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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 8. Assessment of value creation pedagogy


In this chapter, I will give my current view of what we have learned about assessment – an important but difficult issue for the value-creating teacher. In our research, we are often drawn into various attempts to further develop teachers’ assessment strategies. Every year we learn more in this complex area, so this may be a bit of a flogiston chapter. The more sophisticated tools and methods described here are, in all honesty, a little difficult to explain in text form. I beg your indulgence if it is sometimes difficult to keep up. Then, just skip ahead to the chapter on value creation pedagogy for sustainable development.

Figure 8.1 shows an overview progression model of how assessment is influenced by value creation pedagogy. In the short term, teachers’ assessment work is not particularly affected by value creation pedagogy. Once the teaching has been slightly adjusted, assessment work can continue much as usual. However, the more extensive the value creation activities become, the greater the demands on teachers to further develop their assessment strategies. More and more focus needs to be put on formative assessment in order to monitor and manage the learning process and to reinforce each student’s learning along the way. IT support of various kinds may need to be used in order to reduce the time spent, so as to not become unmanageable. In the most advanced forms of value creation pedagogy, entirely new and sophisticated tools and methods are needed to ensure that the situation is not perceived as unsustainable for teachers. Thus, a crucial insight we made on our journey is that sophisticated learning journeys require new and sophisticated tools and methods of assessment. The three steps in Figure 8.1 will now be described one by one.

Figure 8.1. Three different levels of complexity in the value-creating learning journey and various associated tools and methods in the assessment work.

The simple learning journey

We start with the simple case when the teaching has grumbled to a little granna. A drop or two of value creation has landed in the ordinary teaching.

As usual but a little better

When value creation pedagogy is applied on a small scale, the impact on assessment work is minimal. On the one hand, the change is so small that no new assessment strategies are needed. This is because value creation is not a learning objective to be assessed, but a means to better achieve the learning objective. Teacher Maria Wiman writes:[1]

I think there is a danger in problematizing the assessment of value creation pedagogy too much. Then you make it more difficult than it should be. […] After all, it is the knowledge and skills in the curriculum that should be assessed, nothing else. In the course of value creation project work, a lot of evidence for assessment will be created.

The strategies already used for assessment can thus continue to be used. One change, however, is that teachers will have a more varied and more comprehensive evidence base on which to assess, as students who work in a value-creation way produce both more and better creations and presentations that can be assessed in the usual way. Teacher Madeléne Polfors writes:[2]

My fears about not reaching the knowledge requirements and not having enough assessment material were not realised. In all the classes I had full responsibility for [… ] I had the easiest time seeing how students achieved the learning outcomes in this class where we worked exclusively with value creation pedagogy. Similarly with assessment materials, I have never had so much assessment material and been so familiar with what each individual student has shown in terms of knowledge and skills.

The increased variety and quantity of assessment evidence can in turn lead to fairer assessment and more students achieving higher grades. Maria Wiman explains:[3]

Above all, everyone has been approved now who wasn’t before. […] I’m sure it’s because they’re motivated […] I feel like I’m judging more fairly now, because everyone gets to show what they know. […] I think I’ve given everyone a chance and it’s paid off, the assessment has gone up.

However, assessment work can be made more difficult if students’ projects are allowed to wander too far beyond the focus of the learning outcomes. In her second book on value creation pedagogy, Maria Wiman writes (2022, s. 158) about how she has sometimes gotten off track when students have enthusiastically wandered off and learned a lot about making video effects for their films on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but less about the CRC itself. But as long as the teaching is balanced between facts and engagement, assessment is made easier. Maria Wiman also advises to include checkpoints along the way. If students are working on making films about the UN CRC, include a test or text submission somewhere in the middle of the process on the same theme.

Assessment for Motivation (AfM)

A new type of assessment that is added to value creation pedagogy is the assessment that outsiders make of learners when they give them feedback on their attempts to create value for them. This is not an assessment of students’ learning, but of their ability to create value. Such assessment contributes indirectly to students’ learning because it acts as a rocket fuel for their motivation. I think it is a kind of Assessment for Motivation (AfM), with the aim of enhancing students’ motivation. This can be compared to formative assessment or Assessment for Learning (AfL), in order to reinforce learning, and summative assessment, or Assessment of Learning (AoL).

The more advanced learning journey

We will now look at how assessment is affected by more advanced forms of value creation pedagogy.

Technology as the teacher’s extended arm

The more extensive value-creation activities are carried out, the more important various alternative assessment strategies become, see Box 1 below. We have seen more frequent monitoring of different parallel learning processes, more frequent feedback from teachers, students reflecting in writing through so-called exit tickets (written reflection at the end of the lesson), logbooks and various forms of peer assessment.[4] When students feel that school work is really important, peer feedback becomes more spontaneous in the classroom.[5] Much like colleagues in a workplace environment spontaneously seek feedback from each other on tasks that feel important in real life.

Value creation can also be given a clearer structure by having students write down what they intend to do in a plan or working template (Wiman 2019, p. 29). Questions that need to be included in such a plan include what is to be done, how it is to be done, why, resources needed, timetable and who does what. One plan per group is appropriate. The teacher monitors progress against the plan on an ongoing basis.

A challenge with formative assessment is the increased time commitment it usually involves for the teacher.[6] Therefore, various time-saving digital tools become an important element of more advanced forms of value creation pedagogy. Digital tools mentioned in addition to traditional learning platforms are: [7]

  • apps that speed up feedback between teacher and student, in both directions
  • apps that allow students to record audio files during meetings and phone calls
  • apps where documents can be shared between students and teachers and commented on in real time
  • apps that facilitate grouping
  • apps that enable video calls in various forms
  • apps that facilitate group collaboration and communication
  • apps for visualising students’ ideas and thoughts during brainstorming
  • apps for recording different types of video material.

Digital information generated in such tools not only saves time in communication, but in some cases it can also serve as a basis for assessment. An encounter between a group of learners and an external recipient of value can be documented for review by the teacher at a later date for assessment purposes. Since the teacher “can’t be everywhere”, digital technology becomes a kind of “extended arm” (Wiman 2019, p. 54–55).

Now, this is not a book about how teachers can work with digital tools in the classroom, so the above list is far from complete. But the pattern is clear. Many of the challenges that come with more advanced value creation pedagogy can be solved by teachers seeking out and trying different digital tools in school that save time while generating assessment data.

More advanced assessment and IT as inseparable friends

Value-creation teachers who use digital technology to successfully monitor and assess students’ more complex learning journeys makes me think of Célestin Freinet. As early as the 1930s, he needed to use technology such as printing presses, tape recorders, film cameras and hectographs to develop his value creation pedagogy.[8] I am therefore far from the first to conclude that technology is needed in more advanced forms of education. I have increasingly come to see IT and assessment as inseparable friends in value creation pedagogy.

In my research, I have therefore placed great emphasis on the digital dimension. By collaborating with systems scientists and programmers, we have made many breakthroughs in our work that would never have been possible without technology. In the light of what we now know, I hardly understand how it is even possible to research more advanced assessment without everyday access to such expertise.

Philosophy is also crucial. Without a philosophy of learning that guides the search for new insights, the risk is that technological solutions will not help teachers. My household gods are therefore both John Dewey and Célestin Freinet. Equal parts philosophy and technology. The ambition has long been to search for new ways to measure and assess what we value the most – deep learning, student motivation and emotionally powerful learning experiences. What we can make visible through measurement and assessment, we can also get more of.

Box 1: Assessing action-based learning

Value creation pedagogy is essentially a kind of action-based learning. There is much written in the literature about how such learning can be assessed. The methods below can be said to be variants of formative assessment, an umbrella term for assessment carried out primarily to enhance student learning (AfL).

Performance assessment is about having students perform authentic actions and assessing how well they succeed.[9] Teachers give students an assignment that allows them to demonstrate knowledge and skills in practice. Both the process and the “product” that students may create can contribute to the teacher’s assessment. This approach is common in aesthetic subjects and practical vocational training. Challenges include time constraints and subjective judgements.

Reflective assessment is about allowing students to reflect on their learning in writing or orally, individually or in groups.[10] The focus is often on what happened, how the student thought and felt, what was positive and negative, lessons learned and what could have been done differently.[11] It is easy to get started and the focus becomes on metacognition – awareness of one’s own abilities. Challenges are time commitment and deep reflection.

Peer assessment is about allowing students to assess each other for the purpose of learning and development.[12] It is a student-centred approach that reinforces responsibility for one’s own learning and that of others. Challenges include a lack of reliability and the need for students to practice their assessment skills.

E-assessment is about using digital support in the assessment process.[13] It is a broad category that includes everything from simple self-administered quizzes to advanced multimedia, simulations and e-portfolio systems. E-portfolio is a common application where students can upload their work for the outside world to see, much like a digital CV. [14]

Constructive alignment deals with linking three key aspects of learning – activities, learning outcomes and assessment.[15] Teachers are encouraged to focus assessment on the specific activities students need to do to achieve the learning outcomes, and to express these activities in verb form. One question teachers might ask is: What do students need to do in order to learn what we want them to know?

Assessment based on emotional activities

One assessment strategy I have worked with a lot in my research is to focus the assessment on the activities that generate strong emotions among students. If it is the case that we learn deeply from emotionally powerful events, then it is important to use assessment to ensure that all students are doing exactly what they need to do in order to learn deeply. The strategy is thus based on the principles of constructive alignment, and also on the different emotional learning events in Table 2.1 in Chapter 2.[16]

This is how I usually work with activity-based assessment in practice. Have students do a written reflection after an emotionally powerful event of some kind. For example, the assignment for the student could be written like this:

Conduct a dialogue/pitch/meeting with someone outside the classroom/school, and then reflect in writing on how it went, what feedback you received, what you learned and what you will do differently next time.

Make an attempt to create value for someone outside the classroom/school. How did it feel? What feedback did you get? What did you learn? What will you do differently next time?

When you have experienced something really emotionally strong related to your project, write down what happened and reflect on it. What did you learn? How was your project affected? What will you do differently next time?

Apply some of the core content practically in your project. How did it go? What was the impact of the project? What did you learn?

The texts above may need to be age-adjusted and formulated more specifically according to the value-creating task the students are doing. Each reflection should be individual and written, even if the task is carried out orally and in groups. Deep written reflection is always individual. Two people can never have experienced a situation in exactly the same way and learned exactly the same things. By putting the experiences into words, students also deepen their learning.[17]

Other emotional tasks can be given around activities that take place in the team, such as:

Develop a value proposition as a group and write it down in a canvas template. Then reflect on what you learned.

Make an important decision as a group. Then reflect in writing on how you felt afterwards and what you learned.

Written reflection on emotional activities is a good way to make visible learning events that are otherwise not visible with more traditional assessment strategies. It is also a way to gain insight into what is happening in the learning processes in more detail and to ensure that each student has been involved. It is difficult for students to make a credible reflection without having completed the activity in the assignment. If they try to write something down anyway, there is always the risk that the hoax will be exposed in subsequent dialogue with the teacher.

Tasks of the above kind consist of both acting and reflecting, embedded in the same task text. This is theoretically based on the so-called experiential learning cycle by Kolb (1984), see Figure 8.2. The planning and feeling stages of Kolb’s learning cycle can be included in the mission statement. Just make sure that the whole cycle is included in some form in the assignment text describing what students are expected to do.

Figure 8.2 Designing emotional activities for students supported by the Kolb learning cycle.

