When I was first asked a few years ago if I wanted to write a book, I therefore said no thanks. It did not feel right. For sure, we clearly saw the strong light from the glow of value creation pedagogy succeeding in lighting up many students’ motivation. But our understanding of the fervor of learning felt like on an 18th-century level, much like how scientists of that time understood fire as a phenomenon. The chemists then believed that there was a magical substance called phlogiston, which contained all combustible material. During combustion, the phlogiston flowed out of the matter, and only the ashes remained. Today we know that phlogiston was a flawed theory, albeit useful in practice. It is instead oxygen the fire needs to take off, an element that when it was finally discovered was called “fire air” and “elixir of life”.
However, a primitive understanding of why fire burns has never stopped man from making fire and taking advantage of the heat. Therefore, I have now dared to write a book, even though we still have a lot to learn about value creation pedagogy. I now intend to take the risk of spreading a primitive phlogiston theory around students’ learning. Because even if we do not fully know why something works, we can still let ourselves be warmed and rejoiced.
In the book, I will describe the effects we see of value creation pedagogy, explain why we think they arise, and describe how teachers on their own can achieve these effects. The focus will be on the latter. If there is something that now feels important, it is to spread the knowledge about how teachers with the help of value creation pedagogy can light the fire of learning in the classroom and make students passionate about school work.
The three basic principles of value creation pedagogy
Value creation pedagogy is about letting students learn by trying to create something of value for others. Learning is still the goal, but value creation for others is a powerful means that enhances learning. Students are strongly motivated by the feeling of meaningfulness that this way of working creates. They learn more in-depth and take greater responsibility for their learning. At a collective level, the class community is strengthened and leads to fewer conflicts between students. The teaching profession also becomes more fun and more meaningful.
Value creation pedagogy is based on three basic principles. Later in the book I will go into them in more detail. But let me first briefly introduce them here:
1. Value creation for others that results in feedback. First and foremost, value creation pedagogy is about students being allowed to try to create something of value for at least one person outside their own group, class or school. It is the attempt that counts. The value the students try to create can be social, cultural or economic. The attempt should preferably result in some form of feedback from the party or parties the student tried to create value for. Because such feedback is like rocket fuel for a space rocket. Full throttle ahead in their learning.
2. Interaction with real individuals in the outside world. It is possible to create value for others without meeting them, but the personal meeting gives the learning even better momentum. Value creation pedagogy derives much of its primordial power from social and emotionally charged encounters with other people, preferably people whom the student does not know very well or not at all. Therefore, social interaction with people outside one’s own group, class or school is absolutely central.
3. Fine-grained mix of learning and value creation. When theory and practice are mixed, we get in-depth learning among the students. But theoretical learning and practical value creation are unfortunately like oil and water. They separate spontaneously. Therefore, teachers need to constantly strive for as fine-grained a mixture of the two as possible, preferably every week. So that it becomes something like a vinaigrette or even a tasty béarnaise sauce. This requires value creation pedagogy to be integrated into regular teaching. Otherwise it will probably not be a rocket ride, but more a kind of isolated sparkler that will soon go out. A nice break from an otherwise rather boring school day.
Let me give a small example. Imagine a student writing a letter to a famous author of a book the class has just read. The student writes the letter with the hope of getting an answer and therefore makes a little extra effort to write so the author gets something out of the letter (basic principle 1). Here, however, it is far from certain that there will be any feedback. But if an answer still comes, perhaps because also authors like to get feedback, then there will be euphoria for the student (rocket fuel). If the author also takes a liking to the class and wants to come and visit, physically or digitally, the feeling is strengthened that something special is really happening (basic principle 2). If the letter is also written as part of formal education, rather than in a book circle outside the teaching, then the emotional bubble also leads to core teaching being strengthened (basic principle 3).
Pure oxygene for students’ motivation
It is not easy to describe in words the effects we see of value creation pedagogy. Perhaps, however, through metaphors we can approach a description that does the phenomenon justice. What we see is that value creation pedagogy ignites a fire within the students that burns so strongly that teachers and other adults are often surprised, sometimes even amazed. It may be a student who has previously been diagnosed or judged to need special support due to school fatigue, but who then suddenly and unexpectedly blossoms and becomes among the most productive and committed students in the entire class.
Just as oxygen accelerates the fire, value creation pedagogy can make many students’ motivation in their education begin to glow intensely. For teachers, it is then a joy to see the flames of learning flare up in students, or even in whole school classes, where it was perhaps previously most resembling an extinguished fireplace. It is probably not an exaggeration to call value creation pedagogy distilled learning oxygen, or even a kind of elixir of learning.
I myself have strong memories of the moments when I got to enjoy this elixir in my own schooling. The first time was probably when my French teacher at Burgården’s high school sent me on a two-week exchange trip to Burgundy in France, followed by an equally long visit to my family by a living French guy my age. I especially remember the dinners in France with his parents. I could really see how happy they were when I tasted the mold cheese and drank the table wine. Amazing how happy adults can become from seeing minors drink alcohol! It’s also amazing that a little mutual cultural value creation could make me learn French with completely different eyes. My view of language skills changed fundamentally in Chalôn-sur-Saône.
The second time was at Chalmers University of Technology in my hometown Gothenburg, when we in a simulation course in year one got to help Swedish roller-bearing corporation SKF in analyzing their production line for roller bearings. No simulated production line then, but the living real-life production line that spat out thousands of shiny steel sausages every day. My memories from the traditional workshop floor in the Old Town in Gothenburg are still strong. I see myself committed to standing there with the timer clock in full swing, fantasizing about how much more efficient the production might be thanks to us. I don’t think the production manager got any benefit from our diligent work in the end. But that was not how it felt for us. We really helped SKF! I got the highest grade in the course, which was not so common for me at university.
The starting point of my life-long interest in helping others
The third elixir was in 2001 and is still on-going today, twenty years later. Value creation-based learning is not only a strong elixir, it can also be quite addictive. I if anyone know this, because I have overdosed it on myself. For you as a reader, it can be good to know that I myself have taken the highest possible dose of the medicine I recommend to others in my book. For me, this medicine led to an inverted career and a year of sick leave, but also to a lifelong interest in creating new kinds of values for others. I’ll explain shortly. But let’s take it from the beginning.
In 2000, it was time for me to choose a master’s program at Chalmers. I had heard from my fellow students who had not taken study breaks for language studies (in France for my part of course), that there was a master’s program that was extremely fun. Students had to work “for real”. The cohesion in the class was very special and also included the teachers. Based on a technical invention, the students were commissioned to try to make a difference in the community, far outside Chalmers’ safe campus area and in close collaboration with the researchers who had hatched the idea. Everything was apparently called entrepreneurship, a word I myself had no relation to at all. But it still sounded fun, so I applied and was admitted to the program.
Little did I know then how this education would completely change my life path. I had thought that I would become a technology consultant in the industry, just as many of my classmates became. Instead, I graduated and then continued working on the invention we had had to take care of in our student project at Chalmers. My first job was as a low-paid CEO in the transport industry at the small start-up company we started ourselves, which had difficult financial problems. The only glamorous thing was my fake title. I was director of almost nothing. But I was very happy. The classmates called us the diesel rats. Our mission was to help truck drivers save diesel in new ways. We built new digital technology that gave drivers feedback on their driving patterns. After many years of frustrating work, we got it to work, and today Ecodriving Challenge is the world’s largest competition in eco-driving for trucks. Never before in my life had I done anything as insanely motivating. But I also got to taste the reverse side of commitment and passion.
