Hem Blogg

Chapter 10. Value creation pedagogy as integration


Value creation pedagogy can be an important piece of the integration puzzle. Some of the schools we followed in our research are located in socio-economically vulnerable areas. There, we have been able to follow how the approach strengthens integration for many years. I can honestly say that this was an unexpected effect, but on reflection it is not particularly remarkable. After all, integration is about achieving inclusion, the opposite of exclusion. To be involved, to be taken seriously and to experience the warmth of a wider community. All of this is enabled when students get to create value for others.

One headteacher who has seen the positive effects with his own eyes is Johan Karlsson in Sundsvall. He has worked for twenty years at Bredsands School, a school in a vulnerable area. From 2015 onwards, under Johan’s leadership, all staff participated in our research on value creation pedagogy. I met Johan’s staff myself several times and also got to read their reflections. Johan’s conclusion today, six years later, is that value creation pedagogy may be the best approach available for a school with challenges around integration.

The relational power of value creation builds bridges between schools and society at the individual level, between students at school and adults in the community. This enables many students to lift their gaze and break out of exclusion themselves. They build up a network of contacts both inside and outside their own neighbourhoods, they meet new role models and chart completely new paths in life. When students see what is possible for them, far beyond the suburban exclusion, they start asking school staff new questions: now I know, here is something I want in life, I want to become this, how do I do it?

According to Johan, more traditional approaches don’t really work for many young people living in exclusion. Johan’s frustration that not everyone seems to see the importance of allowing students to work in a value-creating way in vulnerable areas is clear:

“It is almost an error of omission not to understand how important and obvious this approach is for schools in deprived areas.”

Reversing the trend through community engagement

Another headteacher of a school in a vulnerable area is Marika Andersson at Lövgärdesskolan in Angered. Marika has become known in the national media as one of few principals who have managed to turn around a school in a deprived area. Under Marika’s leadership, the percentage of students achieving the upper secondary school objectives has increased from 30 to 70 percent.[1] Allowing students to interact with the surrounding community has been one of Marika’s key strategies. I asked her about value creation pedagogy, and here’s what she wrote to me:

“I truly believe that this is an approach that promotes integration. It gives students the opportunity to feel that they are doing something meaningful, that they matter to others. What they do becomes important. We already work like this to some extent in our school. However, I have never thought of it as value creation pedagogy before. When we put a name to what we do, it becomes clearer.”

In other schools in deprived areas, teachers and principals have told us about another somewhat unexpected effect. In deprived areas, the value-creation work of students attracts a whole new level of parent involvement and interest in school. When parents see that the school allows students to take initiative, connect with the surrounding world and work entrepreneurially, they recognise themselves. After all, escaping from a war-torn homeland and making it all the way to Sweden requires a good deal of initiative, networking and creativity. However, upon arrival they often end up in a segregated residential area where it is difficult for both them and their children to find equal pathways into Swedish society. That is where I share Johan’s frustration. It doesn’t feel fair that so many are stuck in exclusion. I think it is therefore important to spread Johan’s fundamentally positive message.

Some (in)justice perspectives on integration

It is difficult to write about social inequalities and integration without slipping into politics. Some believe that in Sweden we have a relatively fair distribution of income, a kind of “fair inequality” where those who make more effort also earn more.[2] According to the think tank Ratio, our compensatory education system has led to a high level of social mobility, which has ensured that almost everyone can succeed.

The young men who burn cars in segregated suburbs probably disagree. Rather, there is a deep anger and frustration at an abusive world that treats them as second-class citizens.[3] Nor can it be said to be fair that every third student in Sweden’s socially deprived areas does not finish primary school with a qualification for secondary school.[4] In many places we now have a “school for all”, except for one third, who are instead labelled as failures by society and denied the opportunity to continue their lives in regular upper secondary school. The situation is due to structural inequalities that have been allowed to grow for decades – the trend since the Second World War of increasingly equal distribution of society’s resources has long since been broken.[5] No wonder some youths burn cars. A kind of ongoing value-destroying learning, based on the lesson that you are worth nothing as a human being.[6]

What we can agree on is that we face major societal challenges. Whether we call segregation a disaster[7] , a ticking bomb[8] or a colossal challenge[9] , it is urgent to find ways to promote integration. But what is it about the value creation pedagogy approach that makes it seem like it could be part of the solution?

A gathering campfire for freezing students

Teachers can use the relational warmth and primal power of value creation to thaw the frozen hearts of segregated students. Students can feel the warmth of community for a moment by experiencing what it feels like to be a valued part of our community. If we give them the tools and the ability to change their environment for the better, they will also become more involved in the democratic development of society. The interpersonal relationships that are then created with the outside world become like glowing logs in a campfire that everyone can gather around and be warmed by. Not just the students, but all those they come into contact with.

Unlike assimilation, integration is a reciprocal process. If integration is to take place, the natives must also be involved and gain new perspectives. In Sweden, many of us need to be awakened from our slumbering filter bubbles and experience the value of other perspectives, knowledge and cultures. This is where students’ initiative and active action can make a big difference.

At Marika Andersson’s school in Angered, students got to exchange letters with a school class in a wealthy area of Jönköping. There was mutual surprise when they realised that in one class there were those living seven people together in a small one-room apartment, while in the other class one student was an only child in a seven-room apartment. This strengthened both writing skills and understanding across class boundaries.

At Johan Karlsson’s school in Bredsand, students were asked to write a book with an author and then present it at Sweden’s biggest book fair in Gothenburg. Johan’s students have also collaborated with a construction company, the municipality of Sundsvall, the regional science centre Technichus and a friend school in Huddinge in various value creation activities. In addition to strengthening their knowledge, the students also gained motivation for school work, resulting in higher achievement among students. More students succeeding in school also strengthens integration, says Johan.

An instrument of power to break out of exclusion

Feelings of powerlessness can be strong for students living in segregation. A term often used in sociology is alienation – a perceived sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness and social isolation.[10] For some students in disadvantaged areas, school may feel both meaningless and unrealistic.[11] Life in the suburbs and their classrooms is isolated from the rest of society and its norms. Moreover, when parents in affluent homes, even in deprived areas, choose to drive their students to schools in other areas every day, school ceases to be a meeting place between different social worlds.

Here, value creation pedagogy can be a possible countermeasure. The methods and tools in this book become, in the hands of segregated students, an instrument of power to break alienation. That knowledge is power is well known. This book makes it clear that knowledge of and the ability to create value for others is a power tool that young people can use to break free from involuntary isolation. When they take their rightful place in society by helping others through value creation pedagogy, we are thus getting a modern version of what Paulo Freire (1970) called the pedagogy of the oppressed.

However, getting students to successfully break away usually requires more extensive projects. Value creation within the classroom or within school can be engaging and beneficial to school work, but does not break an exclusion. Students need to be able to build relationships and create value for beneficiaries outside the deprived area in which they themselves live and work. Teachers in deprived areas therefore need to be a little braver than other teachers if they are to succeed in helping their students to experience that warming sense of involvement with the world outside where they live. If value creation pedagogy is to become a way of strengthening inclusion, there needs to be more cross-disciplinary projects over longer periods of time.

An integration bridge between school and work

The workplace can be the strongest integration tool we have in society. Professor Jonas Olofsson has written about how practical vocational training can counter both alienation and powerlessness among young people.[12] However, according to Olofsson, it is not enough to give them hard-cut routine tasks without context, personal development or fair remuneration. Vocational training needs to be characterised by participation, empowerment and fair conditions. As Juul has pointed out (see Chapter 1), students need to be seen as full citizens if the bridge to integration is to work. Industrialist Carl Bennet says:[13]

“For me, it goes without saying that an apprentice who does a job should be paid […] It’s time to see young people’s will and skills as a resource […] It’s very important to get a salary, it gives the job status. It’s important that employers invest in young people, it sends a message to those in charge.”