A crash into the formative assessment wall

In my own teaching I have experimented a lot with formative and activity-based assessment. Once it got out of hand. In an eight-week course at Chalmers quite a few years ago, I had nine different forms of oral and written assessment, both formative and summative. There were mini-exams, pitches, video submissions, coaching, compulsory workshops, student interaction with an external person, peer assessments via a Facebook group and written reflections via a sadly poor learning platform at Chalmers. Without thinking twice, I had given myself 1,543 assessments to do or follow over the next eight weeks.

There and then I crashed into the formative assessment wall. Never work like this again, I thought. It was hard to realise that a fundamentally positive form of assessment could do so much harm to me as a teacher. Later, I read that other teachers have had this problem as well.[18] To try to understand the situation better, I sat down and did the math. It turned out that formative assessment is relatively simple mathematics. The workload grows linearly with the number of students and the number of assessments per student, see Figure 8.3. Elementary.

But now I am also an IT geek. So I realised that the quality of the IT support available to teachers determines how many assessments they can do in an eight-week period without crashing. My own limit there and then, with the substandard digital tools we had at the time, was a few hundred assessments. With our 37 students, that meant a maximum limit of between five and eight assessments per student in a course. And that included compulsory attendance as a kind of assessment. Sadly summative if you ask me. So in March 2016, an idea was born about what we’re getting to now – the teacher as jazz conductor with chords that students can improvise to.[19]

Figure 8.3. Formative assessment mathematics showing that when more than 100 assessments need to be made at a time digital support is needed. When more than 500 assessments need to be made, completely new types of digital support are needed and a new assessment philosophy – the “jazz conductor”.

The sophisticated learning journey

Now we come to the most sophisticated form of assessment for value-based learning that we have worked with in our research.

The teacher as jazz conductor

When value creation pedagogy is at its most extensive form, a rather different assessment strategy is required. The teacher’s need for structure and control over the learning process needs to be combined with ample scope for students to improvise and be creative in their value creation attempts. Let us therefore liken it to jazz. If there is any phenomenon where many people together manage to combine structure with creative improvisation, it is jazz, see box 2 below. Value creation pedagogy in its most advanced form is like big band jazz, where teachers take the role of jazz conductor and distribute the initiative to students based on various predetermined themes and “chords”.

At Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, we have been working as jazz conductors for more than twentyfive years. My students probably think they are leading the process more than they actually do. We have composed and refined a concert arrangement for them so that new virtuosos get to shine with their solos every year. They probably feel that they are performing a unique concert. But we, the composers, hear much the same concert every year. That’s the beauty of being a jazz conductor. When the audience arrives and the concert begins, the jazz conductor’s work is basically done. All we have to do is stand there, a little discreetly, between the audience and the musicians and enjoy. Keeping an eye out for any musician having a problem with a string on the guitar or some mechanical failure on the saxophone or whatever. Or stage fright.

The best jazz conductors in schools are found in vocational education, more specifically in apprenticeship education. Half the time students are apprentices in a workplace creating value, half the time they are at school. All the time the teacher is expected to organise, lead and monitor the learning. I have had the privilege of working with vocational teachers since 2014. They are truly the virtuosos of value creation pedagogy. Everything I am about to tell you about sophisticated assessment strategies I have learned by working closely with these master conductors. I have then tested what we have arrived at in my own teaching at Chalmers. If you want to know more about our research with vocational teachers, read our reports to the Swedish National Agency for Education’s Learning Centre.[20]

New digital support for jazz conductors

Teachers leading sophisticated value creation pedagogy need a type of IT support that was not available anywhere in the world when we started our research journey. We had to spend almost eight years experimenting with a brand new type of digital assessment support tailored for vocational teachers. I had my research tool Loopme to build on. But there were many parts that needed to be redesigned and expanded to support vocational teachers in their assessment work. In the end, I think we succeeded quite well, because today Loopme is used by several thousand vocational teachers around Sweden with nearly 20,000 vocational students. More are being added all the time.

I think this new digital assessment tool for teachers acting as jazz conductors is relevant far beyond vocational education. We have seen here a way of working with assessment of value creation pedagogy that can probably work at all levels of the education system. We just haven’t got so far on our journey yet that the approach has been much disseminated beyond vocational teachers. So let me describe what we came up with in more detail. Perhaps this approach could work for more teachers who want to take on the role of jazz conductor in schools, but who have not yet made it work in practice. First, we need to review some key concepts that emerged from the work.

Fact box 2: Big band jazz

A jazz big band usually consists of ten to twenty musicians, often divided into four sections – saxophone, trumpet, trombone and accompaniment (guitar, piano, bass and drums). The big band is the jazz equivalent of the symphony orchestra.

Music form. Big band jazz is a free form of music based on chords. A chord consists of three or more notes sounded simultaneously, forming a happy (major chord) or more melancholy (minor chord) base for the melody. In jazz, the melody is improvised by the solo musicians as they go along, using different chords in an often predetermined chord progression. This gives the musicians more freedom to decide for themselves how it will sound. This can be compared to the symphony orchestra where the musicians follow detailed notes written down in advance, note by note, second by second.

Pieces of music. A jazz song usually consists of a theme and a chord progression from which the musicians can improvise. The more people in the orchestra, the more structured it needs to be. The musicians are given free rein, but within a framework set by the composer. This is a freedom that requires a lot of preparation and practice. For each song, the musicians have around four to six pages of notes with both chord progressions and detailed melodies, differently distributed depending on the role of the musician in the orchestra. The whole set of notes for all the musicians is called an arrangement or a score.

Leadership. Leading jazz musicians who improvise the music is a kind of inherent leadership paradox. Who actually leads the work? The jazz conductor or the solo musicians? Many jazz orchestras don’t even have a conductor leading the concert. Instead, one of the section leaders steps up from time to time and leads the orchestra through key passages. Other times, especially in larger orchestras, there is a jazz conductor who distributes the initiative to different musicians when it’s time to improvise. In many cases, the conductor has done most of his or her work before the concert begins, through planning, rehearsals and briefings months before the audience comes to listen.

A new semantics for assessing value creation pedagogy

To facilitate the assessment of value creation pedagogy, we have developed a new semantics consisting of five key concepts – tasks, tags, content package, emotional assessment and comment thread. These five concepts are briefly described below.[21] The concepts require a partially digitally supported assessment strategy, otherwise there is probably a high risk of crash.

Task – a description of a concrete action with associated reflection that is intended to lead to learning for the students.

A good learning task is action-oriented and describes simply and concretely what students need to do to learn what they need to know in a particular subject. A task description consists of a title of a maximum of eight words and a short description of a few sentences of what is to be done. The description also needs to show how students are expected to reflect in writing after completing the task, focusing on what was done, how it went, what the student learned and how the completion of the task can be improved next time. Asking the student to link to theory and literature is also useful, if it works with age. Some tasks need to be completed several times for the student to learn the lesson and for the teacher to grade. Although tasks are described, communicated and reflected upon via an IT tool, the completion of the task is completely decoupled from the IT tool. All action takes place “offline”. It is only when it is time to reflect that the work takes place “online” in the IT tool. Tasks are usually compulsory and need to be completed for the student to pass. They are thus an important piece of the puzzle in the teacher’s summative assessment work. A task is like a chord or a sequence of notes for a jazz musician to use as a starting point for creative work.

Tag – short phrase of maximum four to five words that summarises effects, experiences or behaviours of interest in the learning process and that can be displayed on a digital “button”.

A tag allows learners to quickly and easily describe the learning, effects and experiences they are having. However, it requires that what is being referred to can be described succinctly enough to fit each phrase on a small “button” in an IT tool and that learners can easily understand what learning, effects and experiences are being referred to. Each button pressed then means that the learner considers that he/she has learned or experienced what is described on the button. Typically, learners select around two to six tags each time a task has been completed and reflected upon. The teacher decides in advance which tags students can choose from.

Content package – a ready-made set of three to twenty tasks and ten to twenty-five matching tags that teachers can choose from and give to a group of students to carry out over an extended period of time.

The content packages have have become an understandable and useful form for disseminating, discussing, analysing, developing and testing a particular educational design in a wider circle than just in one’s own school or classroom. The packages have been brought together in a digital repository called the Loopme Library, which was designed and technically built in the research process together with professional teachers and the Swedish National Agency for Education’s Apprenticeship Centre. A large number of content packages have then been developed by teachers around Sweden. It has been clear that many teachers are waiting to get started with the new assessment strategy described here until there is a ready-made content package to start from that has been designed by another teacher. So it seems to be easier for teachers to be jazz conductors than jazz composers. A content package is like an arrangement for a whole orchestra (think whole class of students). It can be exchanged between orchestras and played in concert halls all over the country.

Emotional assessment – the student makes a choice from five possible emotional states, from strongly negative to strongly positive, via a simple button press by the student and linked to each written reflection.

This information is displayed to teachers in connection with each reflection from a student. The emotional assessment helps teachers to quickly capture things students do not express in text, mainly around well-being and motivation. The student may not even be aware that well-being has started to decline. The teacher can often see that the emotional state is starting to decline and can then arrange an extra meeting. The reason for the drop in mood usually surfaces in such a meeting. The emotional assessment can be likened to the jazz conductor maintaining constant eye contact with the orchestra during the concert.

Comment thread – a digital formative dialogue that can follow each reflection if the teacher chooses to write a comment on the student’s submitted reflection.

This type of task-linked digital formative dialogue has become an integral part of value-creation teachers’ formative assessment work. Many schools have even begun to define it as teaching time when the teacher sits and digitally comments on student reflections. This work serves an important purpose in affirming, challenging and motivating students in their learning. It also leads to higher quality as the teacher’s control over value creation-based learning is strengthened. It also helps to maintain the frequency of students’ written reflection which in turn enhances learning. A doing becomes a learning only when the student has reflected on it.[22]

Features of a digital assessment tool

Let us now look at some key features of a digital assessment tool for value creation pedagogy that have emerged from our research. The top priority for vocational teachers was speed of communication, simply to save time and get students and tutors on board. Therefore, we drew inspiration from social media. Students were allowed to reflect on their mobiles via a user interface that was extremely easy to use. They were also given the opportunity to attach pictures and videos to each reflection. Teachers were then presented with a social feed of students’ reflections on a web page where they could quickly and easily comment and view images. Similar to Facebook, but with a feed just for teachers and fully tailored to the jazz conductors of learning. This saved a lot of time in assessment work and also facilitated the all-important documentation. Here it was the students themselves who documented their learnings.

For research purposes, we had already built tagging and emotion estimation functions into our IT tool. For vocational teachers this became a way to let students quickly and easily describe what they were feeling and what they had learned. A kind of self-assessment of learning. It gave teachers invaluable information in both formative and summative assessment work, and again saved a lot of time.

It also became clear quite soon that a task, or mission, logic was needed to guide and focus the students’ reflections. Students needed to be allowed to act and reflect on the basis of specific activities and related reflection questions composed for them by the teachers. Just as the jazz musician needs a chord progression to improvise from. The assignments are often quite general and broad (think chords), so that students can improvise based on what each specific situation allows (think improvisation solos).

Six different levels of digital assessment jazz

In our work with vocational teachers, we have seen many different ways of working digitally to assess value-added learners. Figure 8.4 illustrates six typical assessment strategies. Let’s review them briefly here.

Figure 8.4. Six different levels of assessment of value creation pedagogy.