Warning for overdose and language confusion
One day I could not get up from the plush sofa we had in our office. For real. It was not possible to get up. So in the spring of 2004 I had to go home and rest for a year. The doctors called it exhaustion. The elixir had made me burn so much for what I did that I only had ashes left in my head. Not a speck of phlogiston remained. Another month after the crash, I remember walking in disbelief and in slow motion at the train station. Why are all people in such a hurry, I thought.
For a while I was actually a little bitter too. An educational effort had led me into a career path where, after only a few years, I both reached my level of incompetence and was on long-term sick leave due to over-engagement. Certainly a voluntary education, but hardly properly declared. For how could Chalmers describe what awaited their students, when I, as a researcher and teacher in the same education twenty years later, still cannot find the right words? Today, I think it was not the education that caused over-engagement, but entrepreneurship. Fatigue is now a known side effect of entrepreneurship. Therefore, I regularly ask my students to reflect on various stress symptoms.
I was lucky. Not everyone returns after such a crash landing. I returned as CEO and sales manager for our growing business. But in 2009 an unlikely opportunity arose, and I left the company I had co-founded, which by then had grown to about fifty employees. Instead, I returned to Chalmers as a project manager and later a doctoral student at the master’s program where I myself had been wrapped in a kind of crazy but wonderful space rocket and launched into a shaky orbit around the earth. My inverted career was thus complete: from CEO to sales manager to project manager to student. Back in the same old pale yellow former palliative Vasa hospital. Was it now time for me to receive care in the final stages of my career? No, a new journey as researcher began. My research question was of course:
What did they really do with (people like) me in that education?
This has been my main research question now for almost twelve years. And the initial bitterness has been transformed into a fascination that only gets bigger and bigger every year. But also in semantic frustration. Because when I try to describe what we see that students experience, it rarely goes well. We can not even use the word I once learned that this was an example of – entrepreneurship. This word often leads to various misunderstandings, especially in primary and secondary schools. Many teachers believe that we mean economic value creation for the students themselves, that the students should learn to earn quick cash. Or that we mean that all students must now start a business and learn to do accounting.
But we meant something completely different – to let students learn knowledge and skills more in-depth by trying to create all sorts of values for everyone but for the students themselves. Without focusing on money or starting up any new legal entity. So we instead called it value creation pedagogy. Then people listened more attentively to what we had to say. I certainly learned as a doctoral student to never introduce new words when there are established words that can be used. But that was not the case here, the established language apparatus was crashed. Despite this new semantics, we still find the phenomenon’s roots, primordial power and concrete methodological support in the field of entrepreneurship. Although we sometimes need to put different entrepreneurial methods in a kind of semantic washing machine and wash away the economic connotations.
It’s the emotions that do the trick
Early on in my doctoral journey, I found a perspective with great explanatory value around the power of value creation pedagogy, namely the crucial role of emotions for learning. There is probably nothing that burns knowledge into the brain stronger than a really emotional storm. When we think back on our own moments of crucial learning, it’s probably often about highly emotionally charged moments. It can be one of life’s many frustrating moments of failed attempts. Or maybe a moment of euphoria over having learned to ride a bike, swim, read or play the piano. In the high mountains and deep valleys of the emotional jungle, we often find learning in its most colorful form. This is not to say that all learning must be equally deeply emotional. But the biggest source of emotion in our studies turned out to be to do something for another human being.
One of my own most emotionally charged learning moments is again about language. After studying French in Pau in southwestern France, I had decided to learn a new language, whatever. The elixir had certainly intoxicated me. The choice fell on Spanish. I prepared myself by reading up on the first two years’ words, phrases and grammar, on my own, as the theory-loving reading nerd I am. Finally, it was time for the long-awaited on-site learning for four months. On a rainy April day in 1999, I landed in the middle of the center of Madrid and was looking for temporary housing. Ten identical attempts at the telephone booth at Puerta del Sol to call on advertised rooms all ended in the same way – with a click in the handset. I started with the phrase “¡Hola! Quería alquilar una habacation, por favor ”. A simple question about renting a room. Each time, a customary Spanish harangue came up with answers that I did not understand at all. To which I replied “Do you speak English?”. Click.
What then became my vital lesson from this very emotional failure? Well, that theory without practice can work very poorly. I had prepared meticulously with all the theory I could come across. Then I still could not order a sandwich – “un bocadillo, por favor”. Not to mention finding a roof over my head.
I have countless times in my research returned mentally to Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Because value creation pedagogy can come to the rescue for teachers precisely in the difficult but crucial question of how we in practice succeed in weaving together theory and practice. The value creation-based learning processes I have studied in my research often oscillate back and forth between theoretical knowledge and practical value creation. These two phenomena are then mixed in a fine-grained way, often on a weekly basis. The effect is a strong emotional experience that connects theory and practice, and burns the knowledge into the brain, in-depth. We see that many students then achieve the so sought-after in-depth learning for life, not just surface learning for the test.
Why I’ve written this book – anecdotes or research?
I would like to end this introduction with a proper explanation of why an engineer and computer nerd from Chalmers University of Technology here is trying to give teachers guidance on pedagogical issues. What can I reasonably help you teachers with? A question I myself have pondered a lot, not least on the many occasions my research has been criticized.
It has been claimed that my research on value creation pedagogy mostly consists of free fantasies and fabrications, a kind of anecdotal circus journey into the education sector and a stranger’s intrusion on pedagogical ground. But I take such statements with much calmness. The critics cannot have read the method chapter in any of our published articles. The content of this book is not based at all on my personal anecdotes, but on large amounts of carefully collected and analyzed research data from teachers and students in many educational institutions. Good research is often about, as an outside observer, holding up a mirror to those who are being researched. In our case, many teachers have nodded in recognition and liked the image they see of students’ value creation-based learning. However, some few people are provoked, perhaps because the image that is shown does not match their own desired image for education.
However, it is among my own anecdotes and emotional storms that you readers find the answer to why I wrote this book, and why for twelve years I constantly wondered what teachers did to people like me. To me, this is quite personal. My whole life has come to be characterized by value creation-based learning in various forms. First for a decade as a student, then for a decade as an entrepreneur, and finally for a decade as a researcher. Was I the only one who learned best when on a weekly basis I got to experience a fine-tuned mix of theory and practice in emotionally strong real-life experiences that involved real recipients of some kind of concrete value? The answer to that question turned out to be no. Still, today it is a rather uncommon experience for most students. Therefore, in the end, I felt a certain responsibility to write this book. My hope is that the book can contribute to many more students having a motivating school day with in-depth learning for life and with a strong sense of meaningfulness. We adults can probably agree that education is deeply meaningful, but unfortunately it is far from all students who feel that way.
The outline of the book
Part one consists of two basic chapters. First comes a detailed description of what value creation pedagogy is. Then I write about why this can be something really good for the education. After these introductory what-and-why questions comes the second part of the book where I go into more practical how-to questions. Chapter 3 is about sixteen different practical first steps that teachers can take to get started with value creation pedagogy. Chapter 4 describes eleven slightly larger steps to try afterwards. Chapter 5 is about more advanced pedagogical approaches and deeper emotionality for students, similar to regular professional practice. Chapter 6 describes various concrete tools teachers can use. The third and final part of the book is about some different perspectives that have proven to be important and promising. In Chapter 7, I go through various challenges teachers have told me they see with value creation pedagogy. A particularly important challenge is assessment, and it is dealt with separately in Chapter 8. In Chapter 9, I take a closer look at value creation pedagogy for sustainable development, and in the final Chapter 10, I take a closer look at value creation as integration. After the last chapter comes a short epilogue where I look ahead.