I myself have experienced with my five senses the integrative power of workplace value creation. As an entrepreneur, I was able to put both newly arrived and disabled people into productive work. Over time, we became good friends, even close friends. We went on holidays and spent time together with our respective families outside work. Mutual respect flowed from the fact that we were all contributing to a common greater purpose. Drawing on our different strengths and skills, together we created value for our clients. In the process, I learned about the tastiest food and drink in the Balkans, about a certain dictator’s best sides, about different aids for the visually impaired, and about what life as an immigrant or disabled person can be like. By sitting on their sofas and seeing life through their eyes for a while, I myself became the subject of a powerful form of integration. Together, we all grew as human beings.

Let students take action from the heart in new ways

Workplaces can also be segregating. What is the integration effect when low-paid jobs are staffed by immigrants and disabled people? Perhaps not non-existent, but at least limited. Every time I take a taxi in my work, I think about how in Sweden we carelessly leave routine value creation to the so-called precariat – individuals forced to accept precarious employment conditions in a gig economy where three of the four corners of the diamond model in Chapter 6 are missing. The everyday life of the precariat is not characterised by empowerment, creativity or personal development. Therefore, I think it is important that value creation pedagogy as integration does not only consist of value creation for others, but also includes the other three corners of the diamond model.

Students in vulnerable situations need to be taught at an early age how to take action from the heart about issues they are passionate about, how to help others in new ways and how to accumulate whole-body learning along the way. Of course, schools cannot take unlimited responsibility for everything and everyone, as often needs to be pointed out. But teaching students how to create new kinds of value for others around something they feel strongly about is certainly a pressing task for schools. Otherwise we risk ending up with Marxism’s dystopian image of an immigrant underclass being heavily exploited by the country’s capitalists. No wonder then that cars keep burning.

In 2016, Sweden’s former Education Minister Gustav Fridolin advocated that schools in deprived areas should employ people with a special task of building bridges between school and working life.[14] I think it’s a good idea, even though there is already a professional role in Sweden that has this mission. More and more school principals have started to appoint school-worklife developers who act as a “spider in the web” when it comes to various value-creating partnerships between schools and the surrounding community. Precisely because through value creation pedagogy we can build so much better bridges than the traditional apprenticeship.

But the best bridge-builders are probably the students themselves. Let them do a lot of the community outreach themselves, they are capable of it. Especially if they are supported by their teachers and others in their work. Let students take on the role of teacher, guidance counsellor, restaurant owner, care worker, journalist, architect or cleaner as a natural part of their core curriculum.

An alternative to the gangster lifestyle

What is the meaning of life? Throughout this book I have tried to give a picture of the ultrasocial human who sees community, social interaction and co-creation with and for others as important sources of meaning and joy in life. But what happens when young people are denied a place at society’s warming campfires? What fills the void in the lives of the one third who were not allowed to participate, who were assessed by their teachers at school as unfit? Just because they couldn’t do the maths or had difficulty learning the language of their new home country.[15] Unfortunately, the answer is probably that crime often takes the place in young people’s hearts that society has failed to fill with democratic and humanist ideals. At least among boys. And then it can take horrible forms. There is much in what Hjalmar Söderberg (1905) wrote in his novel about the lonely and isolated priest-killer Dr. Glas:

“One wants to be loved, or else admired, or else feared, or else detested and despised. You want to instill some kind of feeling in people. The soul shudders at the emptiness and wants contact at any price.”

Hand on heart dear readers. If you yourself were unaccounted for, lonely, loved by no one, despised by many (racist people) and seemingly without a future. And if at the same time you had a few good friends down in the square who occasionally asked you to help them move some small package here and there. Would you yourself have been able to resist the temptation to take a seat by the warm campfire of the gangsters? Here, schools can use value creation pedagogy as an alternative campfire, while inviting the community outside the suburbs to join them for a moment of fellowship.

Fire air instead of luxury car

Commercial ideals probably also play an important role here. Olofsson (2018, s. 32) writes about how many young people’s “horizons of action and vision are limited to commercially created images of success and meaning in life instead of a social community based on empowerment and responsibility for working and living conditions”. Olofsson’s quote puts an image in my head of a successful gangster with glittering gold jewellery and a expensive watch, sitting in his brand new black Mercedes with hip-hop on full blast. How will schools ever be able to provide an alternative vision of life for young men in vulnerable areas?

I think it’s possible. Creating value for others can be a drug stronger than the drugs that are peddled in the marketplace. Or, in the words of Machiavelli, a weapon bolder than a Kalashnikov. An alternative lifestyle that doesn’t consist of gang wars, fast cash, luxury cars and vicious life-and-death fraternisation. We have seen many times in our research how young people build a strong identity around seeing themselves as a person who loves to create value for others around issues they are passionate about. And it is the almost magical motivational substance of value creation, the fire-breath of learning oxygen, that does it. The strong feedback and deep affirmation from exciting people (socialising oxygen), the inherent joy and meaningfulness of collective creation (handiness oxygen) and, not least, the feeling of doing something urgent and completely new with others that would not otherwise have happened (creativity oxygen) are all highly addictive. There are certainly side-effects, such as lack of time and the risk of fatigue syndrome with prolonged use. But rarely is anyone drawn into crime or gets shot.

[1] See interview with Marika Andersson in Göteborgs-Posten (Petterson 2020).

[2] See Ratio (2020).

[3] See Kamali (2006, s. 93).

[4] See The Global Village Foundation (2019).

[5] See Olofsson (2018).

[6] See Wingborg and Svensson (2019, s. 31).

[7] See Wingborg (2019).

[8] See Lindquist (2020).

[9] See Olofsson (2018).

[10] Seaman (1959).

[11] See Hugo (2012).

[12] See Olofsson (2018).

[13] See interview in SVT, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/halland/industrimannen-som-vill-andra-larlingssystemet and on the website https://gymnasielarling.se/for-foretag/arbetsgivare/carl-bennet/

[14] See Green Party (u.å.).

[15] See Wingborg and Svensson (2019, s. 23).

Reflective assessment in entrepreneurial education – some challenges and a stairway model


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.)
  • “Reflection setting: Weekly reflection logs” (Gössel)
  • “…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.

Chapter 9: Value creation pedagogy for sustainable development


[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).[1] 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:[2] 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.

Similarities: Priority, assessment, pedagogy, emotions, activism

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.[3] Both present challenges in practical pedagogy and assessment.[4] Both raise strong feelings: in value creation, interaction with unpredictable outsiders can easily become an emotional roller coaster,[5] 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.[6]

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:[7]

“…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.

Differences: Methodology, values, philosophy, identity

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, ER, Mayall, EE, Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3918955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3918955.

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.

Jensen, BB (2002). Knowledge, action and pro-environmental behavior. Environmental education research, 8(3), 325-334.

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


[1] See also book by Remvall (2021).

[2] See Hodson (2013, p.324) in Learning for Sustainable Development and Johnson (1988, p.62) in Entrepreneurship Education.

[3] See, for example, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (2014).

[4] See Bursjöö (2014a).

[5] See Schindehutte, Morris and Allen (2006).

[6] See Hodson (2014, 2020).

[7] See Machiavelli (2009/1532, p.23).

[8] 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).

[9] See Tiessen (1997).

[10] See Lackéus (2021, pp.84-96).

[11] For a moral-philosophical review of learning for sustainable development, see Bursjöö (2014b, p.45-48). See also Spahn (2018) and Kemp (2010).

[12] Hodson (2010, p.204-205) writes about politicization of education.

[13] See Holmberg (2019).

[14] See Holmberg and Holmén (2020) and Holmberg and Robèrt (2000).

[15] See Hickman et al. (2021).

[16] Read more about the school’s democracy mission in Fohlin and Wilson (2021).

[17] See Baumol (1990) and Örtenblad (2020).

[18] See Jensen (2002).

[19] The difference is well described in Hodson (2013, p.328).