Reflection. The most basic strategy is to allow students to reflect in a digital logbook. This can be compared to loose jazz trudelutes by individual jazz musicians. Free reflection allows 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 requires a lot of teacher time to interpret large amounts of unstructured text when it is time to set a grade.

Portfolio thinking. To assess students’ competence by examining their creations has a long tradition in aesthetic-practical subjects and is called portfolio assessment. Creations are often linked to experiences and abilities through reflection, so-called portfolio thinking.[23] This makes students active co-creators of formative assessment rather than passive recipients of grades. Combinations of text, images and video provide good opportunities for such assessment in digital form. We can see this approach as a kind of pre-recorded solo jazz sent to the teacher. It allows for a wide range of performances and also enables a clear structure for teachers. However, it does not provide very good support in what students need to do in order to learn how to create different works.

Activity-based assessment. At the third level, the learning journey is more clearly described through series of action-oriented tasks. Here we begin to see the benefits of structure combined with improvisation. With a set of different tasks, relatively sophisticated learning journeys can be described in action form. This is the first step where we see greater time savings in assessment work. Here the teacher becomes a kind of jazz conductor with a pre-planned arrangement the whole class follows. Each action-oriented task is a kind of chord the student can improvise from and then reflect upon with a combination of text, tags, images and video. The chords are put together in arrangements (content packages) that the student is expected to improvise from over slightly longer periods of time, often a course, a semester or a whole year.

Three-party collaboration. In the fourth step, a key person from outside the school is added and becomes part of the digital assessment work. This step is common in vocational education and training with supervisors at the workplace who also read the students’ reflections. However, I believe that also many other teachers and even pedagogical concept designers who want to invest in value creation pedagogy could find people who fill this third role in a good way. Perhaps by defining supporting roles for outside partners for whom learners create value. As in jazz, the audience has an active role to play here by providing inspiring feedback, what I call here assessment for motivation (AfM). Achieving time-efficient three-party collaboration in everyday life has proven to be almost impossible without digital support tailored for the purpose.[24]

Community of Practice. In the fifth step, teachers start exchanging 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 be a conductor based on an existing learning journey that someone else has composed. Therefore, teachers benefit greatly from being able to share activity-based content with each other.

We have been working with content packages together with vocational teachers since 2019, an approach that has quickly gained wide acceptance. Today, there are around 80 different content packages developed for all 12 national vocational programmes in Sweden. My guess is that in a few years we could see a wide spread of different content packages for value creation pedagogy as well. Perhaps based on some of the many examples of value creation pedagogy in this book? Anyone is free to create such a content package.

Scientific teachers. The most sophisticated approach we have seen is when teachers not only exchange content packages with each other, but also analyse all students’ reflections and tags from the digital tool using scientific analysis methodology. The aim is to gain insight into which different activities have which effects on student learning. My earlier book – The Scientific Teacher – is about this very approach.[25] You are welcome to read the details in that book. But based on our focus here, this approach is about teachers working together scientifically to build up locally produced evidence about the effects of different kinds of value-creating activities. I write more about this in the epilogue at the end of the book.

Some final advice for aspiring jazz conductors

After quite a few years of working with activity-based assessment, we have accumulated some tips for conductors of value creation pedagogy. Try to have a pace of reflection that is comfortable for both teachers and learners. Some vocational teachers have students reflecting every day when they are on placement. Others work more on a weekly basis. Personally, I have moved towards more infrequent than that, as I work part-time as a teacher. Right now, my students reflect once or twice a month. But they also have reflection assignments for their other teachers, so for them the pace is about three to four reflections a month. Whatever pace you choose, try to keep the pace. Time as a pace-setter creates security.

Also the scale can be experimented with. In recent years, I have started to have more and more extensive Kolbian learning cycles in each task. It can be quite a lot of work for my students before it’s time to write a reflection to me. It also makes the reading more interesting for me. Every time I receive a reflection from a student, I can be sure that something interesting has been done.

In addition to the paced reflections, I also often have assignments that are not time dependent, beyond the end of the semester. Indeed, some activities cannot be predicted when they can be completed. For example, being involved in an emotional event, taking an initiative, successfully creating value for an outsider, taking an important decision or acting on an unexpected opportunity. Then it becomes a kind of retrofit reflective assessment. Students are left to judge for themselves when the opportunity to carry out the task arises. Towards the end of a term, I have a conversation with those who have not yet managed to find a good opportunity. It’s a structured way of assessing things that otherwise don’t get assessed so easily.

Another variant of backward assessment is to look at students’ chosen tags at the individual level. If teachers allow students to choose from tags that represent important learning outcomes and skills to practice, at the end of a term the teacher can go in and analyse which of the students have learned them, according to themselves. I usually have a conversation with those who have not yet chosen to use a particular tag. Maybe I have an alternative assessment strategy that can capture that particular learning for that particular student. Or maybe something is missing and needs to be added to the learning process.

A summary of jazz as an assessment strategy

Figure 8.5 provides a visual summary of the jazz conductor’s activity-basede assessment strategy.

In step one, students complete various action-oriented tasks. Teachers summatively assess each assignment, but without setting a grade. The important thing is that each student tries to complete the activity, not how it goes. It is the attempt that counts. The digital support shows an activity matrix of which students have attempted which tasks.

In step two, students are formatively assessed by teachers (BfL) and possibly also by tutors (BfL + BfM). Student reflection, tagging and emotional state are read and commented by the teacher and sometimes also by the tutor. This forms a digital tripartite dialogue in a comment thread.

In step three, the teacher translates the first two steps into course or curriculum logic, which facilitates grading (In parallel to the three steps, the value created by the students is assessed by the potential recipients of value (BfM).

Figure 8.5. Three steps in emotional activity-based assessment for learning, grades and motivation.

Taken together, this makes for an assessment strategy that represents a fine-grained mix of formative and summative assessment. This is contrary to what some researchers recommend,[26] but I have come to be convinced that such blending is absolutely crucial for the value-creation teacher. There are also other researchers who advocate such blending.[27]

A few final words on the assessment society

We live in a measurement society. Everything must be monitored, measured, documented and evaluated. What we can measure, we get more of, precisely because then it becomes visible. Conversely, if we find it difficult to measure something, we will get less of it. The effect will be that we value mainly what is easy to assess, rather than trying to assess what we value highly.[28] This is a challenge for value creation-based learning, as many of the student outcomes are difficult to monitor and assess via traditional exams. In this chapter, I have therefore outlined some alternative ways forward for teachers who want to assess and make visible the effects of value creation on student learning.

Teachers’ assessment strategies guide students’ focus in school work. The effect is called backwash – students adjusting effort and focus to what is on the exam.[29] The effect is so powerful that it’s hardly even worth fighting. Instead, researcher John Biggs recommends that teachers focus assessment on what students need to do in order to learn what we want them to learn, known as constructive alignment. I see this as a small step away from the usual focus on knowledge requirements and learning outcomes. More focus is then put on the concrete doing required of students. Could this be a better way to manage students’ value-creation based learning? Assessing them also on the things they need to do in order to learn? Not just assessing them on what they need to know according to the curriculum documents? I think so. But it requires well-tested assessment methods, digital support tools and teachers who don’t bow down to the New Public Management movement.

[1] The quote is from a comment by Maria Wiman on a post I made on 14/6-2016 in the Facebook group “Value creation pedagogy in theory and practice”.

[2] See Polfors (2020, p. 27).

[3] Quotes from impact study for the Swedish National Agency for Education by Lackéus and Sävetun (2016, p. 40–41).

[4] See for example Wiman (2019) and Jenssen et al. (2020).

[5] An example of this is given by Wiman (2019, p. 61).

[6] See Lundahl et al. (2011).

[7] Which apps are good and popular at any given time changes quickly, but some apps that have been mentioned are Google Classroom, Google Docs, Garageband, Menti, Socrative, Padlet, Showbie, Toolie, Whatsapp, Facebook.

[8] Read more about this in Freinet (2018).

[9] See Isaacs et al. (2013).

[10] See Bond, Evans and Ellis (2011).

[11] See Gibbs (1988).

[12] See Dochy, Segers and Sluijsmans (1999).

[13] See Supporting mountains (2012).

[14] See Ferns and Comfort (2014).

[15] See Biggs and Tang (2011).

[16] Read more about this assessment strategy in Lackéus and Williams Middleton (2018).

[17] See Moon (2004).

[18] See Jonsson, Lundahl and Holmgren (2015).

[19] The idea was first described in a video I made about summative qualitative formative assessment. Search on Youtube for “Social learning media Lackéus” and you will find it.

[20] See Lackéus and Sävetun (2019b, 2021).

[21] They are also described in more detail in Lackéus and Sävetun (2021).

[22] This is often described in the literature on experiential learning, see for example Aprea and Cattaneo (2019, p. 378), Roberts (2012) or Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985).

[23] See Impedovo, Ligorio and McLay (2018, p. 754).

[24] See Lackéus and Sävetun (2021).

[25] See Lackeus (2021).

[26] See Lundahl (2011, p. 157).

[27] See Brookhart (2010).

[28] See Biesta (2009).

[29] See Biggs and Tang (2011) and Panadero and Jönsson (2020).

Chapter 7: Challenges of value creation pedagogy


This chapter looks at the different challenges teachers may face in working with value creation pedagogy. The content is based on reflections I received from teachers in my research. Succeeding at something really great often requires a lot of hard work. If value-creation for students at school had been easy, it would probably have been done already. We have seen challenges in five areas, see Figure 7.1.

Practical challenges

Taking the first step in value creation pedagogy is often about overcoming challenges of a fairly practical nature. These can range from a good reason to try something new to various how-to questions around time, support, assessment and targets.

Why should I try this new?

The very first step in a change or a new way of working is often the most difficult. The power of habit keeps us humans in a tight grip. We want so much to believe that the current situation is the best, even when it is not.[1] A successful attempt to try something new is therefore quite demanding. Three conditions need to be met and together overcome our inherent resistance to change:[2]

  1. that we are dissatisfied with the current situation
  2. that we have a clear idea or vision of what we want to achieve
  3. that we are clear about the simple practical steps we can take here and now.

These three points are always valid and may be worth considering carefully in any educational change. Therefore, the first part of the book was about painting a vision of what is now possible. The second part was about practical steps teachers can take here and now. However, teachers’ possible dissatisfaction with the current situation is not covered by this book. Let me explain why.

I see a big difference in how quickly different teachers get started with value creation pedagogy. The ones who get started the fastest are those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to invest in the approach themselves. Those who have the most difficulty are those who have been called to a compulsory in-service training day where an external researcher from Chalmers comes and tells them how to do their job. What does Chalmers even know about pedagogy? In my previous book – The Scientific Teacher – I wrote about the evils of giving unsolicited advice to teachers and what can be done about it.[3] There are certainly respectful ways to deal with this, but they are beyond our focus here.

A common reason for teachers not getting started is that they do not see the connection between things they are unhappy with in their professional lives and the solution value creation pedagogy can provide. Teacher Roberth Nordin (2017) jokingly describes a typical study day:

The lecturer offers a great solution to a problem you don’t have. You get something you never asked for or ever lacked. You usually end up with at least a couple of newfound tasks to squeeze into your schedule.

If you recognise yourself here, in relation to value creation pedagogy, I can’t offer a clear solution. Each teacher has to find his or her own personal reasons, based on links between his or her own perceived professional challenges and value creation pedagogy as a possible solution. All those teachers who have the health and who find strong enough personal will to work with value creation pedagogy have been able to overcome all the challenges in this chapter. We have seen this time and again.