The focus has been on keeping the story concise and, above all, concrete. Therefore, I have also included a number of illustrative quotes and mini-interviews with teachers and principals who work with value creation pedagogy in their everyday working lives. These teachers and principals are also my teachers. Over the years, they have shown me what is possible to achieve with value creation pedagogy and how to overcome challenges, resistance and difficulties. Every time I give up, they are there and urge me to “hold on and persevere”.
Throughout the book, I will here and there give my highly personal experiences and perspectives on value creation pedagogy. It certainly goes against academic ways of writing, where the author should preferably be absent in the text. Now, my own stories may not be the most fantastic or interesting here, so feel free to take them with a pinch of salt. But they are mine anyway, and the purpose is to make the book a little more easy to read and entertaining. A little more fun, simply. It would be a shame if I wrote a dry and academically boring book on such a pleasing subject as value creation pedagogy.
A month ago something rare happened to me. I got research funding for doing exactly the research I want to do myself. One day a week for three years. I’ve now spent a month thinking about what I want to do, in addition to what I wrote in the application. And now it’s clearing up for me.
I want to study value creation pedagogy in higher education. Beyond business types of application. No venture creation, but still entrepreneurial. Students learning-through-creating-value-for-others. And I want to study it through the digital research method I’ve developed myself, together with close colleagues. The digital action-reflection tool Loopme and its accompanying methodology. So that I get hold of the genuine perspective of the students, in addition to the teacher perspective. In English. Longitudinally.
Do you want to be part of this? I am now looking for teachers who want to apply value creation pedagogy (or are already applying it) with their students, without starting a business or calling it “entrepreneurship”. In any subject, topic, program, course or other in-curricular manner. I will help these teachers implement our digital research tool Loopme with the students, and we will use it to collect written student reflections upon some value-creating action-oriented tasks that they will then do as a formal part of their education. Reflections should be in English, or perhaps in some other language I know well enough (Swedish, French, Spanish). Because I want to be able to read what students write themselves, immediately after they’ve tried to create some value for some external stakeholder outside their group, class or (preferably) university. Teachers will also reflect in written form about effects they saw.
Are you interested in joining this research project? Then just join a digital group I have created in my research tool Loopme, here:
If you have questions, you can also drop me a line on my email – firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to help everyone interested in being part of this. A condition is of course that I get access to student reflections afterwards (with their consent).
To sum things up, I’m looking for higher education teachers who fulfil the following:
Are today using value creation pedagogy, or want to give it a try, in an in-curricular course/program on higher education level (n.b. NOT venture creation / entrepreneurship as a topic)
Are willing to implement the research tool Loopme with their students for the duration of the study, with the purpose of collecting reflections from students in a longitudinal way
Are willing to share the students’ reflections with my research team afterwards (or during the course/program) – of course with students’ consent
What I can offer in return:
Help with getting started with value creation pedagogy and Loopme
Help with how to design value creation pedagogy in a good way
A fun research journey that can potentially impact society more broadly
Let me know if you’re interested by joining this group: https://app.loopme.io/signup?code=VSL864
Covid or not, certain skills are difficult to teach inside the classroom. It is notoriously challenging to develop people’s creativity, initiative-taking, resilience, collaboration and empathy. Such skills have always been developed more strongly when learners are immersed into the world outside their classroom. Some teachers have been forerunners in facilitating such learning experiences. In the process, they have developed some very specific pedagogical skills, including innovative uses of digital tools and a reliance on emotional events. Now that Covid 19 has forced students to leave the classroom, their teachers could learn a lot from a small group of forerunners in “beyond classroom”-based teaching. This text summarizes five key insights that could help millions of teachers who are newcomers in such teaching.
As a scholar in emotional action-based education, I have for many years studied experiential education on all age levels, from preschool to university and beyond. When students learn outside the classroom, it is often in some very specific and marginal(ized) contexts. Terms used are vocational education, apprenticeship education, progressive education, internships, entrepreneurial education and work-integrated learning. A common denominator is emotionally charged learning events taking place outside the classroom. Such learning experiences have for decades been an exception to the classroom based cognition-oriented norm in education.
“Educational innovation? Thanks, but no thanks…”
Relatively small communities of teachers have for decades developed innovative approaches, methods and techniques that support their rather specific needs and ambitions. I have worked as a researcher together with many innovative forerunner teachers, and nowadays I often get invitations to speak in front of other teachers about what I’ve learned from them. Stories of some rather unusual but powerful pedagogical practices leave most teachers politely nodding, perhaps even genuinely fascinated, but silently disengaging in regards to their own teaching. Why complicate student learning when you can keep it simple? After all, by containing all students in one single large room and doing all the necessary didactics and assessment there, life as a teacher undeniably becomes more manageable.
Teaching in the Covid era
Covid changed all this. Suddenly teachers all over the world were thrown into teaching and assessment that necessarily needs to happen outside the classroom. It is interesting to see what happens when an entire world of teachers is forced to take up novel approaches, methods and techniques, often digital ones. But I must admit that so far, for me as a scholar in the field of “beyond classroom” teaching, it has been a disappointment. Most initial attempts at moving learning outside the classroom come across as amateurish and simplistic to me. Instead of taking advantage of the emotionally charged and wonderfully rich world outside of the classroom, teachers opt for a mere digitization of their traditional cognition-oriented classroom practices. Students now sit at home, instead of in the classroom, listening passively to the teacher doing the same lectures they used to do in the classroom. The change has so far been technological, not pedagogical. Lecture length has even stayed largely the same in most cases, despite people finding it difficult to retain attention in a 40 minutes long digital lecture.
Still, there is certainly hope in the longer term. A booming interest in digital and/or emotional pedagogies could over time also trigger significant pedagogical development on a broader scale. To help teachers get beyond technology in taking their first steps into the wonderful world of emotionally charged experiential “beyond classroom” learning, I will here try to summarize five key insights I’ve learned from forerunner teachers and their students, having studied them in-depth over many years with action research methodologies.
Insight #1: Theory and practice – mix them in fine-grained ways
When the world of practice is integrated with theoretical perspectives from the classroom, we often see how students grow exponentially. Instead of teachers teaching to the test, we get students who learn for life. Putting theory into practice already while in education makes students see the purpose and true meaning of knowledge and skills. The question “Why are we learning this?” disappears from the students’ agenda, much to the relief of their teachers. But practice must not replace theory, they need to be integrated so that they strengthen each other.
Integrating theory and practice is not easy. One recommendation I’ve managed to distill from the forerunners is “fine-grained”-ness. Theory and practice needs to be mixed in a fine-grained way. When practice is integrated into theory, it is not good enough to have a year or a month of theory followed by a year or a month of practice. The mixing preferably should happen every week, even every day if possible. A vision I’ve developed for myself comes from professor Kieran Egan (2008) – theory in the morning, practice in the afternoon. Not easy, but a very useful vision to guide pedagogical decisions. Such mixing of theory and practice is often facilitated by digital tools, see further below.