Chapter 3. Get started with your students


A few years ago, my son’s fifth grade class had challenges that concerned me. Actually, we guardians are supposed to stay out of school leadership. But I had this idea that it might get better with some value creation pedagogy that could strengthen the classroom community and student motivation in this highly unfocused classroom. After good dialogue with that fall’s substitute teacher, I got the chance to help out a bit. I was given forty minutes with the class and happily thought that with my ten years of action research on pedagogy I was well equipped to meet the 28 children. But the day before, I had severe anxiety. I realised that not one of all the research-oriented slides I had shown to thousands of teachers could be used with students. Theory and practice were two completely different things here. A real sandwich moment once again.

The next day I met the 28 students anyway. By reducing the complexity to a minimum and asking a few simple questions, we had great conversations in whole class and small groups. It turned out that the students had many good ideas as they brainstormed answers to the following two simple questions:

For whom in our neighbourhood can the skills, abilities, resources, experience, contacts and interests we have create value today?

How do we want to make a difference in our area now?

This can certainly be a way to get started. But I really learned not to underestimate the importance of giving teachers many different possible first steps to choose from. So here are sixteen different practical first steps teachers can take to get started with value creation pedagogy. They are a condensation of various examples I have seen among teachers over the years.

Plan your pedagogy

Many teachers like to start the practical work with a pedagogical planning form. In Chapter 6 on practical tools, we take a closer look at a form I’ve developed in my research. Here I will just mention planning as a possible start. A form helps us to put our thoughts on paper. It gives us a basis for discussion with colleagues about how students could try to create value for others, who these others might be, what knowledge and skills they will then be able to apply in practice, and how we think about assessment and student participation.

Discussing value creation pedagogy with colleagues is also something many teachers like to do at the beginning, with or without a form. Such discussions are often combined with watching some short videos on value creation pedagogy. A simple search for value creation pedagogy on Youtube and Vimeo will usually provide some ideas.

Asking for whom knowledge can be valuable

The first step many teachers take with their students is to ask a simple question in the classroom, “For whom might this knowledge be valuable today?” This question helps connect theoretical knowledge with practical applications. Students may have some difficulty answering the question at first. They may need time to think about different answers. Gradually, the meaning of the question becomes clearer and more and more ideas come from the students. In the beginning, suggestions for recipients of value are often close to the students – in their own class, school, family or local area. With some support and repeated work on the issue, they tend to be able to think of more and more recipients of value further and further away and in more and more sectors of society.

The question can also be a simple entry point for deeper dialogue with students about who might benefit from their knowledge and skills here and now, what knowledge might be valuable, and what different types of value there are. The question becomes a way for students to mentally shift from seeing themselves primarily as recipients of value to becoming givers and creators of value for others. For some students, this means thinking in new ways, a first step in feeling that their actions and competences can be important to others. For some teachers, too, the issue may feel like a new and unfamiliar step. Teachers have described how they need to let go of some control, leave their habitual patterns and go outside their own comfort zone.

Ask students more questions

In chapter 6 I review the entrepreneurial toolkit. Already here we can pick up from that toolkit many good and simple questions for students to work with when thinking about who they can create value for. Value-creating work can usefully start from the students’ own strengths, interests and thoughts. Then these questions can work well:[1]

  • Who am I really? (identity and goals in life on a deeper level)
  • What can I do? (skills and abilities)
  • What am I good at? (aptitude and talent)
  • What am I passionate about? (passion, dreams and interests)
  • What bothers me? (challenges and problems)
  • What do I usually succeed at? (opportunities and strengths)
  • Who do I know? (networks and friends who can help)

Pick one or a few suitable questions for students to work on, or make your own version of the opportunity map tool described in Chapter 6.

Once the students have a better understanding of themselves, planning for value creation can begin, and be linked to the outside world. Some of the following questions can then be used, preferably in groups:

  • Who can we help?
  • How do we help?
  • How do we reach those we want to help?
  • Who helps us to help?
  • What can we ask our intended recipients of value already today?
  • How can we easily test whether what we intend to do/create is really valuable to someone else?
  • How can we observe others in their natural everyday lives to see what they might need help with?
  • How can we solve other people’s problems in new ways?

Several of these issues are echoed in Chapter 6 in the form of the canvas tool, which is a tool for triggering value creation by students. But it is also possible to make your own canvas. In choosing questions, it may be worth remembering that an opportunity-oriented focus is often more motivating than a problem-oriented focus.[2] Sure, problem solving can be fun, but it’s even more fun to look for opportunities to create value for others based on students’ dreams, interests and strengths. A problem focus can seem inhibiting to many, while an opportunity focus often unleashes positive energy and action.[3] At the same time, our problems should not be swept under the rug. They can, however, be relatively easily reframed as an opportunity to create value for others.

Hold an ideas workshop with the students

An ideas workshop is an opportunity for students to brainstorm ideas on how they can create value for others. It can be done in forty minutes, but it can also take a little longer. Some of the questions above can form the basis of students’ brainstorming. There are also concrete tools that can be used – the opportunity map, the canvas and the pitch. These are described in Chapter 6.

A short introduction of around ten minutes can be followed by twenty to thirty minutes of brainstorming in small groups. The last ten minutes can be spent collecting ideas or writing them on the board so that everyone can hear about the different ideas that came up. Finally, a selection can be made, with students voting on which ideas they want to work on in the next stage. Such a selection could also be done at a later stage, to give students some time to think through all the ideas that came up. Bear in mind that an idea voted for by rather few students may still have as much potential, or even more, than the ideas that many initially like. It is not possible to know at the beginning of an idea development process which ideas are good. Divergent ideas can often turn out to be both more unique and more viable once they have been developed further.

The introduction can include an explanation of what value can be, what it means to create value for others and why such experiences are an important part of school work, working life and life in general. Include some examples from other schools where students have worked on value creation. But not too many, as these examples can guide students’ unconscious thoughts when they come up with ideas themselves. Keep the introduction short and concise – don’t let it become too theoretical.

Now you might be wondering how my idea workshop went with my son and his class. Well it went very well. One idea that came up was to organise a football tournament for socially vulnerable people in the local area. But there was never a tournament. The lesson for me was the importance of securing a continuation of the value creation work before inviting students to brainstorm ideas. I certainly should have planned the work better. My mistake was not having the school leaders on board for a long-term plan. Teachers can easily initiate value creation activities without the support or even knowledge of their managers, but as a parent I was totally dependent on the support of school management. Which is perfectly reasonable.

Let the students do the work

Teachers can indeed do some pedagogical planning and preparation of workshops. But it’s the students who should do most of the work in value creation pedagogy. Teachers who find value creation pedagogy a chore may be taking on far too much responsibility and work themselves. The teacher’s most important tasks are to ensure the structure, clarity and focus of the process over time, to ensure that all students participate, to link the work to curricula and knowledge requirements, and to assess students’ creations and actions in terms of how they illustrate what they have learned and are capable of. The rest can often be left to the students. Therefore, one way to get started is to allow students to take a great deal of responsibility in planning how to go about it in practical terms. What value will be created, what skills and abilities will form the basis of the value creation and who they will target. Creativity is and always has been a strong area for young people, if they are given the chance.

The implementation can also be left to the students. In each class there are many students who can take the initiative to contact people in the outside world that teachers sometimes feel they have to contact for them. Letting the students do the talking usually works better than we adults think. Schools also have many more students than teachers, and they need to learn to take initiative, be persistent and communicate in writing and speaking.

Use the power of the pitch

A pitch is a very short presentation of an idea to create something of value for someone. We humans are impatient, so ideally the pitch should take no more than a minute to deliver. First, capture interest in a pithy and preferably fun way (15 seconds), then describe a relevant problem (15 seconds), present a useful solution (15 seconds) and end the pitch with a call to action (15 seconds). Perhaps by the listener saying yes to a proposal for a continuation presented in the pitch, or perhaps by going to a website.