If you are one of the teachers who have been ordered here, to Chapter 7, my best advice is to still give value creation pedagogy a chance with your students, at least a couple of times in a school year and on a small scale. As secondary school teacher Madeléne Polfors wrote (2020, p. 40) in her thesis on value creation pedagogy in law teaching recently:

My strongest belief is that once teachers have tried it once, they will try it again because you can’t ignore the positive effects of value-added learning.

Value creation pedagogy, as mentioned, is quite difficult to describe in words. It needs to be experienced emotionally together with the students themselves. The effects tend to be surprisingly strong.

No time for me as a teacher

The most common objection I hear from teachers is that they lack the time to work with value creation pedagogy. I have great respect for the fact that teaching can be a stressful profession. But I still think of what I myself was always told by my boss when I complained about a lack of time in my job as a stressed-out sales manager in IT:

You have just as much time as everyone else. It’s how you choose to use it. This is just a question of your priorities.

Physicist and author Bodil Jönsson calls the perceived lack of time a life lie that is remedied by new choices about priorities.[4] Teachers who say they don’t have time for value creation pedagogy may need to decide how important this new work is, in relation to other necessary work, and then re-prioritise accordingly. It is not a question of one or the other, but of finding a good balance between different, apparently conflicting priorities, for example between duty and pleasure for students. Time to engage in value creation pedagogy is not something teachers have, it is something they need to create for themselves if it is felt to be sufficiently urgent. Ask a colleague to help with the priorities, it is often easier for someone else to find things you can prioritise down.

I also believe that this book can help to reduce the time spent for teachers who want to work with value creation pedagogy. After all, I have now spent twelve years of my life trying to understand this phenomenon, time that no teacher can ever prioritise in their calendar. With a clearer picture of what it is all about, more examples of what teachers can do, and more concrete proven tools that provide clarity and structure, teachers will save time getting started. A particularly important area for time savings is assessment work, read more about this in Chapter 8. There are also teachers who have said that they save time when they allow students to do value-added work. One teacher stated bluntly:

The students are motivated by themselves, and then I as a teacher can work less, because then they work more.

The main challenge related to time is perhaps the time it takes to get up and running with a new way of working. The fact that the start-up takes extra time applies to all new working methods, including this one. A facilitating factor then is if teachers support each other and have a school management that sets aside time for teachers to plan for and get into value creation pedagogy.

No time for students

Students also need time to get into the value-creation approach. It takes months for students to get to the point where tangible value is created for outsiders. Calendar time is at least as important here as lesson time, perhaps even more so. Teachers may need to stretch out time perspectives. An eight-week full-time course may be too short for students to get started in earnest.[5] Half or quarter speed may give students a better chance to get into the mindset. Teachers may also need to collaborate with each other. One course or subject can provide students with an introduction that is then built upon in another course or subject. It is not very difficult for students to find time to work on value creation activities if they are already in the mindset and have built up their capacity to create value for others. We also often hear of students working outside of class time on value-creating activities because they find it so engaging. Also, try giving your students action-oriented tasks as homework. I write about how such assignments can be designed in Chapter 8.

How to keep up with content and assessment?

Crowding of content is a common challenge for teachers, and not just when it comes to value creation pedagogy. It’s about both keeping up with all the content and having time to assess each student. Teachers who have faced these challenges and yet applied value creation pedagogy say afterwards that they did get all the content and were able to assess all the students, but often in a different order and in a different way than before.

Some teachers have chosen to involve students in ensuring that all key content is included. Other teachers, particularly in vocational education, have worked with innovative and digital assessment tools, see Chapter 8. Still others have relied on their long experience as teachers and have felt confident that by the end of the learning process they will have sufficient material to assess each student on each piece of core content. We also see many starting value creation pedagogy small-scale so that the established structure of teaching does not disintegrate. Overall, we see here how something that may initially feel like a detour unexpectedly becomes a shortcut. Teachers here need to try to trust the process and try it out for themselves at a scale appropriate to them, to see if they too can turn the detour into a shortcut.

It is therefore a question of taking courage, daring to venture into the unknown, daring to trust in one’s own abilities as a teacher and daring to try out a new way of achieving the same goals as before, but with much more motivated students, and in this way reaching further in the work with the core content.

How to find real-world recipients of value?

One challenge many teachers highlight is the difficulty in finding real recipients of value. Many lack good contacts in workplaces. They also often lack the time it takes to contact new people in workplaces. This is a challenge for which we must have great respect. At the same time, I hope to contribute some new perspectives. Students can be invited to both look for and make contact with potential recipients outside school. Teachers may of course need to support them here. But if twenty-five students each contact someone, it will almost certainly lead to at least one valuable contact that everyone in the class can work on together. I have seen many examples of this, even in primary schools. Students can also make use of their own networks of contacts – not least among guardians, relatives and their contacts in turn.

Making new contacts with the outside world is basically a kind of salesmanship. This is an area of expertise where practical practice quickly yields good results. There is also a lot of literature to read.[6] The sales pitch describes the value students believe they are trying to create for outsiders. And as in all sales work, it is the number of contacts that determines success. Ten taps a thanks, again. Many outsiders will say no, just like in all sales work. Learning to handle a no without losing heart is an important lesson here about what it means to be persistent. But suddenly the magic happens that someone says yes. Then students can have an analogue ship’s bell in the classroom that they ring to celebrate the wonderful thing. Imagine if, as a sales manager, I had access to a sales force as large as an entire class of students. Then our sales bell would be ringing a lot more often.

Building a sales culture in the classroom might seem a bit odd in school. But it’s always a challenge to connect what someone can offer with what someone wants help with. Not all people want to be helped either. A sales culture among students therefore helps in making contacts. Here, too, salesmanship is done with the laudable aim of enhancing students’ learning.

How to support students’ value creation?

Teacher leadership in the classroom is a hot topic in many schools. How should teachers actually lead students in the classroom? Many books have been written about this. But the question comes into a partly new light when students work on value creation. I can’t say that I have all the answers. But I think it’s very much about a variation on formative assessment, or rather what we often choose to call formative dialogue – confidential dialogues between teacher and student around emotionally powerful events, with the aim of supporting student learning.

In our work with vocational teachers we have seen that formative dialogue is best conducted in the digital space. It allows for more familiarity where not everyone hears everything, and is also time-saving for teachers. Digital dialogue is also better suited to value-creation processes where a lot of the learning takes place outside the classroom and at times when the teacher and student are not even in the same room. We will return to formative digital dialogue in the chapter on assessment.

What to do in my subject?

Apart from a few examples from different subject teachers here and there in the book, I have chosen not to have specific descriptions for each subject in my book. I see it as a bit of an impossible task for me as a generalist to give didactical tips in mathematics, social studies, physics, biology or any other subject. Nevertheless, many teachers can probably transfer the ideas described here to their own subject. Teachers can also help each other. Use your established channels and venues for subject didactic exchange, and this challenge will probably be handled well.

Books have also begun to appear in Sweden in which teachers give tips on how to work more concretely in the classroom. The two most concrete examples I have seen are Jennie Bengtsson’s book Real Recipients, about value-creating language teaching, and Maria Wiman’s second book on value creation pedagogy – Handbook of Value creation pedagogy. I think these two books can help many teachers to get started, and should probably be translated into more languages. It is also a book format that can inspire more teachers who might be thinking of writing about their experiences.

There is also a lot written in Swedish about value creation pedagogy from a subject didactic and special education perspective, for example in mathematics (Falkstål 2018; Sjödén 2021), law (Polfors 2020), technology (Hih 2021), sustainable development (Nelson 2021), economy (Christoffersson & Fredriksson 2021), leisure education (Johansson 2018), vocational training (Littke 2020) and special education (Grenander 2018). Subject didactics and different pedagogical orientations are important focus areas for further research on value creation pedagogy.

It seems complicated and vague

Progressive pedagogy has for centuries faced challenges of complexity and vagueness. There are very different demands on teachers working with cross-curricular projects and authentic problems based on students’ own interests. No two situations are the same, constant adaptation is required, each student’s learning needs to be uniquely assessed and the curriculum many learning objectives need to be ticked off in a kind of non-linear backward process. Smith and Ragan (1999, s. 295) conclude:

Although a few talented teachers have done well, the talent and energy required is extremely rare. The failure of progressive pedagogy can be attributed to the impossible demands that successful implementation placed on teachers, especially given the tools available in the early and mid-20th century.

The stark message ends on a cautiously positive note. Could the future bring tools and methods that make it possible to realise the progressive pedagogy dream of meaningful learning? A perfectly reasonable answer to that question is probably value creation pedagogy. Here comes a long-awaited simplification and clarification of the purpose, objectives and working process. Now teachers can finally be supported in how traditional and progressive pedagogy can be combined in everyday life.[7] The various tools and methods described in part two of the book provide teachers with concrete guidance and simplification. Assessment can also be facilitated through digital ways of working, see Chapter 8.

Let me draw a parallel to Freinet’s work at the beginning of the 20th century. I like both his focus on various technological solutions that facilitate teachers and his basic idea of pedagogy of work. But his thirty constants are, for me as an engineer and IT geek, a bit too fluffy.[8] Among other things, Freinet writes: away with caretakers and authorities, away with teachers’ explanations and lectures, away with control and grades. No wonder the Freinet movement is marginal.

I think we need to move from thirty to three constants – value creation, interaction and fine-grained mixing – as I wrote about in the introduction to the book. Teachers need fewer principles, not more, to work from. The whole philosophical playing field of education also needs to be included, see Chapter 2. Schools still need janitors, lectures and grades.

Perhaps we see here the the greatest mistake of progressive education over the centuries – to make things immensely more complicated and at the same time throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It doesn’t suit all my students

Not all people are equally ultra-social. Some prefer to keep to themselves, or dislike making contact with strangers. Others have difficulty with social interaction and empathy, or are simply shy. Still others are so used to clear structures and traditional, predictable teaching that they are not at all comfortable with a way of working that makes new, emotionally challenging and unpredictable demands on them. These students may protest and criticise their teacher.

Over the years, I have received many reflections from teachers who have tried value creation pedagogy and discovered exactly this, that it does not work equally well for everyone. And it would be strange if we had found a pedagogical idea that suited everyone. I don’t think there is such an idea. Just as some students find traditional pedagogy as meaningless and unmotivating, there are students who find value creation pedagogy problematic. This gives us yet another reason to pursue educational philosophy balance in schools. Some lessons suit some students, other lessons suit other students. Overall, pedagogical variety makes us hopefully reach all students.

It is often said that traditional teaching is not always fun for students, but that it is good for them and that they need to learn a lot of things by heart. I totally agree. But the same is true for value creation pedagogy. We all live in a relational society. All students therefore need to practice social interaction, relationship building, initiative taking, uncertainty management, perseverance and self-awareness. A modern approach to education also includes exploring how we relate to others.[9] Objections from students who do not like value creation do not therefore mean that they should be allowed to get away with it. However, teachers may need to give some students a little extra support. It is also possible, through teamwork, to distribute tasks across the group so that those who find it most difficult to make new social contacts do not have to do so quite as often. Indeed, value creation is at its most powerful when students draw on each other’s complementary strengths.