Insight #2: The action-reflection cycle – assess your students through deep reflection
Teaching is often dictated by the assessment regime in place. When learning moves outside the classroom, and when learning outcomes include difficult-to-teach skills, teachers need to turn to more innovative assessment, see overview by Ferns and Moore (2012). One of the most common assessment practices among forerunner teachers is student reflections. When learning-by-doing becomes the norm, assessment of learning is often done by requiring students to reflect in writing upon what they learned from the doing. Also here, fine-grainedness is a key issue. Written reflections (and corresponding teacher feedback) need to be integrated into students’ everyday action learning processes, rather than dealt with after the action-taking is over. And also here, digital tools can be used to facilitate student reflection, see further below.
The most advanced pedagogical forerunners we’ve studied spend a lot of effort on trying to shorten the action-reflection cycle (cf. Schön 1983). Reflection is connected more tightly to the actions taken. This makes student learning more visible to the teacher and also clarifies the intended learning-by-doing path for the students. This way, teachers provide their students with increased clarity around the question: learning-by-doing-what? The end result is a better alignment between the doing, the learning and the assessment, as prescribed by Biggs and Tang (2011) in their seminal work on Constructive Alignment. Reflective depth is a resulting key challenge for the forerunner teachers. We’ve found the advice from groundbreaking work by Moon (2004) to be very useful here.
Insight #3: Value creation pedagogy – make your students make a difference to others
Much of the emotionality in the “beyond classroom” based teaching we’ve studied comes from the meaningfulness inherent in helping others. Many of the apprentices, interns and entrepreneurship students we’ve studied have one thing in common – they all learn through creating something of value to others. Knowledge and skills are “burned” into the minds of the students through the sheer emotionality stemming from deeply personal, truly relational and community-embedded experiences of helping other human beings. What forerunner teachers do is that they design value-creating assignments into the core of their pedagogies. Students then need to apply curricular knowledge in practical emotional “learning-through-creating-value-for-others” experiences outside the classroom or lecture hall (read more in Lackéus 2016). A common technique is for teachers to let students ask themselves “For whom could this knowledge be valuable today?”, and then act upon their ideas for answers to this question.
Insight #4: Social learning – make interaction with others mandatory for your students
When learning moves outside the classroom, there are myriad ways to make the learning experience more social. Pedagogically motivated sociality leans on a key principle – designing tasks that require students to interact with others. The more remote the external people in such interactions are, the more powerful the learning becomes. But students can also get started by interacting with people they already know. Forerunner teachers we’ve studied seldom need to prepare the external people much, students are in many cases fully capable of independently initiating contact with external people. Here, digital tools become a key enabler of students’ external interactions. Social media platforms are but one way to make students connect to the outside world. In a digital world, also a Covid quarantined student can experience social learning.
Students are often helped by a clearly articulated purpose with their external interactions. Here, insight #4 can be coulped with insight #3 of creating value for others. The purpose of external interaction can be stated as a challenge for the students to try to help other people. While the purpose from the teacher’s perspective is still learning of curricular knowledge and skills, students often find a helping purpose more engaging and meaningful. This is especially important in the Covid era, where self-directed learning processes are a sheer necessity.
Insight #5: Go beyond LMS – use more specialized digital tools
What is obvious from our study of teachers working in line with the four insights above is that pedagogical practices become significantly more complex. Some of this complexity can be absorbed by a regular learning management system (LMS). But LMS:es were not built with “beyond classroom” teaching in mind. They were rather built to support the administration of classroom-based teaching. The reality is unfortunately that much of the increased complexity needs to be absorbed by the teacher and her colleagues. Many schools we’ve studied have therefore employed co-ordinators who take care of some of the added complexity. But the regular Covid era teacher who just got thrown into a digital pedagogical sitation in most cases doesn’t have a co-ordinator to help her. I think this is one reason why most newcomers in “beyond classroom”-based teaching do not go beyond traditional teaching.
But also here, there are good news. What we’ve seen is that forerunner teachers try to go beyond their traditional LMS mandated by their school / college / university organization. There are many different digital tools available today for “beyond classroom”-based teaching. While this is not the space to go through them all, some tools are indeed more useful than others for digital emotional pedagogies. I could probably write an entire blog post on what digital tools we’ve seen being used out there, and how they have worked, so I will not dig into this further here. But what is clear from our study of forerunner teachers is that they all see a strong need to go beyond their limited and limiting traditional LMS. Some also take this step in practice, with much success. Digital tools can truly help teachers with all of the four above insights in many tangible ways, saving lots of time for them while at the same time increasing efficiency and impact of their teaching. I will try to come back to this topic later here. If you can’t wait, have a look at the digital tool teachers we work with use. I’ve also summarized many of our digital tool-related insights in a scholarly book chapter here. And if you know of digital tools and practices that support teachers in acting upon some or all of the above insights, please let me know!
But why change?
Despite these five pedagogical insights distilled from forerunners, teachers might still ask themselves: “Why care?”. Isn’t it enough to digitize lectures temporarily until we all can get back to normal again? That will most likely be the case for many teachers. But I think that Covid is an emotional learning event in itself for teachers of the world. My hope is that 2020 will be a turning point in the area of engaging pedagogies, where teachers start to take up interest for new and natively digital ways to teach. Forerunner teachers can show the way in education more broadly, and Covid could be the event that makes teachers more broadly pay attention to them and their unique and very useful insights. If this happens, we will get more students who get to experience a more motivating education with a resulting deeper learning of curricular knowledge and skills. We will also get more citizens who are equipped with the creativity, initiative, empathy, collaboration skills and resilience needed in a post-Covid era of skyrocketing unemployment, resource scarcity and societal depression.
Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does – Fourth edition: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Egan, K. (2008). The future of education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ferns, S., & Moore, K. (2012). Assessing student outcomes in fieldwork placements: An overview of current practice. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 13(4), 207-224.
Lackéus, M. (2016). Value creation as educational practice – towards a new educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship? Doctoral thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Moon, J. A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.
Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action. New York: Basic Books.
[NOTE: This text was later published by Springer, see here]
Entrepreneurship is undeniably an action-oriented, emotional, team-based and interdisciplinary human activity. As the common acronym YCDBSOYA implies, you can’t do business sitting on your armchair. The face value and contribution to education more broadly of an entrepreneurial approach might therefore seem significant and unique. But education has for centuries been inundated with a constant stream of ideas on how to make students more active, collaborative and engaged in their learning. Countless approaches have been proposed that let students take action to do authentic things in groups, aiming to awake their inner desire to learn. It is thus not easy to articulate or substantiate the contribution of entrepreneurial approaches to education.
Therefore, the main question asked here is: What is the unique and novel contribution to general education of an entrepreneurial education approach? Increased clarity on this issue could remedy some of the frequent confusion in interactions between general educators and entrepreneurial educators. Focus will be on learning-by-doing approaches, since traditional lecture-based teaching does not pose a problem in distinguishing a unique contribution. Teaching about entrepreneurship as a topic is easy to distinguish from teaching about other topics.
The blog post is structured as follows. First, the current situation is summarized. Main learning-by-doing approaches in general education are summarized. Then, learning-by-doing approaches in entrepreneurial education are presented and analyzed in relation to their unique and novel contribution to general education. Finally, a brief analysis is conducted based on nine conceptual dimensions of entrepreneurial methods, representing a conclusion and some pointers for future work.