Give your students a lesson in pitching their value-creating ideas to an outsider. To anyone basically. A sister, brother, parent, friend or a complete stranger. It’s best if the person they are pitching to is also part of a natural audience for the value they intend to create. If the idea is to help newly arrived refugee, let them pitch to a newly arrived refugee. But by all means don’t let the best become the enemy of the good. A neighbour born in Sweden can also work. The main thing is that students expose themselves to outside feedback on their ideas. This is bound to make them try harder and feel more passionate about their work. Afterwards, have them reflect in writing to you about who they talked to, what feedback they got, what they learned and how they plan to move forward. A pitch is such a useful tool that the concept will be discussed again in Chapter 6.

Let students explore their feelings

We humans like to be perceived as rational and logical. But deep down we are all very much governed by our rich inner emotional life.[4] This fact can be used by teachers to get more motivated students. Emotional approaches to value creation pedagogy can start from questions such as “Who am I, really, deep down?”, “What bothers me deep in my soul?” or “What do I feel so strongly about that I can walk on hot coals?”. If value creation is linked to students’ own deeply personal feelings through similar questions, it can drive powerful and in-depth learning that lasts for a long time.

The feelings can be both positive and negative. Positive emotions contribute to a sense of total engagement and flow that can make it feel like time stands still.[5] Negative emotions such as anger, worry and anxiety also play an important role. They help to focus students’ attention and help them to take powerful action rather than getting stuck in distraction. [6]

The teacher Maria Wiman suggests that the class makes a list of emotions based on the question “What makes you really angry? “and then plan different value creation activities based on this.[7] Another emotional exercise is proposed by two Danish researchers.[8] Have students stand with their feet in a small cardboard box each, which may represent a life situation when they felt frustrated and limited. The teacher has his or her own box and tells about such a situation to show the way and get the discussion going. Gradually, more and more of the students share their inner emotional thoughts with the class. The exercise ends with everyone stomping on their cardboard boxes, a symbol of breaking free from their limitations. The Danish researchers also suggest that teachers let students draw a diagram of different emotional learning events in life, a kind of inventory of the existential backpack we all carry of major challenges, insightful highlights and hard-won life experiences.

Some caution should be exercised when teaching becomes this emotionally charged. The first person to get a high voltage shock in case of a short circuit is usually the teacher. I myself work a lot with giving emotionally tough challenges to my students at Chalmers. It’s exciting and educational for both me and my students. They learn for life in an emotional rollercoaster. But when it gets too challenging, or if something tough happens at the same time in their private life, the primal force can backfire on me as a teacher. There can be accusations of the most varied kind that I might not have done my job properly. After many years, I’m getting used to it and now take it with a grain of salt. I no longer say sorry, it was not meant to be so difficult for you. Because that’s exactly what it was. But I do understand those teachers who choose not to fully engage their own or others’ emotions in their teaching.

[Here I am currently]

Direct what you are going to do outwards anyway

Students create things in school all day long. Texts, drawings, reports, posters, assignments of all kinds. However, the end result of these creations is in most cases an analogue or digital wastepaper basket, certainly through the teacher’s stressed eyes. After the teacher has read and given feedback, the creation is thrown away or left to languish forever.

One way to think about alternative fates for students’ creations is to ask the following simple question: “For whom can we do this?” or “Who should get to see this? ” The question can be asked every time a creative task begins, in just about any subject. If we increasingly have good answers to this simple question, it will lead to the teaching and creation that does take place being directed outwards to real recipients. Pupils themselves can take responsibility for making contact with their particular recipient. When students’ creations and performances matter to someone else, teaching becomes important in real terms and school becomes more meaningful for both students and teachers. Teacher Caroline Lorentzon has called this ‘grumbling to teaching:[9]

Value-added work in the classroom is simply doing what needs to be done anyway, but adding a twist – you look for facts outside the classroom as you work and find yourself a recipient beyond the teacher and classmates when it’s time to deliver.

Grunt to a nearby accelerator

I am often asked how value-based learning differs from other student-centred pedagogical approaches. There is much to be said on this issue, and it will therefore return in Chapter 7. Here, I thought I would simply suggest that you teachers explore the similarities and connections for yourselves. While you’re at it with cooperative learning, grumble it so that students have an outside recipient they can try to create value for. When you are going to work problem- or challenge-based anyway, find a real recipient who can appreciate and benefit from the solutions students are working out. However, when working on projects with authentic content, direct the projects outwards to real recipients in the outside world. When working thematically anyway, link the theme to outside recipients of value. When working across subjects or language development, think about how you can also bring about value-creating learning processes. Most of the other accelerator pedals you use in your work to make the educational car go faster can probably be nudged with a drop of value-based learning in one way or another.

Let students submit their opinion piece

A classic example of directing what is still done outwards is the argumentative text. Most students will write many such texts during their schooling. Why not submit some of them to the local newspaper or even to the national media? Whether or not the text is published, the writing process will have a very different and more emotional character. When there is an ever-so-small chance, or risk, that the text will be read by many, pupils’ commitment and diligence increase.

Let students create something for others

Another common approach we have seen is teachers letting students create things for students in other classes or for children in nearby preschools. We have seen pupils creating board games, computer games, maths problems, number lines, rhymes, stories, jewellery, musical instruments, toys, robots, films and much more for other pupils.

Creating for other students can also involve plays, sketches, readings, theatre, concerts, exhibitions and much more. The recipients are usually younger pupils or pre-school children, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a lot in what Maria Wiman students so often say: “Age is just a number. “If students can create value for adults, they can probably also create value for older students at school.

Sometimes the creation is based on placed orders and specific requests. Bracelets and necklaces can be made with words or phrases requested by the recipient, pieces of music can be requested by someone, lyrics can be written by a group of students and then set to music by other students, a favourite dish can be requested by someone and then served, students can act as godparents to others in the school based on specific challenges. It’s an extra nice feeling to be able to deliver a tailor-made creation or service to someone. Being able to provide a personal service enhances the perceived sense of care and meaning.

Let students help at school or at home

Many value-adding tasks are aimed at the school or home. Pupils have made budgets for family finances, fire safety reports and energy audits for the home, interior design projects for the school premises, values work exhibitions in the corridors and much more. A particularly successful project on values in Sigtuna became a whole book.[10] In it, pupils were asked to carry out everyday value-creating actions such as looking the school restaurant staff in the eye and saying thank you with a smile, saying hello to someone they don’t normally say hello to, being kind enough for someone to say thank you, getting someone who rarely talks at lunch to talk a bit more, supporting a friend who seems to be on the outside, or getting as many people as possible to take part in a joint activity.

Let students perform outside the classroom

Pupils are usually allowed to present and perform in front of their own class. This can be book reviews, news, sketches or presentations of a topic or phenomenon they have studied. One way to add to the learning experience is to have them tell a story to a class other than their own, perhaps even to a different year group or school than their own. Then it will feel more “real”, and they will try harder.

Copy an example or an example school

An easy way to get started with value-based learning is to be inspired by something another teacher has done. In Sweden, teachers have been sharing their experiences on social media for many years and have even written books about their best tips. As value-based learning spreads internationally, teachers will probably want to share their experiences in other languages too. I run a blog in English where I collect different texts and examples of value-based learning, see vcplist.com. We also collect examples in our digital library for action-based learning, see library.loopme. io.

At the same time, I would encourage teachers to share more examples with each other, preferably in a structured way. Information about what teachers do and what effects they see when they work in a value-added way is today a bit of a thicket. It is not easy to navigate around websites and social media to find good examples. The digital channels mentioned above also have room for many more examples. Please send me texts on how you work with value-based learning in your school, and I can publish them as guest posts on my blog.

It is also possible to draw inspiration from schools that have value-based learning as a holistic idea or pedagogical model. Such schools exist in Växjö, Stockholm, Huddinge, Södertälje, Ånge and Uddevalla. I believe this is a development we will see more of in the future, both in Sweden and internationally.