When it comes to students with different disabilities or diagnoses such as adhd and autism, it is difficult to generalise. Some teachers say value creation pedagogy works poorly for this group, others say they have finally found something that works really well. Diagnoses are over-represented among entrepreneurs and can provide a superpower that others don’t have.[10] A high level of activity, a desire to go their own way and a penchant for digging into a narrow issue can be very beneficial in value creation processes. Sometimes, however, schools may find it difficult to turn a disability into an opportunity. This is where I believe value creation pedagogy can help. But it would need more research. A good starting point could be Lina Grenander’s (2018) well-written study of entrepreneurial competences in secondary special schools. Another starting point could be the only research article that ever made me cry, written by Roth and Lee (2007). It is about a boy named Davie with an ADHD diagnosis and severe concentration difficulties in mathematics.

When Davie got involved in trying to save a stream near the school, he became the obvious focal point of the class and taught important skills to his classmates. His symptoms disappeared and he began to perform well above average, even in maths. I think Davie probably had a low tolerance for meaninglessness and that value creation pedagogy solved that problem for him. Perhaps one aspect of adhd is that you simply don’t take on meaningless tasks as credulously as others? Perhaps adhd is a diagnosis that should be equally given to schools – an inability to capture via meaningful activities the attention (AD) and activity (HD) of certain students?

Psychological challenges

Some of the challenges of value creation pedagogy are more psychological. The idea makes sense but feels a bit heavy in the stomach. Not daring, not wanting or not being able to try something new and unknown is quite human and can probably be found in just about every profession. For many people, it’s scary to dare to try something they’ve never done before.

How dare, how will, how can we work like this?

How do we actually become braver? Perhaps the three conditions for change at the beginning of this chapter can help teachers to dare to try? Instead of focusing on the psychologically heavy resistance, the focus shifts to one’s own dissatisfaction with the current situation, the vision of how things can be better, and the simple steps to take here and now. Then we circumvent our troublesome gut feelings.

Then again, someone may have decided that they simply don’t want to work with their students in a value-creating way. As a researcher, I have to respect that. But what do you do as a teacher if it’s one of your closest colleagues who just doesn’t want to? In a workplace, we are often dependent on each other. Here I think that teachers’ professional ethics can be invoked, written down by the teachers’ unions.[11] Teachers need to develop their pedagogical work and their skills on the basis of current research and proven experience. Teachers also need to support each other and protect the team. Thus, all teachers need to give a new approach a chance from time to time and try it out in practice at least once or twice, especially if colleagues so wish.

But sometimes you just can’t. Maybe you’re on the verge of stress exhaustion or depressed for other reasons. Maybe it’s hard in your personal life. There can be many reasons why you don’t have the energy to tackle a new issue right now. But maybe next semester you can? Perhaps the school principal or a close colleague can provide support in the work? Maybe you can try something small?

I am new to the profession

Some teachers feel insecure for the simple reason that they are new to the profession. It can be particularly difficult to try out yet another new idea. After all, everything is new. Here too, I think peer support and starting small is a way forward. Some teachers stress the importance of being confident in their subject and profession in order to be able to work in a value-creating way. I can understand that, but I think it should still be possible on a small scale.

What will colleagues, managers, carers say?

Even in the workplace, we humans are ultra-social. What will others say if we single-handedly start doing something very different from how our colleagues do? This is where the available research can provide reassurance. If there are questions from colleagues, managers or carers, there are many different publications to refer to. We at Chalmers have written a number of research articles on the subject. There are also more and more books from teachers describing their experiences and giving tips. Then there are also new theses every year in which prospective teachers write about value creation pedagogy. So, being the only teacher working on value creation pedagogy in a school does not mean that you are alone. Also look for Facebook groups of teachers discussing value creation pedagogy, where you will find like-minded people to share your experiences with.

Daring to let go of control

We have already talked a bit about this, about letting go of control. I think it’s basically a combination of courage, judgement, tools, methods and confidence in the profession. Courage to dare to try something new. Assessment that captures students’ skills in different and complementary ways. Tools and methods you as a teacher can lean on in your work. Confidence that, as a competent teacher, you will be able to put the whole picture together at the end of a project despite the uncertainty of a new approach.

I think that the need for control is a transitory challenge. As both you and your students become more comfortable working in a value-creating way, the sense of control will soon return. I guess it’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. To dare to take that crucial step into the unknown, to dare to step on it and pick up speed, to dare to defy the feeling that you might get hurt. Then you find your balance and a strong “aha” feeling sets in. And you’ve gained a wonderful new way forward.

My students are not mature or knowledgeable enough

A slightly different psychological challenge concerns the student view we inherited from older psychological research on children’s cognitive development. Researcher Kieran Egan (2002) writes in his book Getting it wrong from the beginning that we have inherited an erroneous view of adolescent development from child psychologist Jean Piaget. Egan’s criticisms are wide-ranging and multifaceted, so I thought I would highlight only one of his objections here.

According to Piaget, young people develop cognitively in distinct stages that can be defined relatively well in terms of both scope and age. Therefore, teachers should choose material and activities for which students are mature, based on their mental and age levels. However, Egan argues that cognitive development is not at all as linear and predictable as Piaget has claimed. Piaget’s theories are often wrongly used by teachers to judge what students should not be allowed to do or learn at a certain age. A stage-based view of children’s cognitive development has led many teachers to underestimate and limit their students.

I sometimes meet teachers with a Piaget-inspired view of students in relation to value creation pedagogy. Their students are probably too immature, they say. Or maybe the students need to acquire a little more knowledge first. Then they can create value for others. This is a psychological misconception that Egan helps us trace to Piaget. I hope more teachers give their students the chance to reject Piaget’s theories. Perhaps one of Piaget’s foremost critics can then be put to use – the scientist Lev Vygotsky.[12] He argued that students learn knowledge best when they are put into action with others.[13] He also emphasised the importance of giving students access to different tools to work and think with. I think Vygotsky would have loved the entrepreneurial toolkit I write about in Chapter 6. Perhaps Vygotsky would also be a professor of entrepreneurial education if he were alive today?

Organisational challenges

In many schools, the organisational conditions for value creation pedagogy are initially lacking. Teacher Katrine Nyqvist’s story on page _ about changing jobs to a workplace where the management does not actively work with value creation pedagogy is probably quite typical. There are ways forward, but it may take time.

How to get colleagues and school management on board?

I think Tomas Lindh in Växjö has a good point when it comes to how we get colleagues and managers involved in a new way of working, see interview on page _. The discussion can be based on the challenges and needs of your school. Few schools have no challenges in terms of motivation to study, desire to learn, student achievement, student conflict, classroom safety, values or, indeed, teacher recruitment. In all these challenges, value creation pedagogy can be a small or major part of the solution. Try to get your colleagues and school management to try this particular approach to the challenges facing your school. Use different texts and videos from researchers, teachers and others. Then, hopefully, a decision will be made to develop the work and value creation pedagogy will become a natural part of the next academic year’s professional development of the whole team or school. Many or all teachers will then be able to try it out for themselves, and the effects will surprise many in a positive way.

The schedule limits us

Scheduling issues can constrain an approach such as value creation pedagogy, which does not always fit into strict time and subject divisions. However, if more and more teachers start to recognise the powerful effects, it may over time be possible to discuss possible changes to the timetable to facilitate cross-curricular collaboration and pedagogical co-planning, see examples of arrangements in the interview with principal Josefin Nilsson on page _.

One way to get colleagues on board with schedule changes can be to lead the way and work in a value-creating way with your own students. As secondary school teacher Madeléne Polfors writes (2020, s. 28) about it:

It was also nice that other teachers came to me and told me that they had heard about my “little project” (which I had to explain is the students’ project). The teachers were curious about the approach because the students had asked if they could do similar things in their subjects as well.

But it is not a given that other teachers react with curiosity. As one teacher who works with her students in a value-creation way told us (Lackéus & Sävetun 2016, s. 43):

Then there’s the challenge of being a freak at school, you do some weird stuff.

Semantic challenges

Any attempt to broaden our horizons with new concepts is likely to be met with resistance from those who take issue with the existing conceptual apparatus. Don’t we have enough words already? What is the difference? These are natural and important questions we are now coming to.

Another concept – what does value mean?

Do we really need another concept in school? I have spent many years pondering this question and have come to the conclusion that this is indeed the case here. No other concept focuses on the knowledge-based creation of value for another person. Then the very element that causes the strongest effects we have seen on student learning and motivation risks being lost in a stressful school life.

That’s why I think the term value creation is both fully justified, uniquely contributing and absolutely essential. Without that very term, the impact on student learning risks being weakened or absent. But introducing a new concept obliges. It needs to be defined, delineated, explained, clarified, exemplified, contextualised. I myself fell into the trap of not even writing anything in my thesis about what the little word value means. Even creation needs to be defined carefully. I hope that my book can clear up some of these questions. I have also written a whole research article on the word value in relation to education, see Lackéus (2018). It’s a bit nerdy, but it’s available.

Of course we already work like this

I often hear from teachers that they are already working with value creation. But when they explain what they are doing, I often find that relatively few of the eight legs of the spider diagram in Chapter 6 are present. Usually the all-important waist of the spider is also relatively narrow. The value created is perhaps modest or vague. The interaction with outsiders may be missing altogether. Then the strong effects go missing. This is probably one reason why the form in Chapter 6 is so popular. Teachers are keen to develop their teaching, and the form clearly supports this.

There are definitely many teachers who are already working in a value-creating way with students. Especially in the aesthetic subjects, as pointed out earlier. But in the vast majority of cases, so much more can be done, and with relatively minor means. That’s why I can’t stop talking about value creation pedagogy when I hear teachers saying that they already do this. Usually they get many new ideas relatively quickly on how to go further with what they are already doing.

Some think value creation pedagogy is a set of self-evident principles for good teaching. I disagree. The vast majority of teachers I have studied in my research do not yet work on a day-to-day basis from the three basic principles in the introduction, or from the dimensions of the spider diagram and diamond model in Chapter 6.

What’s really new here?

Value creation pedagogy is a kind of action-based learning. Students learning-by-doing. There are many different such learning traditions. A few years ago, I was asked to write a paper on what is new about entrepreneurial and value creation pedagogy compared to more established options. The text was published in a digital encyclopedia of educational innovation, see Lackéus (2020b) and is also available on my research blog.[14] I won’t go into the details here, but in the article I asked the surprisingly rarely asked question learning-by-doing what? I went through the action-based learning traditions that are usually discussed, see table 7.1 below. The table is my way of illustrating that none of the established learning traditions have the same focus as value creation pedagogy.

The question of what is new about value creation pedagogy engages many teachers. So let’s also review some commonly used concepts and examine them based on the centre of the spider diagram in Chapter 6 – creating value for others and interacting with outsiders.

Is it possible to work thematically, interdisciplinary and with projects without students ever having to try to create value for others or interact with outsiders? Yes, it is possible and it happens all the time. The word value creation makes a unique contribution here.

Is it possible to work problem-, change- or challenge-based with authentic content without creating value for or interacting with outsiders? Yes, it is possible. Here again, the value-creation term helps.

Is it possible to work with authentic or real beneficiaries in real projects or real cases without creating value for or interacting personally with the beneficiaries? Unfortunately, I think so. There is a risk that the very element of students creating something concrete of value for recipients is lost when the phrase “… of value” is not explicitly stated. There is also a risk that the word real is misinterpreted as something other than that the students should create real value for and interact relationally with the recipients. Perhaps that the recipient is real, flesh and blood. But that is not enough.