Learning-by-doing approaches in general education
Learning-by-doing can take many forms in general education. Table 1 outlines some common answers to the question “Learning-by-doing-what?” in general education. What to do in order to learn varies depending on which approach is used. Different approaches have different levels of complexity, emotionality and impact. The less complex approaches imply staying in the classroom to solve problems and create artifacts in teams. The more complex approaches imply going out physically into the world outside the school building and participate in more or less organized production of goods and services for customers or other types of beneficiaries. A generic “catch-all” term for all learning-by-doing approaches is experiential learning, implying having an experience that goes beyond lectures, books and exams, and then reflecting upon it.
Learning-by-doing is one of the oldest forms of learning in the history of humanity. Apprenticeship education has been around since late middle ages. A pair of shoes carefully designed and crafted by the shoemaker’s apprentice would inevitably one day be handed over to a presumably satisified customer, constituting the inescapably emotional and deeply motivating “moment of truth” for the young shoemaker apprentice. Most theoretical development of learning-by-doing was, however, done in the 20:th century. Some key contributors were John Dewey, Maria Montessori and David Kolb.
In problem-based learning, students learn through attempting to develop a viable solution to a more or less authentic problem. In project-based learning, such problem-solving activities are organized in a project where students get to work in teams over longer periods of time to take on a more comprehensive problem or issue. Cooperative learning focuses on team-based aspects, implying for example that team members should be dependent on each-other and be individually accountable. Game-based learning is when games, be it analog or digital ones, are designed with educational purposes. In design-based learning, the focus shifts slightly from the process to also be about the outcome of a project. A key focus is to let students learn by producing a more or less innovative artifact, broadly defined as anything created by human art and workmanship.
This necessarily brief and superficial overview will now turn to the more complex and emotional approaches to learning-by-doing where leaving the school building is a definitional and mandatory part of the learning experience. In service-learning, focus is on placing students in real-life situations where they deliver a service experience that meets actual community needs. A key challenge in service-learning is to achieve a good balance between curricular concepts and real-life demands. In cases where real-life activities take over, it is no longer defined as service-learning. A more appropriate term could then be situated learning, defined as the learning that occurs when newcomers work together with old-timers in a community of practice. A related term here is work-integrated learning, where students are integrated into worklife for the purpose of learning. Common forms of work-integrated learning are internships and apprenticeships.
Learning-by-doing approaches in entrepreneurial education
Also in entrepreneurial education, learning-by-doing can take many different forms. Table 1 outlines some common answers to the question “Learning-by-doing-what?” in entrepreneurial education. Ideally, the different forms constitute a progressive learning journey in three stages. Opportunity creation is followed by value creation and then finally venture creation. In an early stage characterized by relatively low complexity, ideas and opportunities are explored or created, primarily in a classroom. The resulting ideas and prototypes are then acted upon in attempts to make a valuable and tangible real-life contribution to people outside the classroom or the school building. The third and final stage is about organizing the endeavor into a new social or business venture. All three stages can be supported by entrepreneurial methods.
Early examples of learning-by-doing in entrepreneurial education were based on approaches taken from general education. Students learned through on-site internships for practising entrepreneurs, through trying to solve more or less authentic problems that entrepreneurs face, and through team-based projects. The novelty about this was that existing learning-by-doing approaches in general education were applied to entrepreneurship as a new field of study. Therefore, they did not contribute with novelty back to general education.
1970s: Business opportunity-based learning
In what could be the first example of a learning-by-doing approach more unique to entrepreneurial education, students were from the 1970s asked to come up with an idea representing a business opportunity and write a business plan around it (Ronstadt, 1990). Over time, this approach developed its sophistication, involving an increasing array of techniques for creative ideation, prototype creation, business idea pitching and prototype testing to reveal the robustness of one’s assumptions. A unique and novel contribution to education of this approach could be its focus on opportunities rather than on problems. It has been claimed that people get more motivated by working with opportunities than by working with problems. A focus on being creative around opportunities to make money could then be viewed as a contribution to general education, being a different perspective than the usual problem-solving focus in established learning-by-doing approaches. A challenge here is that most non-business teachers have difficulties in seeing the relevancy of teaching students to make money, at least in relation to their own curricular subject.
1970s: Venture creation-based learning
Around the same time, another learning-by-doing approach unique to entrepreneurial education emerged. Secondary school students learned about the world of business through starting and running a real-life mini-venture for around eight months. This rather complex activity necessitated concept providers such as Junior Achievement in the US and Young Enterprise in the UK. These organizations grew over the years, and have today reached worldwide diffusion with a presence in 120 countries, reaching around 10 million students yearly. Letting students learn through starting a real-life mini-venture was also picked up by colleges and universities. In some rare cases, students are even required to start a full-scale in-curricular venture in what has been termed “Venture Creation Programs”. If the venture becomes successful, it gets incorporated by the newly graduated students who then become founders and owners. Another kind of venture creation-based learning is when it is combined with game-based learning into analog or digital venture simulations.
A unique and novel contribution to education of the venture creation approach could be the real-life activity of starting and running a real venture for some time, with real paying customers. Prior to the 1970s, such an experience had not previously been integrated into curricular activities. Just like for business opportunity-based learning, a challenge has been that most non-business teachers do not see the relevancy of letting students run a venture, at least not in relation to their own curricular subject.
Learning through business opportunities and through venture creation have met significant resistance in attempts to apply them more broadly in education. Most teachers reject the two approaches, since they perceive them as irrelevant in relation to their own non-business curriculum. While both novel and unique in their character, the two approaches have thus not succeeded much in contributing to general non-business related education. They have instead remained marginal, making up less than 1% of the world’s education related activities.
1990s: Opportunity-based learning
The difficulties in applying a business-centric approach more broadly in education led in the 1990s to a new approach being proposed by professor Allan Gibb in the United Kingdom. The new approach was termed “enterprise” education, distinguishing it from the narrower business venture creation approach, termed “entrepreneurship” education. Money-making, business management and organization creation connotations were de-emphasized or removed altogether. Enterprise education was positioned largely as a pedagogical approach. It was presented as a reaction against passive, formal and detached teaching of abstract content. Instead, emphasis was put on active and experiential learning from a creative and authentic process of participation. The aim was to make students learn those competencies needed to be able to generate and realize ideas and opportunities. Being enterprising was positioned as an opportunity-focused posture, requiring ‘entrepreneurial’ competencies such as initiative, creativity, perseverance and tolerance for uncertainty.
While enterprise education was a liberating move for many teachers not keen on integrating business venturing into their teaching, other teachers were confused. Was it a mere replication of progressive education principles? Progressive education is a centuries-long tradition in general education, leaning on giants such as Comenius, Rousseau, Dewey, Montessori, Steiner, Freinet and many others. Its main tenets are very similar to enterprise education. Due to this similarity, some scholars have questioned whether enterprise education is a novel and unique contribution to general education. They instead claim that it is a typical case of “old wine in new bottles”, i.e. a mere relabeling of a well-known concept, only contributing to conceptual confusion. Some have even posited enterprise education to be a dangerously diluted version of entrepreneurship, jeopardizing both its distinctiveness, legitimacy and potential impact in education (see for example Neck and Corbett, 2018).