Use social media to reach out

In the introduction I wrote that interaction with the outside world and integration into everyday life were two key factors in value-creating learning. If there is one thing that has made people interact with the world around them every day, it is social media. Many schools have their own accounts on Instagram where they let students post regularly about different things and from different perspectives. Teachers can post their students’ texts in various relevant groups on Facebook. Students can make their own podcasts on different topics. Blogs are also common.

But you have to be careful that students don’t write for deaf ears. On social media, it’s easy to notice if no one is reading or liking what’s being written. On blogs, it’s not as visible. If no one reads or cares, students soon lose engagement and the impact on their learning is lost. So think about how students reach their readers. These tend to be exactly the same principles that marketers always need to follow on social media. Engage readers, create value for them, entertain them, use photos and videos, update often, ask questions, give advice, share interesting facts, organise competitions. [11]

Write to an author, writer or debater

Having students write down their thoughts about something they have read is a common exercise in school. Such student writing can be usefully directed at the person who wrote the original text they were asked to read. It could be the author of a book who is happy to receive feedback from their readers. It could also be writing a response to a newspaper article. It might even get published in the newspaper. Responding to digital contributions to the public debate is also both easy and engaging for students.

[1] The issues are also described in more depth in Lackéus (2015, s. 29–32).

[2] See Rae (2003, 2007) and Blenker et al. (2011).

[3] See Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2008, s. 16–17) for a review of problems versus opportunities.

[4] See Lakomski and Evers (2010).

[5] See Csíkszentmihályi (2008).

[6] See Derryberry and Tucker (1994).

[7] See Wiman (2022).

[8] See Neergaard and Robinson (2021).

[9] This quote is taken from an email conversation between the author and Caroline.

[10] See Steinberg and Sourander (2019).

[11] See Kerpen (2011), Vaynerchuk (2013) and Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick (2014).

Chapter 2: Why value creation pedagogy?


Now let’s talk effects. Because if there is anything that motivates work with value creation pedagogy, it is all the strong effects we have been able to see when students and teachers work with value creation. Students gain strengthened motivation, self-confidence, perseverance, initiative and empathy for others. They become kinder to each other, take greater responsibility for their learning and experience school as more meaningful. Many students also learn more and get higher grades. The effects are mainly triggered by interaction with the outside world, value creation for others, teamwork and receiving feedback from outsiders, see Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1 Effects and how they arise in value creation pedagogy (Lackéus 2020).

Teachers also get a better situation. They get safer classes, easier assessment, stronger inclusion through more varied teaching and increased clarity in student learning. They then avoid spending so much time motivating students and dealing with conflicts between students. The teaching profession also becomes more fun.

All this sounds almost too good to be true. So a question that arises is: “How do you know this, Martin?” So let me take it from the beginning.

Ten years of research on value creation pedagogy

I am a kind of backwards researcher. Most researchers start with a theoretical idea, set up a hypothesis and then test whether it holds in practice. I instead started with a vague but extremely strong feeling in my stomach that something worked really well in practice. The question was never whether it worked, but instead what it was that worked, and why. A kind of appreciative inquiry.[1] My life had taken an unexpected turn when at the age of 26 at Chalmers I was thrown into a crazy space rocket full of learning oxygen. For me, the effects were crystal clear, emotional and life-changing. He who has lived on the moon himself does not have to doubt its existence. So that this was an educational effort that worked, I already knew that when I started my research ten years later on what the teachers did with us. But what, of everything I had been through, was it that worked? And why did it work? It would take another ten years to come up with well-grounded answers to these questions.

To get answers, I started by doing interviews. Lots of interviews. I sat and listened for hundreds of hours to students who were now in the same emotional situation as I had been twelve years earlier. They went to the same education that I myself had attended. I asked them in different ways what caused emotional storms in them, and why. Between interviews, I asked them to write down their thoughts each time they experienced a new emotional event on our programme and send the text to me. A kind of emotional survey. My own emotional roller-coaster from the same education told me that it was among the emotions I should look for answers.

The emotions gave the answer to what worked

And quite rightly, it was precisely among all those emotions that I found the answer to the “what” question. The students became most emotionally involved when they got to do something that became valuable to someone external. The pattern was unexpected but very clear. Previously, researchers had thought that it was the start-up of a new venture that caused the strongest effects, much like the concept of Young Enterprise has its focus. But here I found a completely different explanation. In the summer of 2013, I wrote in my first completely own research article that teachers could benefit from exposing their students to value-creating activities.[2] Since then, there have been many different texts on the same theme, some of which have been reviewed and published scientifically.

After finding the answer to what it was that made the strongest difference, I went on to study in more detail what students’ value creation led to for themselves. Such research is called doing an impact study. What effects could we observe when pupils and students learned by creating value for others? When, how and why did the effects occur? Me and my new Chalmers colleague Carin Sävetun spent seven years studying these questions. The first sub-study began in 2013 and the fifth and final one ended in 2017. Then it took a few years to analyze all the empirical material as well. Carin managed to change jobs and is today the CEO of the small IT company we needed to start to build our most important tool for data collection, an app for emotion surveys that we named Loopme. During the trip, we received help from director of education Ragnar Åsbrink at the National Agency for Education, who was very interested in our research. The research article summarizing our conclusions from 291 interviews and 10,953 emotional questionnaire responses from 1,048 participants in 35 different schools was published in 2020.[3]

From 3,500 to twenty-five pages in two years

The conclusions were so unexpected and different from previous research that the scientific review of the article took two years and involved eight researchers around the world. We got to know the names of two of them, the rest were doubly anonymous. They did not know who we were and we did not know who they were, other than that several of them were very prominent. Our dialogue had to take place in writing and eventually filled about sixty pages of text. With such controversial conclusions, the expert reviewers were extra careful. Therefore, the months passed and became years. The article also got better and better for each duel. A key question was how the extensive data we collected and which proved the effects would be presented so it became both credible and understandable. How to summarize 3,500 pages of interview text and 10,953 questionnaire responses on twenty-five meager pages? We scratched our heads for a long time about this.

Finally, the Danish professor Helle Neergaard gave us crucial advice. She suggested that we do what she called mega-tables with both the effects and many illustrative quotes from students in one and the same table. In this way, we were able to let our collected data speak for us, and convince the experts that the effects we described were not free fantasies. For me, this became an emotional moment of deep insight and learning. Helle solved our communicative dilemma in an elegant way. Without that advice, we might not even have had our overall results published. That’s why I also remember exactly where I sat when I received the advice. Where, do you think? Yes, in Madrid of course. Another Spanish bocadillo moment.

The final article contains two different mega-tables that describe the effects we saw. The article can be downloaded for free thanks to Chalmers buying it free from download fees.[4] Search for “comparing impact Lackéus” and you will find it easily.

Effects on students

Let me now briefly summarize what one of the mega-tables says about the effects of value creation pedagogy, see Table 2.2 below.

Table 2.2 Effects of value creation pedagogy (Lackéus 2020, p.951).

Interaction with the outside world has strong effects on students. Their self-confidence is strengthened when they notice that they receive a more positive response than they had expected. Their ability to take initiative is strengthened when they discover that the outside world is not waiting for or cares about the one who does nothing. They must act here and now to get their coveted feedback from outsiders. Their communicative ability is strengthened when they feel the pressure to make a good impression and get their message across.

The very act of creating value for others usually results in extremely strong motivation. It is perceived as fun, exciting, meaningful and rewarding. If the value creation is based on knowledge, the students’ knowledge development is also strengthened. Knowledge then becomes an indispensable means of achieving the goal of creating value for others. Speaking of confusion between goals and means (see Chapter 1), we see the opposite here compared to the teachers’ situation. Over time, we also often see identity changes. Many students increasingly define themselves as such a person who creates value for others. They do not express it with those words, but the meaning revolves around empathy and joy of being able to do something meaningful with and for others.