Is it possible to work with entrepreneurial learning without creating value for or interacting with others? It depends on what we mean by “entrepreneurial”. By definition, if we define the word according to the diamond model, it shouldn’t be possible. But most of the examples in schools that I have studied myself unfortunately fail to have an external recipient with whom students can interact on a relational level and try to create value for. Not least because many in schools have difficulty with the word entrepreneurial in general. Very few teachers who have received in-service training in entrepreneurial learning act according to the three basic principles of value-creating learning. My conclusion is simple – the semantics need a major upgrade.

Ideological challenges

The last category of challenges is about ideology. No matter how much evidence we produce through scientific studies and good examples, there are still some who are not convinced. The challenges are probably more ideological.

This sounds too good to be true

Sometimes it is said that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As a researcher, it is also part of the job to be critical of most things. Even of oneself and one’s own impressions. There is something called confirmation bias, an unconscious and overly focused search for things that confirm what you believe, want to see and often think about. Like the new parents who suddenly see prams everywhere in town. Or as in filter bubbles where social media algorithms mainly present information that fits with what we believe.

I definitely feel that I am at risk for such bias. Value creation pedagogy has affected me on an existential level before I became a researcher. Everywhere I look now as a researcher, value creation seems to have strong effects on students. But am I living in a self-inflicted filter bubble? Is this too good to be true? Some teachers have written to me that they feel this way. I have also written myself that it feels a little too good in one of my recent research articles.[15] It seems almost unrealistic that a pedagogical idea can have such a strong impact, be so widely applicable, so clearly defined and offer such low thresholds for teachers to get started and spread the idea and approach.

The problem is hard to get around on my own. My approach to this challenge has therefore been to leave it to others to continue the work, to see what they come up with. For example, you can do what in research language is called replication studies. Can our results be replicated elsewhere, by other researchers and with other methods? There is also a lot more to do, test and find out that we have not done in our research.

The work has slowly begun. Researchers in Denmark, Finland, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Pakistan, Australia, Iran, Indonesia, the USA, Mexico, China and certainly some additional researchers I do not know of are currently working on research closely related to value creation pedagogy as a pedagogical idea in various forms.[16] The future will tell what these researchers come up with. Teachers are also increasingly taking over the practical work and writing books about their experiences. [17]

Judging by the interest, there certainly seems to be something magical about the idea of value creation pedagogy. Our research, which in turn builds on the work of many other researchers, has been disseminated, read and applied globally. Exactly how magical value learning is, and in what situations more specifically, remains to be seen. We will simply have to come back later to the question of whether value-added learning is too good to be true or not.

I don’t believe in the progressive school, it’s a hoax

Sometimes value creation pedagogy is dismissed for no other reason than that it represents yet another pernicious version of flunky schooling. This is a dishonest argumentation technique based on guilt by association – that everything about promoting student motivation is fluff. This technique is often used by school debaters who have already decided in advance on a particular view on school issues. In the past, I engaged in polemics, without ever achieving anything. Nowadays, I usually just walk away quietly and avoid being drained of energy. This kind of criticism says a lot about the polarised times we live in, but nothing about value creation pedagogy as a phenomenon.

It is not aligned with current school policy

In terms of school policy, value creation pedagogy is an idea with rather bad timing in Sweden right now. We Swedes live in a consumer society where the individual is in focus. Students are educated at school to act as consumers in a market and to choose the path that creates the most value for themselves. Swedish schools have thus become a kind of institutionalised egoism, which is then patched up and repaired with values-based work. If there is a risk that students’ time is spent helping others, when it could be spent giving them what they themselves are entitled to according to the curriculum, then Sweden’s neo-liberal social system and subconscious thought patterns say stop.

Another political trend that discourages value creation pedagogy is the authoritarian and even fascist winds blowing in politics both in Sweden and internationally, with Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Åkesson, Le Pen and other authoritarian conservative leaders.[18] Authoritarian political winds at the national level then blow into classrooms via conservative school debaters. This makes student participation and the teaching of democracy less interesting to work with, at least from a school policy perspective.

Taken together, these two political trends constitute a liberal conservatism[19] that unfortunately clashes with the ideas of collectivism and democracy on which value creation pedagogy can be said to rest. I won’t politicise the issue much more than that, but I can say that in my twelve years as a researcher I have only met one leading school politician who has shown great interest in our research on value creation pedagogy – Karin Pleijel, a Green Party member and teacher in Gothenburg. Other teachers I have met have reflected that students who create value for others remind them of the political winds that blew in the 1970s, before neoliberalism swept the world.[20] However, the situation may vary internationally. One home language teacher told me that on her street in the Middle East, most people think more in terms of creating value for others than we do in Sweden, which nowadays has one of the world’s most market-oriented school systems.[21]

Control systems require something else from me

Philosopher Jonna Bornemark became almost a celebrity when, in a summer radio talk and via her book The Renaissance of the Unmeasurable (2018) advocated that employees in the relational professions should micro-resist against the over-prescription, measurement hysteria and bureaucratization that has afflicted health care, care for the elderly, social services and not least schools. Bornemark (2018, s. 52) describes paper-isation as “every part of the activity must be documented and put into a general language that can be displayed to those who are not present in the activity”. The aim is to give managers an overview and a sense of control. Also researcher Gert Biesta (2009) has described how an increased focus on the easily measurable crowds out other values in schools. The pursuit of greater efficiency in the public sector through various measurement methods and competition based on performance measures is known as New Public Management, or NPM. In an international comparison, Sweden has a strong NPM focus.[22]

I’ve often heard from teachers myself that they like the idea of value-creating students, but that they worry that control systems will punish them if they spend time on this. The measurement focus often ends up on standardised and therefore partly dumbing down performance measures that do not capture the positive effects of value creation pedagogy on students.[23] Many teachers then think that time spent on value creation pedagogy can be punished when guardians, school leaders and school inspectors then exercise their increasingly strong power of control over teachers.

One way to deal with this attempt to de-professionalise teachers that is going on in schools[24] is to fight against it and not give it too much space. If we see control systems for a moment as a way of taking control of teachers’ professional practice from above, or as ideologically motivated projects of limited value to students, then perhaps we can settle into a slightly more relaxed approach when working on something we believe in. No teacher has ever been fired for a little value creation pedagogy. On the contrary, it is often a pathway to great appreciation from students, school leaders and caregivers alike. It also rests on values such as humanism, empathy, responsibility and democracy. I don’t know how school inspectors relate to value creation pedagogy, but my call is still a bit rebellious: Dare to resist micromanagement from above. Wiggle out of the NPM shackles every now and then. Replace an assessment matrix lesson here and there with an hour of planning value creation pedagogy, without saying anything. Feel good about your pursuit of a balanced school between matrices and motivation. Rest in the fact that it will work out.

What happened to the value of knowledge?

A focus on what is valuable to others in society can be criticised for being overly utilitarian. One critical teacher argued that an excessive focus on the practical utility and “market” value of knowledge can diminish the intrinsic value of knowledge and thus become a kind of antithesis to education.[25] I can understand the logic behind such a criticism, even if it is perhaps a little exaggerated. Value-creating activities will never dominate schools as we know them. We will never land in the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic vision of a society where utility, happiness and pleasure are maximised, at the expense of other values.[26] It is also a common misconception that students’ value creation for others is primarily a market-driven act motivated by their selfish self-interest. Just as primitive peoples often give gifts without direct expectation of reciprocation, students can create value for others without it having to be interpreted as a market transaction.[27] Instead, we can see it as the famous anthropologist Marcel Mauss saw it – that selfless giving is a natural way to build loving relationships between people.[28] Students who are able to create value for others then strengthen their capacity for compassion, respect and openness towards other people.

Again, this is the balance I want schools to strive for. A little more value creation for others is probably what students could have use for, as it is often completely lacking. But it shouldn’t crowd out a focus on knowledge. Rather, it should be a relational means that reinforces learning and allows students to learn knowledge and skills for life, not just for the test.

[1] See Jost et al. (2008).

[2] See Gleicher’s change formula described by Cady et al. (2014).

[3] See Lackeus (2021, s. 100–104).

[4] See Jönsson (2002, s. 19).

[5] See for example Polfors (2020).

[6] My personal favourite is an old goodie of a book written by Rackham (1989).

[7] Read more about this in Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).

[8] A light-hearted presentation of them is given by Temple and Rodero (1995).

[9] See Biesta (2002).

[10] See Wiklund, Patzelt and Dimov (2016) and Wiklund et al. (2017).

[11] See Teachers’ Union and National Union of Teachers (2006).

[12] For an interesting comparison of Piaget and Vygotsky, see Cole and Wertsch (1996).

[13] See Strandberg (2009).

[14] See https://vcplist.com/2019/04/22/entrepreneurial-education-its-unique-and-novel-contribution-to-education/ or search for “entrepreneurial education unique and novel”.

[15] See Lackeus (2020a, s. 957–961).

[16] See mainly Jones, Penaluna and Penaluna (2020), Bell (2020), Neck and Corbett (2018), Brahe-Orlandi (2019), Yousafzai (2019), Stenholm et al. (2021), Bacigalupo et al. (2016), Le Pontois (2020) and Baggen, Lans and Guliker (2021). See also Larsson and Holmberg (2017).

[17] See mainly Wiman (2019, 2022), Bengtsson (2021) and Remvall (2021).

[18] See Albright (2018).

[19] See Apple (2000) who writes about how neoconservatives and neoliberals are forming a kind of unexpected but creative alliance in school policy.

[20] A fascinating text on how neoliberalism took over was written by Peck (2008).

[21] According to Dahlstedt and Fejes (2018, s. 9).

[22] According to Karlsson (2017).

[23] See Lindblad, Pettersson and Popkewitz (2018).

[24] Hultén (2019) describes this well, as do Jeffrey and Woods (1998) and Ball (2013).

[25] See Bruér (2019).

[26] For a good discussion of Bentham, see Heberlein (2014).

[27] See Graeber (2001).

[28] See Graeber (2001, s. 161).

Chapter 6: The value-creating teacher’s toolkit


I may be one of the least fluffy fluff teachers you’ll ever meet. My background as an IT geek, programmer and engineer has made me allergic to fluff. I’ve long been on the hunt for the perfect educational algorithm. An impossible and naive mission, of course. But along the way, I’ve come up with a variety of practical tools to help teachers navigate through fancy phrases, loose talk and fuzzy approaches. I thought I’d tell you about some of them in this chapter. They help to simplify what is often otherwise a rather complicated action-based and student-centred learning process.[1]

First, a pedagogical planning form is presented, which has become very popular among teachers. Having exposed thousands of teachers to the form, I know for a fact that this is the case. Then comes an eight-legged spider diagram, which helps teachers evaluate whether their intended design covers important aspects. Next come three practical tools that can be used in idea generation workshops with both teachers and students – the opportunity map, the canvas and the pitch template. Use them in small groups and in sequence and you will have a first draft of an idea. These three tools all have their theoretical roots in entrepreneurship, but please don’t say it out loud. Then some might get the idea that it’s all about making money.

Then we come to glamour. Our research team at Chalmers has developed a brilliant diamond model that provides guidance on what it means to be “entrepreneurial” – that uncrowned queen of flummery to words. The chapter continues with the entrepreneurial toolkit, in the form of some advice and recommendations from leading researchers and practitioners in the field of entrepreneurship. I’ve washed away all the business words, which is important for this advice to work well in schools.