Still, there is at least one possible unique and novel contribution that enterprise education could claim. It has a clear focus on opportunities rather than on problems. Not only business opportunities but any kind of individually perceived opportunity in life. This aligns with a common definition of entrepreneurship viewed as being about an individual meeting an opportunity. If one could evidence the value of learning through exploring opportunities also in non-business subjects, enterprise education could indeed become a unique and novel contribution to education more broadly. But so far, evidence is scant apart from qualitative single case studies conducted by enthusiastic teachers at universities, most often at business schools. Many teachers have also perceived enterprise education as fuzzy and difficult to integrate into their existing teaching. Enterprise education is so far therefore difficult to scale broadly in general education.
2000s: Entrepreneurial method-based learning
A recent addition to learning-by-doing in entrepreneurial education entails letting students apply entrepreneurial methods. It reached significant traction in late 2000s. Some common entrepreneurial methods include “effectuation logic” as prescribed by scholar Saras Sarasvathy, “lean startup methodology” as prescribed by entrepreneur Eric Ries, and “design thinking” as prescribed by practitioners in the product design community. Students can apply effectual principles such as starting a creative process with what they have, who they are and whom they know. Students can apply lean startup principles such as building a prototype and testing it on real-world stakeholders to see if their assumptions about what is deemed valuable hold true. Students can also use empathy and observation principles in design thinking to learn about what new solutions are needed in society.
These distinctly entrepreneurial methods arguably represent a both unique and novel contribution if diffused more broadly into general education. Previous learning-by-doing approaches in general education have not given similar prescriptions on how to go about solving problems, running team-based projects or facilitating experiential learning. The reason these entrepreneurial methods can be so detailed is because they are based on careful studies of and distilled experiences from real-world experts in entrepreneurship. But there is a limitation also here. Entrepreneurial methods are all based on primarily business centric practices, so the problem of business venturing not appealing to most non-business teachers is again coming back.
Up until the 2010s, teachers in non-business subjects interested in entrepreneurial education have thus been faced with a difficult choice between the distinct but commercially oriented business-based practices and the perceived broader relevancy of a fuzzy and unproven enterprising approach.
2010s: Value creation-based learning
In the 2010s, a new trend in entrepreneurial education has been to remove the focus on business creation but to keep and reinforce a focus on students creating value for real-world stakeholders. Creating value for others has been a core tenet of entrepreneurship since the 18th century, when pioneering economist Richard Cantillon defined entrepreneurs as non-fixed income earners. Entrepreneurs take a risk by being dependent on the uncertain income paid in exchange for the customer value they create. The corresponding learning-by-doing approach in education prescribes students to learn from an uncertain process of trying to create real-life tangible value for external stakeholders. The value created can be social, cultural, ecological or enjoyment based, thus taking a broad view on what is valuable. The reward for students is in most cases not income, but a highly engaging and relevant learning experience. Empirically speaking, strong development of entrepreneurial competencies has been easier to prove from letting students learn through value creation than from organizing enterprise education activities.
An educational emphasis on students creating value for others has made it easier for entrepreneurial education to contribute more broadly to non-business subjects and on educational levels outside colleges and universities. Teachers get access to the strong motivational effects of entrepreneurial activities without having to deal with a problematic business emphasis at odds with curricular content or with the fuzzy enterprise concept difficult to act upon.
Letting students learn through creating value for others is not new to general education. It has very old traditions, such as apprenticeship education, internships and other work-integrated and socially situated forms of learning. Also service-learning involves students creating value for others. The novel and unique contribution here can rather be articulated as its broad applicability in general education, and in its reliance on entrepreneurship as a practice grounded in expertise, traditions and prescriptive methods. While work-integrated learning is a quite marginal approach primarily used in secondary and tertiary vocational education, learning through creating value for others has been possible to integrate into all subjects and on all levels of education. Another contribution to existing value creation practices in education is an emphasis on novelty. Established forms of value creation in education entail mainly routine-based value creation. Students create value to well-known customers on established markets. When more novel value is created by students, motivation and learning can become even deeper and entrepreneurial methods and practices can support the learning process.
The unique and novel contributions summarized: Opportunities, methods and value creation
Summarizing the unique and novel contribution of entrepreneurial education more broadly, three aspects stand out; opportunities, methods and value creation. While unique and novel one by one, they could also be combined. Teachers can let students learn through applying entrepreneurial methods, resulting in opportunities to apply curricular content, hopefully leading to more or less novel value creation for external stakeholders. This represents a novel, unique and broadly applicable contribution that entrepreneurship can make to general education.
Stripped of its business connotations, entrepreneurship as an opportunity-oriented value-creating practice and a domain of expertise and methods can thus empower general education. It provides a simple to integrate yet powerful purpose for those students who ask themselves and their teacher “Why are we doing this?”. Curriculum content applied in value-creating practices becomes more engaging, motivating and relevant. This deepends and expands student learning. It is also a new answer for many teachers who might be asking themselves the question “Learning-by-doing-what?”.
A group of teachers that could find this a slightly less novel approach could be a small group of vocational educators working with apprenticeships and work-based learning. But also this group of teachers could benefit from a stronger opportunity focus, a stronger novelty focus, and entrepreneurial methods relieved of their business semantics.
A final comparison is conducted in Table 2, where nine entrepreneurial dimensions common to many entrepreneurial methods are matched with the learning-by-doing approaches in general education outlined in Table 1 (dimensions taken from Mansoori and Lackéus, 2019). The matching is tentative, and should be seen here as a possible foundation for future work and food for thought. Some entrepreneurial dimensions are much more common in general education than others. Rare dimensions in Table 2 represent an opportunity to expand future work on what is unique and novel with entrepreneurial education. Also, if entrepreneurship is viewed as a practice simultaneously combining all nine dimensions, a contribution to general education could be when students get to experience all of them simultaneously in their education. Perhaps entrepreneurial education can even be defined as when students as formal part of their education get the opportunity to “manage uncertainty by expanding their knowledge and resource base through continuous learning from feedback, in an iterative and interactive manner involving close collaborators, acting to create new kinds of value for oneself and for others”? (cf. Mansoori and Lackéus, 2019).
 One could certainly find examples of problem-based, project-based and design-based learning where students get to leave the school building, since reality is always much more complex than any idealized concept. Focus here is, however, to give a succinct and simplified overview of learning-by-doing approaches.
 While Junior Achievement started already in 1919, its first 50 years were focused on after-school programs.
MANSOORI, Y. & LACKÉUS, M. 2019. Comparing effectuation to discovery-driven planning, prescriptive entrepreneurship, business planning, lean startup, and design thinking. Small Business Economics, In press.
NECK, H. M. & CORBETT, A. C. 2018. The scholarship of teaching and learning entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy, 1, 8-41.
RONSTADT, R. 1990. The educated entrepreneurs: A new era of entrepreneurial education is beginning. In: KENT, C. A. (ed.) Entrepreneurship Education: Current Developments, Future Directions. Greenwood Publishing Group.
I’ve been a teacher in corporate entrepreneurship for five years now, and a researcher on how to make people entrepreneurial for ten years. Despite this, it’s not until recently that I’ve started thinking deeply about who the “entrepreneurial employee” is. And, perhaps more importantly, how she “is” and “becomes” entrepreneurial in practice. Research has shown that entrepreneurial firms perform better than non-entrepreneurial firms. Both in financial and in non-financial terms, see a relatively recent literature review here.