Being able to work in teams differs here from more traditional group work where tasks are often divided up and performed mainly individually or in small groups within the group. With an outside recipient of value, it becomes more like teamwork for real, and students benefit more from each other’s different skills, strengths and interests. This in turn leads to them learning new things about themselves. They compare their own strengths, weaknesses, priorities and values ​​with others in the team.

Applying theories and knowledge in practical value creation for others strengthens the development of knowledge. A deeper understanding is developed and students remember better what they have learned. It may sound obvious, but such a bridge between theory and practice occurs more naturally in value-creating processes than otherwise.[5]

With outside recipients of value as an unpredictable joker in the game, the learning processes become more uncertain than before. It is not possible to know in advance how an outsider will perceive and react to the students’ attempts to create value. It develops students’ courage and perseverance. Because when they dare and succeed, many students usually say that this was actually not as dangerous as they first thought. The outcome does not always turn out as planned, but then they try again and discover that perseverance pays off. Just like I gradually learned to order a sandwich in Madrid.

When students finally get that much-coveted feedback from outsiders, it leads to a powerful increase in motivation. This is probably the biggest source of motivation in the whole process. Therefore, outsiders’ feedback on the value created (or not) is absolutely crucial. Perhaps here we have the cleanest rocket fuel of all for students’ learning. Self-confidence also tends to skyrocket when students succeed in creating something of value, and it is again the feedback that is the proof that they have succeeded. Students often mention in particular that they see feedback from others as clear proof that they have succeeded. It’s almost like a trophy crowning success.

Negative feedback also provides motivation and learning

Negative feedback and criticism can also strengthen students’ motivation and learning, because then the students feel that they have influenced others and made a difference. Dismissive feedback can also give them energy to try again. A well-documented example is from 2016 when two students at Edboskolan in Huddinge wrote a blog post about how they saw value creation pedagogy as a new era for the school (Sandén and Jonsson 2016). The post was heavily criticized by principals and teachers on Twitter. Many insinuated that the students had been indoctrinated. The teacher Maria Wiman (2019, p.147-148) describes in her book on value creation pedagogy how the criticism was received by the students:

“The students were appalled and upset, absolutely! But above all, it was exciting! […] When I look back on what happened, there is no doubt that the students came out of this strengthened. They stood up for their cause and for each other.”

The students themselves expressed that the event strengthened their motivation, perseverance, communicative ability, initiative and knowledge of online hate. They also wrote more texts about what society can learn from the fact that some adults are not able to cope with competent students who contribute. The student Ludwig Berglind wrote in a debate post in the local newspaper:[6]

“Maybe you are someone who thinks that children are stupid? […] We are not stupid. We are the future. Children make a difference.”

I am not at all surprised by the powerful and continued learning from an initially unsuccessful attempt to create value for others. We see the same effect every year among our students at Chalmers. In a recent thesis I supervised, two of my students explored what people learn from negative events.[7] They interviewed sixteen of our alumni about their most emotional failures while they were students with us, and asked what they had brought with them in life. It was a nice illustration of how incredibly much we learn from failures and difficulties, see figure 2.2. We learn the most about ourselves and our team. But we also learn about problem solving, communication, value creation, social skills and being entrepreneurial. I think Jarvis is probably right that harmony is a non-learning situation. In any case, there will not be nearly as strong learning in a purely harmonious classroom alone. If we want to get knowledge and abilities to be burned into the students’ brains for life, we should thus strive for emotional highs and lows. A good way to succeed in this is value creation pedagogy.

Figure 2.2 Common types of learning from failures (Blomé and Simson 2021).

Factors that affect the strength of the effects

If we now for a while again see value creation pedagogy as the accelerator in a kind of educational electric car, it would be good if we could adjust the speed a little. When practicing driving in a parking lot, it may be directly inappropriate to push the accelerator pedal into the carpet. In our research, we have seen seven factors that affect how strong the effects will be on the students, but also how challenging it will be for the teacher. For those who want maximum speed, the seven factors can be used to increase speed. For those who want to try on a small scale, some factors can be adapted in the other direction. The seven factors are shown in Figure 2.4 and are now briefly described.

Figure 2.4 Progression model with seven factors that affect the strength of the effects of value creation pedagogy (Lackéus and Sävetun 2016).

Kind of value. The kind of value that has the strongest effect on students has proven to be influencel value. Many students love to be able to influence other people in depth. If you want a soft start, you can instead focus on creating enjoyment value and social value. Economic value creation can work well, but is associated with some challenges. Managing money in school can be complicated. It can also be perceived as a bit too capitalist and self-centered. An alternative is to raise money for charity, read more about it in Chapter 5.

Recipient. Varying the type of recipient of value is one of the most important ways to control the degree of complexity and impact. Staying within the school’s safe confines is easier for teachers and can be a good start, but does not have as strong effects on students.

Feedback. The type of feedback from outsiders affects how committed the students become. The strongest effect is when the students feel and get proof that they have made a big concrete difference for many people. At the same time, it is also the most difficult level to reach in practical terms.

Magnitude. Small projects in small groups are easy to manage. However, we see the strongest effects when value creation takes place in large projects in the whole class. Then the students usually need to be divided into different groups based on different competences and tasks, just like in working life.

Time span. The longer a value-creating activity lasts, the stronger the effects on the students often become. Here, calendar time is more important than the number of hours in the classroom. The projects with the strongest effect on students have often lasted for a year.

Planning. Thoughtful planning increases the time required for teachers, but has stronger effects on students. However, good planning does not have to involve a large scale. A metaphor many teachers find useful is to see value creation pedagogy as a drop of colour you pour into a glass of water. The value-creating element is small but recurring, and then colours all teaching with a sense of meaning that strengthens students’ learning.

IT support. Sophisticated pedagogical forms of work require sophisticated methods and tools that support teachers. IT support can be used to handle the complexity of learning for assessment, follow-up and dialogue.[8] We return to this in Chapter 8 on assessment as jazz. IT support can also be used in students’ interactions with outsiders. It can be through blogs, social media, video conferencing, programming or other digital solutions. An interesting digital platform used in Sweden to publish students’ texts is Mobile Stories, and can be said to be the contemporary equivalent of the French educational philosopher Freinet’s printing press.[9]

Why do the effects occur?

Now let’s take an overall perspective for a moment. How can we understand the altruistic paradox that students seem to be more motivated to create value for others in ten minutes than for themselves in ten years?[10] At the risk of making phlogiston-like claims, I will nevertheless attempt a more comprehensive explanation here. I think there is a perspective – meaningful action – that can help us understand both how the school works today and how it could work better with more widespread value creation activities among students. Everything boils down to a kind of axiom, a general and universal consideration by philosophers Ludwig von Mises and Michael Oakeshott. They wrote independently that all human actions are always meaningful from the individual’s perspective.[11] Applied to school, students thus have meaningful reasons to deviate from school, based on their own narrow perspectives. They probably see the school as meaningless. It could be the whole purpose they experience as meaningless – to learn things they see no use for in their lives as they live here and now.

When we then add a purpose for the school that is so different as to create value for others, it has a great impact. On the one hand, there is of course a risk of purpose competition. Should we no longer focus on learning in school? But it also opens up completely new possibilities. With a new purpose available, teachers can better reach those students for whom the existing purpose does not work. A new basic purpose starts a long chain reaction in us humans. It triggers deep emotions, it affects what meaning we see with what we do and thus basically what learning is possible.[12] Instead of saying that the two purposes compete with each other, we can see them as complementary. One purpose captures the present and the other purpose captures the future.

When we appeal to truant students to return to school, we often do so today by appealing to their hedonistic and selfish side – come back so you can enjoy the good life and avoid a lot of suffering as you get older. Value creation gives us access to a completely different and more prosocial strategy – come back and be part of a warm community where we make a difference for others for real, here and now.