The last part of this chapter is a short introduction to an approach to strengthened scholarship among teachers working with value creation pedagogy as a focus in school development, as well as some thoughts on various IT tools that can facilitate the value-creation teacher’s everyday life. One of them went by the early working name of the fluff killer. We conclude with some wise words from teacher educator Katarina Ellborg at Linnaeus University. She usually gets good feedback from teachers on in-service training when she asks them to draw up a pedagogical plan.

Planning form

The form in Figures 6.1a and 6.1b (download the form as a Word document here) has been a popular practical exercise among teachers who have just been introduced to ideas about value creation pedagogy. It helps them to think carefully about their planning of value-added activities for students. The different questions make visible what a value-creating activity might mean for students. It also focuses on key issues such as student participation in planning, possible beneficiaries of value creation, assessment strategies and links to curriculum requirements. The various fields that are expected to be filled in make the form difficult to complete without creatively engaging with the idea of allowing students to learn by creating value for others. Teachers usually like to have around 20 minutes to complete the form.

Figure 6.1a Page 1 of form for pedagogical planning of value creation pedagogy in school and preschool.
Figure 6.1b. Back of the planning form for value creation pedagogy in school and preschool. The spider diagram in the middle becomes a kind of graphic self-assessment for teachers around the educational planning they have just described on the front of the form.

The spider diagram

On the back of the planning form there is a spider diagram that each teacher fills in graphically by answering eight control questions, see Figure 6.1b. The eight legs of the spider represent a kind of self-assessment for teachers. What then often happens is that many teachers realise that perhaps they could have thought a little differently in their educational planning. Two teachers reflected as follows:

Some numbers were low, others high. Immediately, my mind started spinning about how I could improve various details. This feels like a good template to use in the future!

One frustration of the task was that once you feel finished and proud of your exercise, you realise that it is flawed on several points by the control questions presented at the end. My conclusion from this is that a lot of practice and change of mindset from traditional teaching needs to be re-evaluated at a personal level before these exercises can be thought through according to the questions.

So why do the spider’s legs look the way they do?[2] Well, the two horizontal legs represent the “waist” of the diagram and represent two of the three basic principles of value creation pedagogy – trying to create value for others[3] and personal interaction with other people in the world[4] . Therefore, the horizontal line is drawn thicker. We want to see a wide waist when the spider diagram is filled in and coloured.

The top and bottom of the spider diagram are taken from the phenomenon’s roots in entrepreneurship. The process should ideally be characterised by a strong sense of emotional ownership of the process by the students themselves[5] and by repetitive elements where students are allowed to try to succeed over and over again[6] .

The two diagonal lines are linked to the third basic principle of fine-grained mix of value creation and learning. How such a mix is achieved can be inspired by research on action-based learning. Learning becomes particularly strong when students undergo emotionally challenging processes, perhaps even failures.[7] Learning is enhanced when students are allowed to work closely together – cooperatively – in close-knit teams.[8] Students also need ongoing activity-based feedback and formative assessment to reinforce learning.[9] In addition, there should always be clear links to subject knowledge and skills.[10]

I think the spider diagram is a much-needed fluff killer. The teacher who brings all eight legs of the spider into his or her teaching can be fairly confident of capturing the otherwise elusive but highly effective entrepreneurial learning. Especially if that all-important waist is wide. Which is a bit ironic, since spiders’ waists – their so-called pedicel – are otherwise usually narrow. A rule of thumb might be something like: fat spiders make for happy students who learn a lot. At the same time, not everything teachers do needs to get high marks on all the spider’s legs. It is probably more realistic to combine many different activities that all have fairly wide waistlines and that together satisfy the eight legs of the spider over the course of an entire school year.

The opportunity map

Starting up work on creating value for others is best based on each student’s own strengths and interests. Creating value for others tends to be more fun and successful when students are allowed to start from what they are passionate about or good at.

One way to get started is to have students fill in the Opportunity Map, see Figure 6.2. Print it out on paper, use small 4 × 5 cm post-it notes and let students silently inventory their strengths and interests for 5-10 minutes. Attach each completed post-it note to the paper, or write directly on the paper. Most people will have quite a few notes. Several students can also share the same paper, perhaps with different colours on the post-it notes. In this case, the opportunity map may need to be printed in A3 format to fit everything. With several students sharing each piece of paper, it is easier to see the links between the interests and strengths of different students in the group. The Opportunity Map originates from the theory of entrepreneurial effectuation, developed by researcher Saras Sarasvathy.[11]

Figure 6.2. The opportunity map. A tool for taking stock of interests and strengths. This version revised from Ben Salem Dynehäll and Lärk Ståhlberg (2014).

On the Interests & Passions piece, students try to write down three to five things they are really passionate about. These could be hobbies such as handball or dance, interests related to school or other work, or issues of the heart such as the environment, justice and health. Knowledge & Skills can be about things learnt at school, through work or clubs, or from other experiences. It can also be about things that are part of the course or subject that students are currently working on. Resources can be physical assets such as a mobile phone, computer, car, boat or bicycle, or perhaps a party room or sports facility that the student has access to. Contacts are about people they know who they can involve in some initiative in some way. People who can help in the students’ attempts to create value for others. Experiences may be lessons learned from school, work, hobbies, volunteer work or in other ways earlier in life.

The canvas

When self-inventory is done in silence, it is time to come up with an idea for something worthwhile to do as a group. This is a creative step, and it involves the group moving from the opportunity map’s all self-centred post-it notes to a concrete and shared idea of a value proposition for others. Feel free to use post-it notes here as well, and attach them to a printed version of the canvas shown in Figure 6.3. A room with many groups tends to be full of creative buzz here. Time pressure may be needed to get students to move from loose talk to deciding on a concrete idea. I usually give the groups about 15 minutes. Ideally, the group’s idea is rooted in the complementary strengths and interests of several or all of the group members. Then there is a good base to stand on in the continuing journey, which can make it both emotional, personal and deeply engaging.

Value-creating ideas based solely on one’s own strengths and interests may risk overshadowing knowledge requirements and learning outcomes. In working with the canvas, the teacher may therefore need to clarify the framework. Perhaps every idea about creating value for others should have an element of history, religion or some other subject now being addressed? Combining one’s own strengths and interests with a predetermined area of knowledge is usually more successful than one might think. The level of ideas and innovation may even be higher than otherwise. Imagine religious football, horseback riding history or bakery chemistry.

Figure 6.3. Canvas to envision a value proposition. This version revised from Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) and Ben Salem Dynehäll and Larch Ståhlberg (2014).

The pitch template

The third and final step in the idea development process is to create a pitch for the value proposition that took shape with the help of the canvas. A pitch is a verbal and extremely brief presentation of what is to be offered to the intended recipient of value. One purpose of the pitch is to convince the listener of the excellence of what is being offered, in order to get a yes to collaboration or perhaps even purchase. Another purpose is to test your idea. If the reaction is lukewarm among many, the group may need to rethink its value proposition. In the beginning, it is probably more the rule than the exception that many changes and additions are required. The group may even need to restart from scratch.

Have students use the pitch template in Figure 6.4 below and write down the group’s pitch. A good pitch should be concise, oral, fun, engaging and ideally take no more than a minute to deliver. People’s attention is in short supply, so a good pitch needs to be delivered in a way that is both time-efficient and impactful. Each group’s pitch can be delivered in front of everyone in the room if participants are brave or know each other well. Each group then appoints one person to deliver the pitch. Before the pitch, it is a good idea to have the group describe the intended recipient so that everyone listening knows who the pitch is aimed at.

I’ve found that all three steps – the opportunity map, the canvas and the pitch – get a little more edgy and emotional if all participants know from the start that their group will be presenting their group’s pitch to all participants at the end. The work then feels a bit more real, and the nervousness makes the process more exciting, even a bit scary. Time pressure also creates focus. I usually run all three steps in around half an hour, including the pitches which take a minute per group. When a minute has passed, I usually make a discreet sound, by using a triangle bell. This usually elicits laughter from the participants and a little anxiety from the pitcher.

The pitch template can also be used at other times when an idea for a value proposition is to be presented to an intended recipient of value. It can become a useful tool in everyday life. After a while, it will become part of your spinal cord and no longer needs to be written down. This is the case with many entrepreneurial tools – they are a kind of beginner’s aid that are then not needed when students become experienced value creators. Just as the driving licence book is never read by experienced car drivers.

Figure 6.4. Pitch template for 1-minute pitch of a value proposition. Revised from Ben Salem Dynehäll and Lärk Ståhlberg (2014).

The Diamond model

Now a little longer on what it means to be entrepreneurial, because I believe that clarity and insight on this issue is an important tool for value-creating teachers.

As I write this section, it is exactly twelve years to the day since I started researching how we make people more entrepreneurial. For me as a researcher, these twelve years have consisted of four different triennial phases of entrepreneurial education – disengaged, bulldozed, crashed and resurrected. In October 2009, I stepped into a new world for me that no one seemed to care about. Entrepreneurship and education seemed to be two separate phenomena that didn’t want to know about each other. The no-man’s land in between was a kind of giveaway no one wanted. Other researchers in entrepreneurship told me to forget about that sad area no one could publish their work in. When my favourite researcher Paula Kyrö was about to present a paper at a conference in the US, almost everyone left the room. Except for me, who just sat there and enjoyed it.

In the following three years, all this changed for me unexpectedly. I stumbled into the Swedish school hype about entrepreneurial learning. It reached its peak around 2014, three years after the new national curriculum Lgr11 that emphasised entrepreneurship in schools. Everyone in the schools seemed to be wondering how that entrepreneurial learning was going to happen. Many wanted to give their clever explanation to the didactical questions what, how and why. Educational researchers as well as consultants. As a researcher, I launched several studies during this boom to try to find sensible answers. However, when we were done collecting all the data at the end of 2016, the crash came. After five years of fluff, teachers had grown tired of all the talk about entrepreneurial approaches and other fluff. Conservative forces had also successfully pushed Swedish schools into an increasingly authoritarian direction. As we began to see more clearly what was really working in the field, the number of people who cared shrank to near zero. I found my area of research to have been lost again. The only time any outsider took a genuine interest in the field was when the radio or the newspaper asked why entrepreneurship in schools disappeared so suddenly.[12]

Somewhere around 2018, the frustration for me as a researcher was probably at its highest. We were using something that was working extremely well, we could see this in our collected research data, but nobody in the schools was interested in any e-words anymore. But why fight the school windmills, I finally thought, and took my constant armourer on school issues Carin Sävetun with me and started researching other things.

But as I sum up my first twelve years as a researcher, I realise that the last three years have actually been devoted to developing a clear and concrete alternative to all the frustrating misconceptions and narrow perspectives on being entrepreneurial that have plagued the field for so long. Because this is how it is:

  • No, it’s not about starting a business or making a lot of money, it’s a relatively uninteresting side effect that sometimes occurs.
  • No, asking teachers and students to “see opportunities” or adopt an entrepreneurial “approach” does not work, it is dismissed by teachers as fluff.
  • No, teachers are not significantly helped by long lists of entrepreneurial competences, except for what they should write as learning outcomes in their plans.[13]
  • No, letting students sit and be “creative” and build cardboard space rockets has almost no effect whatsoever. [14]

But instead of admiring my nice sacrificial cardigan (well, it was probably on for a while), I sat down one spring day in 2018 with my research colleagues Karen and Mats at Chalmers and cobbled together a model of what we saw this was actually about. Negative emotions helped us focus our work, and we eventually drew up a diamond model which was later published by the European Commission (se Lackéus et al., 2020). If you ask me today what it means to be entrepreneurial, that model will be my answer, see figure 6.5. The model can probably be a useful tool in value creation pedagogy.