But research has so far been largely mute on how to make a firm’s employees more entrepreneurial. Some even see it as an oxymoron – an entrepreneurial person is by definition not employed by someone else, the narrow-minded reasoning goes. As if being entrepreneurial were a legal-administrative issue of who employs who. Others think it’s more interesting and effective to search for already entrepreneurial people outside the firm to collaborate with. Static and fixed mindsets abound here.
Entrepreneurial competencies in corporations
My quest for a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial employee started when I boarded a flight from Leeds to Amsterdam in September last year. On the plane was Dr Margherita Bacigalupo who works for the European Commission’s research centre in Sevilla. We had both been speakers at the IEEC conference, the leading annual meet-up for enterprise educators in the UK. As always, our talk on the plane centred around EntreComp, EU:s increasingly diffused and celebrated framework for entrepreneurial competencies that Margherita is one of the main co-authors of. She told me that they had started investigating how EntreComp can be applied not only to education but also to work-life. It turned into a captivating discussion.
When we said good-bye and went to our different flight connections at Schiphol, I had become fully convinced that the entrepreneurial employee is an important topic to investigate further. After all, most people who could become more entreprenurial in their life are employees, not students. If we don’t manage to make people more entrepreneurial while they are students, we should not give up on emancipating them from a life of creating the same types of value over and over again. A routine value creation based worklife is most often largely void of exploratory value creation. Left alone, most of these people would merely be sustaining the current world of work, not contributing much to creating a better world. This is especially lamentable when we consider that ability and willingness to create a better world is not a trait people are born with, it’s a habit and identity that can be acquired. An entrepreneurial identity. Read all about it in this recent book by my colleague Karen Williams Middleton and others.
Not much focus on entrepreneurial employees
There and then, my research direction changed somewhat. I’ve now been investigating the topic of entrepreneurial employees extensively for about seven months. I’ve ordered about a meter of books. I’ve downloaded countless articles. While I’ve not read all of it, I’ve sifted through a vast amount of literature, relating it to our own research on making people more entrepreneurial in education. To my surprise, not much has been written about the entrepreneurial employee. Most literature on what is often called “corporate entrepreneurship” is focused on the entrepreneurial firm, its organizational and cultural characteristics, and especially its top managers. An entrepreneurial firm is defined as innovative, proactive and risk-taking, sometimes also allowing for autonomy and competitive aggressiveness. There are well-established survey instruments available for measuring a firm’s entrepreneurial “orientation”. Questions used are for example:
Q: How much do you agree with the following statements? (grade 1-7)
Our firm emphasizes both exploration and experimentation for opportunities
Our firm seeks out new ways to do things
We always try to take the initiative in every situation
The top managers of our ﬁrm favor a strong emphasis on R&D, technological leadership, and innovations
The answers to such surveys are provided by corporate executives, especially CEOs. Research is thus focused primarily on the views of top managers, not on the grassroots employees and their more or less entrepreneurial everyday endeavors. Applying this upper echelon approach, scholars have made some impressively rigorous studies. In one study by leading scholars Johan Wiklund and Dean Shepherd, they made thousands of phone calls to business managers. First they asked how entrepreneurial their firm was, and then, one year later, they asked how well the firm was performing financially. It turned out that those firms who were more entrepreneurial were also one year later performing better in terms of profitability and growth. Great news! It indeed seems to pay off for firms to be entrepreneurial. Or, if you wish, those firms who perform well financially can also afford to be more entrepreneurial. Macro-level statistical research cannot really tell the diffence.
Truly rigorous research – but is it relevant?
Still, after about six months of digging into the field of corporate entrepreneurship literature, I ended up with the same depressive impression I have of my home domain entrepreneurship education. Most work is done on a macro level, superficially studying large collectives of people and their attitudes, not so much their behaviors, emotions and related underpinning meanings on a micro level. Survey research is the primary data collection method, and the results are rigorous in mathematical terms. But what do they really tell us about the entrepreneurial employee? Not much, from what I can discern. If anything, being entrepreneurial is treated as a static variable. Either a firm is entrepreneurial or it’s not. Most recommendations on how to become more entrepreneurial are focused on top managers’ attitudes, organizational structures and external stakeholders. If training programs are discussed, the most important factor is to identify and better prepare those employees who are already entrepreneurial. A learning-oriented perspective is largely absent (for a refreshing exception, see this paper). Static, oh so static.
Is the entrepreneurial employee born or made?
The current state of corporate entrepreneurship reminds me of the discussion in the early years of entrepreneurship education research, three or four decades ago. See for example this article from 1985. Back then, a debate emerged on whether entrepreneurs are born or made, and consequently whether it was even worth the effort to train people to become more entrepreneurial. Now we know that while some entrepreneurs are indeed born, entrepreneurs can also be powerfully made and re-made through education and training.
This knowledge seems not to have reached the corporate entrepreneurship domain. Being entrepreneurial is rarely regarded to be a competence that an employee can develop. The question of whether entrepreneurial people are born or made is largely not even asked yet. Instead, firms are advised to look primarily outside their own organization to find entrepreneurial people they can work with. Recommendations are that firms should work with open innovation, since most entrepreneurial people are out there somewhere. Firms should find, attract and work with start-ups, who are deemed to be so much more entrepreneurial than the firm’s own employees. And firms should establish a corporate venturing unit that identifies and then spins out those few entrepreneurial people inside the own firm to newly established small corporate-owned start-ups, thus making them even leave the firm. Oh, irony.
Defining the entrepreneurial employee
Enough moaning about the perceived (imagined?) shortcomings of extant work. What do we at Chalmers aim to do about it? Well, we are currently working on an article for practitioners tentatively titled “The entrepreneurial employee – What, Why and How?”. In this article we will attempt to transfer our twenty years of research and insights in how to make people more entrepreneurial into the corporate sector. If this article is then picked up by practitioners, we might be able to document the outcome systematically to see whether and how it works.
Some of the content of this article will come from our clinical lab based research environment at Chalmers. Through a lab approach of doing research on our own students while in treatment, and also on our alumni post graduation, we have been able to prove empirically that entrepreneurs can indeed be made. Perhaps more importantly, we have also developed a unique and easy-to-use model for how people become entrepreneurial in practice, on a very detailed level. The model consists of four key cornerstones; agency, novelty, value for others and learning, see figure below. We are presenting our first article on this model at a research conference called 3E in May this year.
We believe that this model is transferable to the corporate sector. Entrepreneurial firms will then be defined as firms that encourage a fair share of their employees to take autonomous action (i.e. agency) to try creating innovative kinds (i.e. novelty) of value for their current or future customers (i.e. value for others) through an intensive trial-and-error process of building new knowledge about what works (i.e. learning).
“Value for others” captures the perhaps most salient feature of being entrepreneurial: the never-ending interest in understanding needs, contexts, and how needs can be satisfied in a way appreciated by others. “Agency” can be defined as not only caring but also daring and engaging on a deeply personal level. One can care about a lot of issues but to also act upon them is something different. “Novelty” is about working with new solutions and claiming them – a core part of being entrepreneurial. Last but not least, “learning” is about managing uncertainty and persevere in the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial journey through reflecting upon personal experiences, searching for facts to then imagine new solutions, and sometimes even pivoting into totally new directions.
Future will have to tell whether our assumptions are right. We aim to give this model a try in corporate settings. We have also involved one of the most experienced corporate entrepreneurs we have in west Sweden, an alumni from Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship anno 2000, who as a co-author will contribute with some real-world perspectives from the corporate entrepreneurship domain.