The effects we see cannot be understood incrementally. One plus one purpose here is far more than two. We may need to use chemical rather than mechanistic explanatory models to understand why we see the effects we see.[13] Value creation pedagogy seems to be a bit of a catalyst for school. The purpose of learning and the purpose of value creation reinforce each other. When the coloured value-creation drop hits the water surface of learning, a violent chemical reaction takes place that I honestly can not really explain the power of. What exactly is the equivalent of the piece of ceramic or metal found in a petrol car’s catalyst for exhaust gas purification?

Maybe it’s the effects of a mental time travel we see. When students’ learning becomes valuable for others here and now, and thus also for themselves, their future is connected with their present in their heads. In the film Back to the Future, lightning strikes, slams and burns the tires just at the crucial moment when Doc’s sports car converted to a time machine reaches a speed of 88 miles per hour and the time window opens. Maybe the power of value creation pedagogy comes from giving students a glimpse of their own future? Is that perhaps why study counsellors like this way of working so much?

Effects for teachers

Now we return to teachers’ everyday lives. Teachers who provide value-creating tasks to their students can also do better themselves. It’s like the saying goes: doing well by doing good. In our effect studies, many teachers have told us and written to us about exactly this. It is fun for teachers when students think school is fun and meaningful, especially if it does not happen at the cost of learning but instead strengthens learning. Then teachers’ everyday lives also become more meaningful. Many teachers think it’s nice not to have to answer the question “Why do we do this?” as often. Teachers also get more chances to assess students when more creations are made that can be assessed. In addition, the assessment becomes more inclusive when more students can show what they are capable of.

Teachers have also said that they like the increased clarity, structure and guidelines compared to other student-oriented pedagogical approaches that are often perceived as fuzzy and difficult to assess. A teacher wrote to us that value creation is a kind of middle ground between a more traditional teacher-centered teaching and student-centered but fuzzy teaching:

“It feels like value creation ends up in the middle between these two educational philosophies and specifies relatively well how I want my teaching role to develop. It uses the best of both worlds and strives to make students both involved and engaged, but at the same time contains tools for teachers to help students.”

A kind of music guiding teachers ‘and students’ movements

The quote above about combining two worlds captures something important with value creation pedagogy. Teachers can get help with pedagogical variation – an important but often difficult balancing act between widely differing learning philosophies. Teaching with well-balanced variation becomes more inclusive, as different students have different needs. On the front of my dissertation, I drew a figure that illustrates just this, see figure 2.5.

Figure 2.5 Value creation pedagogy as a kind of music that facilitates teachers ‘and students’ coordinated movements across the philosophical playing field of education (Lackéus, 2016, p.69).

The reclining eight in the figure illustrates a coordinated movement over the entire philosophical playing field of education. The notes are an attempt to capture that value creation pedagogy can be seen as a kind of music that teachers and students can dance to, so that they can more easily move together in a movement pattern otherwise very difficult to coordinate. Maybe it’s jazz music they dance to, see more in chapter 8.

The work begins at the bottom center of the figure with the question “For whom is this knowledge valuable today?”. Then there is a movement diagonally upwards to the left towards traditional education where knowledge is obtained through lectures, books and own work. Then the journey continues to the right towards progressive education, with students who, based on their knowledge, can try to create something of value in creative group exercises in the classroom. In the next step, students leave the classroom, either physically or digitally, and begin searching for one or more perceived outside recipients of value to their creations. Here it gets really emotional. Students make one or more attempts to really create the intended value. Then they return to the classroom and ask themselves “For whom was this knowledge valuable today?”. After reflecting and reconnecting to the knowledge material, the students take a new turn with new material, and then another.

School in good balance between theory and practice

The reclining eight in the figure shows how the value-creating process gives teachers support in issues such as when it is time for teacher-led lectures and student exercises, when creative creation should take over, when students should leave the classroom and try their wings, under their own responsibility but with a crystal clear purpose, and when it’s time to gather for reflective learning in the classroom. These widely differing approaches are also better linked together through a clear process with an engaging and concrete purpose.

When teachers and students then move in a more coordinated way across the philosophical playing field of education, they also get a better balance in everyday life between widely differing perspectives. Instead of us adults digging into the usual trenches of traditional versus progressive education, our students get a school day with a good balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application, between deep learning and emotional engagement.

Journalists who dig… trenches

Once I wrote a debate article about the balancing effect of value creation pedagogy on schools and the need for a more balanced school policy.[14] I wrote that a strong focus on student discipline but no focus on student motivation can hurt those students who are particularly dependent on intrinsic motivation. Especially then newly arrived refugees, students in socially disadvantaged areas, students with diagnoses and boys. I spiced it up with many references, because I am far from alone in having seen challenges with a lack of school motivation among certain vulnerable student groups.[15]

The article was included in a reputable daily newspaper, but I received much resistance. Promoting a balanced school turned out to be unexpectedly controversial. Maybe it was because the editor chose a rather unbalanced headline: “High demands and discipline in school risk pushing young people to gangs”. Click-friendly by all means, but that was not quite what I meant. My text was rather about the lack of things that complement and balance the prevailing discipline focus in debate, politics and classroom practice.

After publication, someone wondered if I was against high demands and discipline. But I’m not at all against it. The process in the figure above requires both high demands on students and self-discipline enough to stick to a challenging goal. I myself certainly know the value of struggling with vocabulary. Because without knowledge of words, I would never have been able to create value for all the exciting Spaniards I met in Madrid. But the reverse is also true. Had there been no exciting Spaniards in Spain, I would never have been able to become fluent in Spanish. It required deep study almost every night, and it was the value of joy and social value that filled Carlos’ reading room in Argüelles with learning oxygen. The school debate should therefore not be about duty versus joy. What we need in school is duty and joy. Two thoughts in the head at the same time.

An emotional lesson this time was that a balanced school is not a particularly click-friendly point to make. Investigative journalists that dig up new scoops are good, but I do not like when they dig trenches in the school debate.


Berglind, L. (2016). Ludwig’s answer to the critics: Maybe you are the ones who think that children are stupid in their heads?

Blomé, A., & Simson, W. (2021). Entrepreneurial Failure and Learning – The role of affect in learning from failure and its impact on nascent entrepreneurs Master thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.

Callahan, G. (2005). Oakeshott and Mises on Understanding Human Action. The Independent Review, 10(2), 231-248.

Carlin, M., & Clendenin, N. (2019). Celestin Freinet’s printing press: Lessons of a ‘bourgeois’ educator. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(6), 628-639.

Cooperrider, DL, Whitney, D., & Stavros, JM (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. San Francisco, CA: Crown Custom Publishing Inc.

Ekholm, D. (2018). Youth exclusion in vulnerable neighborhoods: An overview of knowledge about social exclusion in relation to economic conditions, education, political participation and spatial segregation. In: R&D Center for care, nursing and social work.

Hugo, M. (2012). When school learning is meaningless. In L. Mathiasson (Ed.), Assignment Teacher: An anthology on status, professionalism and future dreams Stockholm: Lärarförbundets förlag. pp. 31-38.

Lackéus, M. (2013). Developing Entrepreneurial Competencies – An Action-Based Approach and Classification in Education.  Licentiate Thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg. (ISSN: 1654-9732)

Lackéus, M. (2014). An emotion based approach to assessing entrepreneurial education. International Journal of Management Education, 12(3), 374-396.

Lackéus, M. (2016). Value creation as educational practice – towards a new educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship?  Doctoral thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. (ISBN 978-91-7597-387-6)

Lackéus, M. (2019). Requirements and discipline in school risk driving young people to gangs. Dagens Nyheter Debate 28/9. Downloaded 2020-10-23 from: https://www.dn.se/debatt/krav-och-disciplin-i-skolan-riskerar-driva-unga-till-gang/.

Lackéus, M. (2020). Comparing the impact of three different experiential approaches to entrepreneurship in education. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 26(5), 937-971.

Lackéus, M., Lundqvist, M., & Williams Middleton, K. (2016). Bridging the traditional – progressive education rift through entrepreneurship. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 22(6), 777-803.

Lackéus, M., & Sävetun, C. (2016). Entrepreneurial education as value creation pedagogy – a third way? An effect study of value creation pedagogy on behalf of the National Agency for Education. Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology

Nowacki, MR, & Eecke, W. (2003). The Superiority of ‘Chemical Thinking’for Understanding Free Human Society According to Hegel. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 988(1), 313-321.

Oakeshott, M. (1991). On human conduct. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sandén, I., & Jonsson, I. (2016). I now know how to make a difference!

von Mises, L. (1949). Human action: A treatise on economics. Auburn, Alabama: The Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Wiman, M. (2019). Value creation pedagogy. Stockholm: Lärarförlaget.

Åhslund, I. (2019). Perceptions, expectations and didactic choices – a study of the importance of teaching for boys’ school performance.  Licentiate thesis, Mid Sweden University,

[1] Appreciative research is called appreciative inquiry in English and is a leadership theory based on the thesis of studying and expanding what works well, instead of studying what is problematic, see Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2008).

[2] See Lackéus (2014, p.391). See also Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).

[3] See Lacquer (2020).

[4] See Lacquer (2020).

[5] Read about such bridging in Lackéus, Lundqvist andWilliams Middleton (2016).

[6] See Berglind (2016).

[7] See Blomé och Simson (2021).

[8] See Lackéus och Sävetun (2021).

[9] See www.mobilestories.se. Read about Freinet in Carlin och Clendenin (2019).

[10] I have in both my dissertations described value creation pedagogy as an altruistic paradox, se Lackéus (2013, 2016).

[11] See von Mises (1949, s.26) and Oakeshott (1991, s.37). See also Callahan (2005, s.233).

[12] I’ve written about this in Lackéus (2020, s.958).

[13] See Nowacki och Eecke (2003).

[14] See Lackéus (2019).

[15] See for example Hugo (2012), Åhslund (2019) and Ekholm (2018).

Chapter 1: An in-depth look at value creation pedagogy


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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] Focusing on “the other” creates a deep sense of meaning in us humans. Meaning-seeking is in fact one of humans’ strongest driving forces.[5] 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.[6] Own happiness and meaningfulness with others are two different phenomena, for both parents and students.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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:[10]

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.

Longer definitionExplanation
Let students learnThe main purpose is learning, although students often perceive it as the purpose being to create value for others.
by applying their existing and futureStudents may apply competencies they already possess and those they are now learning for the first time.
competenciesThe exercise aims to develop both knowledge and skills as well as attitudes. A summary word for all this is competencies.
in attemptsIt is the attempt that counts. If no value for others is created, learning can still occur. Students learn a lot from failing.
to createThis is a creative exercise. Students are expected to create something that did not exist before.
something,the result is some kind of human creation (artifact). A physical (can be touched), intellectual (ideological) or cultural (social) creation.
preferably novel,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.
of value It should be possible evaluate the creation – hopefully the creation then also turns out to be valuable
to at least oneAt 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).
external stakeholderThe 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.
classThe next step is stakeholders outside the class but within their own school, within the safe boundaries of the school.
or 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.[11] 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.[12] Such reinforcement of meaningfulness then helps in retaining knowledge in long-term memory.[13] 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.

… competencies…

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26] Some even say that knowledge and creativity are in fundamental conflict with each other.[27]

To make creativity manageable in school, it is therefore often simplified into a focus on coming up with new ideas.[28] It is of course beautiful with intuition and imagination as a basis for thinking anew.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34]

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.[35] People’s need for meaning in life can also be satisfied by gaining influence over others.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] A more complex example is the UN’s seventeen goals for sustainable development,[39] 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,[40] 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.[41] Unlike all other species on earth, we have a strong mutual altruism, we really care about each other.[42] 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.[43] Cooperation is in fact such a hallmark of our species that evolutionary scientists call us humans “ultrasocial” beings.[44] 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.[45] Purely evolutionarily, there are also clear survival gains from collaboration.[46] This is especially true of species that manage an equal-for-equal strategy – helping those who contribute and punishing those who exploit others.[47]

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?[48] ​​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):[49]

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.[50] 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.[51] 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.

… class…

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.[52] 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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[1] Freely translated from Wittgenstein (2010).

[2] 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).

[3] See Lackéus (2013).

[4] See Lackéus (2016, 2017).

[5] See Gärdenfors (2006) and Frankl (1985).

[6] See Rizzo, Schiffrin and Liss (2013). See also Baumeister et al. (2013, p.511).

[7] See Baumeister et al. (2013) and Metz (2009).

[8] See Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).

[9] Read more about traditional versus progressive education in Labaree (2005) and Cuban (2007).

[10] See Lackéus (2016, p.53) and Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016, p.790).

[11] Dewey (1939) has very wisely written about this in his book on value.

[12] 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).

[13] Read about this in Smith and Ragan (1999, p.27).

[14] My favorite text is his book Towards a comprehensive theory of human learning (Jarvis 2006).

[15] See, for example, Shernoff et al. (2003).

[16] See Csíkszentmihályi (2008, p.74).

[17] See, for example, D’Mello et al. (2012) who writes about how confusion can strengthen learning.

[18] See Berg (2005, p.144-186) and Harari (2015, p.83-120).

[19] See Berg (2005, p.206).

[20] Read more about human creative joy in Goss (2005), Metz (2009) and Feldman and Snyder (2005).

[21] For an overview of Vygotsky and his Russian successors, see Engeström (1999). See also Strandberg (2009).

[22] See, for example, the definition of creativity in Reid and Petocz (2004).

[23] See OECD (2019), Zahidi et al. (2020) and IBM (2010).

[24] Metz writes about this (2009, p.8).

[25] See Lindström (2006) who writes about difficulties in incorporating creativity in school.

[26] For an in-depth look at what inhibits creativity, see Ramberg de Ruyter (2016).

[27] 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.

[28] According to Lucas and Venckute (2020).

[29] See Boud, Cohen and Walker (1993), especially Mulligan (1993) and Postle (1993).

[30] Read more about different perspectives on children’s creativity in Hoff (2010).

[31] 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).

[32] 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.

[33] Read more about this in Seligman (2012) and Costanza et al. (2007).

[34] Read more about the “flow theory” in Csíkszentmihályi (2008).

[35] Read more about this in Fiske (2008) and in McClelland (1967).

[36] See Baumeister et al. (2013).

[37] For more information, see Boltanski and Thévenot (2006).

[38] Read more about conditional value in Sheth, Newman and Gross (1991).

[39] They are described in the United Nations (2015).

[40] See Batson and Shaw (1991).

[41] According to Bregman (2020, p.232-234), many see themselves as helpful but others as selfish.

[42] According to Berg (2005, p.265).

[43] This is the basic thesis in Bregman’s (2020) book about man as basically good.

[44] See, for example, Neuberg and Schaller (2013) and Tomasello (2014).

[45] Read more about this in Batson and Shaw (1991) and in Batson et al. (2008).

[46] See Neuberg and Schaller (2013, p.25).

[47] See Axelrod and Hamilton (1981, p.1393).

[48] ​​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).

[49] 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.

[50] See Fohlin et al. (2017, pp.115-130).

[51] The colleague’s name is Catherine Brentnall, see for example Brentnall, Rodriguez and Culkin (2018).

[52] Se Csíkszentmihályi (2008).



[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.

Want to be part of a study on value creation pedagogy in higher education?


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 – martin.lackeus@chalmers.se. 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

Five key insights teachers in the Covid era can get from forerunners in digital emotional pedagogy


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.


Entrepreneurial education: its unique and novel contribution to education


[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[1]. 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[1], 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).

[1] 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.

[2] 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.