Taking a “from within” perspective to the entrepreneurial employee
The model we’ve developed at Chalmers takes a “from within” perspective, resulting in practical implications for any regular employee at any firm. This model is therefore valid and useful regardless of the current level of entrepreneurial orientation of the employee’s top managers, the firm’s venturing units or its open innovation initiatives. Instead of waiting for the own firm to become more entrepreneurial, or waiting for collaborations with external entrepreneurial people to impact the own department, any employee can now use this model as an inspiration to become more entrepreneurial today. In their own setting and unique situation, and on their own terms. Whether or not they will be supported by their organization and its top managers, is something we here choose to largely disregard. It’s just like in “regular” entrepreneurship, where some entrepreneurs have access to better support structures than others. Lack of support has seldom stopped, and shouldn’t stop, those who are determined to do some serious entrepreneuring.
You can watch a short 2-minute video about our model of being entrepreneurial here:
It has been stated that enterprise education represents a risk of diluting entrepreneurship so much that it loses both its power and its legitimacy, since enterprise education leans on such a broad definition of entrepreneurship. See for example in this article by Heidi Neck and Andrew Corbett, where they write:
“…we need to create boundaries for [entrepreneurship education] so as not to dilute its impact while also working to establish its legitimacy.”
I can understand and sympathize with such critique. But I’ve not seen a deeply probing definitional and critical examination of enterprise education before. So I wrote an article aiming to do just that. Last year it was included as a chapter in a book about enterprise education in the UK that you can find here. Today I posted an open access version of that chapter on this website, you can download it here. It’s the same text, except that the pagination doesn’t work.
Since I’m an engineer (I guess), I cannot just stay in the critical stance and delve into all that doesn’t work. In those situations, I always get an urge to propose solutions to the problematic situation. The solution I propose here is that we add two definitional perspectives to enterprise education, resulting in a situation where we go from Enterprise Education version 1.0 to version 2.0. One of these definitional perspectives was added in the 2000s – entrepreneurial competencies – and reinforced in the 2010s by among others European Commission. The other of the definitional perspectives is of course the perspective I’ve come to be obsessed by – value creation.
When we add these two perspectives, enterprise education changes both in its means and in its ends. It is no longer solely about seeing opportunities for oneself, but also about learning through creating value for others. And it is no longer economic policy based, but instead it’s educational policy based. We then can see enterprise education (the 2.0 version) not for the benefits to society’s or individuals’ economy, but for the educational benefits it can offer us while our students are still in school. More engaged students learning core curriculum content more deeply. The desired end then becomes better education instead of better economy.
I conclude my article with a question: Have we then been doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons for decades? Well, I come to the slightly unexpected conclusion that it seems we indeed have. But that’s in itself been for damn good reasons. Because it allowed us to pivot into a new type of educational philosophy that in fact can offer great benefits to all kinds of education, and for all student ages. Thus, increasing the relevance of enterprise education through a deliberate mission creep. That’s not a small feat!
In sum, I’d say it’s been a typical entrepreneurial collective process of doing new things, learning, pivoting and repeatedly so by many practitioners and scholars over vast periods of time. If we hadn’t started digging many many decades ago, we wouldn’t have found gold now. I personally think this is a golden opportunity and time for enterprise education. But many of us will be stuck in enterprise education 1.0 for many years to come. That’s how we are, we humans, we just have to accept that. We tend to keep our habits, stick to what we know and be cautious about new ideas. We are truly path dependent. Meanwhile, I’ve turned to other quests. But I will certainly check in later!
I think this is perhaps one of the more provocative papers I’ve written so far. No wonder it had to be hid away in a book chapter. Blind peer reviewers would have torn it apart, because they can. Publishing critical-reconstructive papers is not easy in a peer review regime. Let me know what you think about it! I do think it keeps together quite well, despite its provocative tone. And if you missed the link above to the open access version of the chapter, below is a big link for you. Download it, you can always read it later! (procrastination is another of humanity’s trademarks)
Today it was made official – the first book for teachers about value creation pedagogy will be released in April in Sweden. Unfortunately for non-Swedish, it will be in Swedish. The author is Maria Wiman, a teacher in Huddinge on lower secondary education level. I first heard about Maria when we sent out a call for good examples in practice of value creation pedagogy in 2015. Her name was mentioned, and it turned out that Maria had started working this way by chance about 5 years ago mainly through own serendipitous discovery. We soon found each other, and have kept in touch since then. Maria and her students were part of our largest study for Skolverket (Swedish National Agency of Education) on value creation pedagogy, and her teaching was among the best examples we found in the 19 schools around Sweden that participated. Our report to Skolverket in Swedish is available here. Results from this study are currently in review in a scientific journal.
Maria was interviewed by the publisher of the book, Lärarförlaget, and I have below translated her answers to a few basic but very interesting questions.
Making a difference for real
Q: What is value creation pedagogy?
Maria: It’s about creating something of value for someone else, finding a recipient and a situation outside the classroom where the knowledge has meaning and significance.
Q: Who should read this book and why?
Maria: I myself lacked a book when I started working this way. The book is for all teachers who want to find the motivation and make students think that school is fun.
Q: For which age is value creation pedagogy best?
Maria: I’ve primarily used it on lower secondary education level, but it works fine to start earlier, in primary school, and also to continue on upper secondary education level.
Q: Your class has worked with preventing hate on the internet, do you need a theme to work around? Or how do you get started?
Maria: You can absolutely start with a theme. But to get started I’d recommend to start small. When you’ve read a book, you can send a letter to the author and write about what you thought about the book. Or read aloud for preschool kids. Or write a fairy-tale to them!
Q: Do you work value-creating every lesson?
Maria: No – neither I nor the students would cope with that. But often, it is enough to have a project on-going in one subject. It spreads, and causes a positive impact also on the other subjects. My planning becomes easier, sterring documents and learning goals come to me, so that next step comes more natually.
Q: You give talks a lot both in Sweden and around Nordics, which questions do you get from the audience?
Maria: The most common question is: What do you assess? Then I answer that this is just ordinary teaching – we follow the same steering documents. In addition to my students’ knowledge and skills, I can also assess their entrepreneurial competencies.
Q: Is there any research on this?
Maria: Martin Lackéus has written a dissertation about the effects, and shows very positive impact in terms of how much student motivation increases, and that creativity and courage are stimulated.
Q: How has value creation pedagogy changed your role as a teacher?
Maria: Primarily it has made my job way more fun. It is a completely different “go” in the classroom, which spreads to both the classmates and to me. My students say about me: “Maria, you’ve become much more relaxed!”. Nowadays I dare to let my students’ ideas in, and that means everything. And when I look back – they are right. It was super boring in fourth grade…
Q: Your students that you’ve had since grade 4 will soon finish 9:th grade in the spring. What do you think they have taken with them by working value-creating?
Maria: With a risk of sounding prententious, I’m convinced that my students know how to change and improve the world. They have been given all the tools for how to use their creativity and their drive to make a difference for real.
VCP List is a website focused on two different kinds of VCP - venture creation programs and value creation pedagogy. It is run by a team of education innovators in Sweden and Belgium. Our ambition is to provide short descriptions, illustrative examples and resources useful for people who want to work with either VCP1, VCP2 or both in ther educational institution.