Figure 6.5. The Diamond model of what it means to be entrepreneurial.

Being entrepreneurial is about constantly balancing between the four corners of the diamond in a non-linear four-step process that is constantly ongoing.

The first step starts at the bottom of the diamond with taking action from the heart. What are you frustrated about? What do you want to spend time on in a busy day? What new ideas do you dare to stand for? What risks are you willing to take? Because if you don’t care, why should others?

The second step is about imagining something new. This is not a solitary task for inventors, but requires constant dialogue. With the group, with potential beneficiaries of value, with experts, friends, neighbours, indeed with almost anyone. What is possible? What would be required? What can we try? What would you think of …? What would it take to …? A great idea for something new is not the starting point of the process, as many believe, but the result of a large number of open-minded dialogues over time with other people.

The third step is the concrete attempt to help someone else in a new way, on a small scale and in a relational way. It requires empathy, sensitivity, humility and an ability to put the needs of others first. But it also requires careful planning, resources and perhaps a prototype – which may be a simple brochure. Some in the group also need to sell the idea to outsiders about doing something together, making the first pitch to those who didn’t expect to be helped. This is where the pitch template comes in handy. Often the answer is no thanks, which is perfectly normal.

In the fourth step, the learning is collected after the experiment. Three kinds of learning need to take place based on thoughts, actions and feelings. Thought-based learning in the classroom involves seeking information, making phone calls, engaging in dialogue, writing down insights in plans and analysing the situation. Action-based learning often takes place outside the classroom or school – meetings, exhibitions, experiments and networking. Emotion-based learning can happen anywhere, and is about those crucial moments of presenting to others, receiving criticism, being struck by a decision, gaining a deep insight in the middle of a sleepless night. In short, moments of success as well as failure. Learning is about the process, the value proposition and the self. These emotional experiences build our capacity to handle uncertainty, persevere, deal with adversity, build relationships and understand ourselves a little better.

After step four, it all starts again. And again and again. In our report to the European Commission[15] we have described in great detail how the diamond model can be used by entrepreneurial employees in any organisation. Perhaps one day there will be a version of this report for teachers and students in schools as well. But I haven’t quite figured out yet how teachers can use the diamond model in their everyday work with students. However, I use it myself in everything I do. For example, this book was written entirely from the four steps of the Diamond Model:

  1. Action from the heart. The book was written in frustration at how many students never get to experience a deeply meaningful school, my own children included.
  2. Imagine something new. Everything new in the book came about through twelve years of dialogue with thousands of people in and out of school.
  3. Creating value for others. The book represents my attempt to create some tangible value for you, the reader.
  4. Collect learning. In time, I will learn more about whether my attempt was successful, and if so, how successful it was, via a number of emotional moments for me where we might even meet and I will hear about your experience of reading my book.

The Entrepreneurial Toolbox

Everyday work for entrepreneurial people is about moving between learning for themselves and creating value for others. Back and forth between the left and right corners of the diamond model. There are plenty of suggestions for how that pendulum movement might happen. My colleague Yashar Mansoori at Chalmers University of Technology who is researching this calls them entrepreneurial methods. [16]

I myself am very fascinated by these methods and their recommendations, and collectively call them the entrepreneurial toolbox. Each method is a small microcosm in itself, with a few mostly American prophets and lots of followers globally. The methods are rarely challenged, which is a problem in itself. But they have a lot of interesting and sensible advice to offer. The most widespread methods – Lean Startup, Customer Development, Design Thinking, Appreciative Inquiry and Effectuation – are each used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, perhaps even more. Search for them and you’ll find a sea of information.

But I didn’t intend my book to be too thick. So I wasn’t going to go through the methods one by one here. If you want to read more about them, you can always download a paper I did for the OECD a few years ago, with short reviews of the relevance of the methods in education (se Lackéus 2015, s. 29–32). There are also shelves of literature written about these methods by many others. A few writings are also critical.[17]

More interesting here is what the methods recommend in practical terms, and how this advice can be applied in schools. Figure 6.6 therefore provides a summary of what students might be allowed to do, sorted according to the eight dimensions of the spider diagram.

I don’t yet know exactly when or how the entrepreneurial toolbox can be used in schools. It would need to be researched in more detail. But one thing that is clear is that all the business words in the original texts of the methods need to be washed away. They prevent teachers and students in schools from being able to apply the methods. Now, entrepreneurship is a field of business and money, so the language is expected. But more and more people are noticing that these methods are useful far beyond the world of business.[18] Perhaps the recommendations in Figure 6.6 even capture something deeply fundamental about how we humans have created, socialized and invented our way over millions of years to a superior first place in evolution’s constant life-and-death competition for resources, existence and survival among species.

Figure 6.6. Various recommendations from the entrepreneurial toolbox, revised to suit students at school.

Value-creating science: Designed Action Sampling (DAS)

It is difficult for new pedagogical ideas to take hold in schools. All the lectures, workshops and training days on value creation pedagogy that I have been involved in over the years have left rather modest traces. My colleague Christer Westlund warned me early on about the risk of turning into a travelling entertainer in schools. Of course, it’s great to meet teachers around Sweden and discuss the positive effects we’ve seen on students. Many teachers really like the idea of value-creating students. But unfortunately, such meetings rarely lead to students having a more meaningful day at school. After an inspiring break, most teachers return to a stressful workday with little space to test new ideas whose effects are not followed up anyway. Nor have we been good at writing up our research findings in forms that work for teachers. Perhaps this book can change that, we’ll see.

The frustration of all my failures made me take action from the heart and try to create a whole new way of working with school development. I dropped the idea of value-creating students and instead, together with colleagues Christer Westlund and Carin Sävetun, started helping schools with whatever pedagogical idea they were working on at the time. Christer and Carin shared my frustration in the depths of their hearts, so we joined forces.

The result, after much agonising and even more failures, was a new scientific method that finally proved to work really well in schools. Today, the method is used by many thousands of teachers and head teachers across Sweden. We named the method Designed ACtion Sampling. In 2020, I wrote a book about the method – The Scientific Teacher. It describes everything thoroughly, so I won’t get long-winded here. But briefly, the method is based on a three-step working process:

  1. Research leaders choose focus (Design). First, the research leader at the school (often one or more lead teachers) designs a number of action-oriented missions to his/her teaching colleagues, the implementation of which will hopefully create value for students.
  2. All teachers test in the classroom (Action). Then many teachers in the school take action and try out the missions together in practice, each teacher in his or her own classroom with his or her students, reflecting in writing afterwards in a simple form, and receiving written feedback from the research supervisor (often a teacher, as I said) and sometimes from their school leader.
  3. Everyone analyses the outcome together (Sampling). Finally, everyone in the school analyses the teachers’ written reflections together, as well as the written feedback they received, in anonymous form, and then revise the missions so that they might work better next time. Then it starts all over again.

Perhaps this new method is difficult to understand or distinguish on the basis of this summary description alone. It would be strange otherwise. After all, there was a reason I needed to write a whole book about the method. My first two books are actually siblings, even pseudo-twins. Similar front pages and titles show that they belong together. First came a book about a new scientific method, then a year later this book about a new pedagogical idea. Each book took about nine months to write.

My hope is that more and more schools will now have sibling love. Because I think the two books could use each other. A new pedagogical idea needs to be tested systematically in a scientific way that works practically in schools and gets everyone on the journey. Designed Action Sampling is thus an important tool for teachers who want to work systematically and scientifically with value creation pedagogy in their schools. One day I may have cause to write a third book about what happened when the siblings were allowed to work together. A trilogy. In the epilogue, I’ll talk more about how we could take the work further in a more practical way through the two siblings.

IT support for the value-creating teacher

Some teachers take a critical approach to IT and have a low level of trust in IT vendors. However, in order to work time-efficiently with value creation pedagogy, IT is still needed in various forms. I have seen many examples of how IT tools make value creation pedagogy so much better for everyone involved. Students can communicate digitally with each other and with the outside world. Teachers can communicate digitally with students, manage the complexity of students’ interactions with the world and assess students’ value-creation based learning more easily. School leaders can digitally follow the journey of teachers.

Let me give you some examples. I won’t mention specific platforms or vendors, that would just make the book age unnecessarily fast. The IT market changes all the time. Value-creation teachers need to keep up to date with what is happening in the IT field, it is part of the profession.

I have seen teachers use IT support to allow students to learn a foreign language with native speakers. I have met teachers who routinely use digital word clouds in the ideation process as students brainstorm new ways to create value for others. I know many teachers who use IT support to monitor students when they are out in the world creating value, for example at a workplace as part of an internship. They may write a digital logbook, report their attendance and take photos and videos of their work which are then used in teaching when they return to school. Teachers also use IT support to collect reflections from value-creating learners in a confidential way about their emotionally powerful experiences, and then give them personalised feedback. IT support is also used more generally to save time in formative assessment and peer assessment of value creation pedagogy.

There are many more examples. The lesson is that IT support is an indispensable part of the value-creating teacher’s toolkit. The progression model in Chapter 2 also shows that IT support is particularly important for assessment and student dialogue in large value-creation projects. We will return to this in Chapter 8 on assessment.

The pedagogical plan

One way to think something through properly is to write it down. When we put our thoughts on paper for others to read, we also see more clearly what we mean ourselves. Therefore, it can be a good idea to write down your ideas about how you want to work with value creation pedagogy during a school year in a plan. Especially if many teachers are involved. Writing a pedagogical plan can be a way for the team to create participation, invite each other into the thinking process and explain the details of what, how and why in a clearer way. It can also be a way to anchor their plans with school leaders.

Together with teacher trainer Katarina Ellborg, I have been working with practising teachers in the framework of a course at Linnaeus University called Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Learning. The course is given every two years and includes value creation pedagogy as one of several perspectives. Every time I read the participants’ reflections, I am struck by how positively teachers experience the process of making a pedagogical plan.

A plan can be short or long. It can be written as a Word document or as a PowerPoint presentation, or both. It can include headings such as:

  • What do we want to do? Concrete activities? Effects we want to achieve?
  • How do we do it? Tools and methods? Assessment? Division of labour and timetable?
  • Why do we want to work like this? Goals, purpose, vision? Scientific basis? What problems are we solving?
  • How do we link our plans to the curriculum documents? In which subjects?
  • How do we evaluate our work afterwards? How do we know if we have succeeded?

The points above are certainly similar to the headings of the planning form, but here it is more a question of going into more depth and writing running text in a document that is worked on over several weeks and in which many people participate.

Writing a pedagogical plan can be usefully combined with the scientific method of Designed Action Sampling. In this method, teachers first formulate concrete action-oriented missions for each other, which are written down in a specific section of the pedagogical plan. These missions are then acted upon in the classroom and followed by written individual reflection among the teachers on each completed mission. Students can also reflect on what they have learned. This more structured approach allows for a strengthened peer analysis at team level of observed effects on students, thus making visible the school’s proven experience in value creation pedagogy. The collected reflections from teachers and students can also help to strengthen the scientific evidence for different approaches to value creation pedagogy.

[1] Read more about how tools simplify in Lackéus, Lundqvist and Williams Middleton (2016).

[2] The theoretical basis of the spider diagram is also described in Lackéus and Sävetun (2019a, s. 42–43).

[3] See Bruyat and Julien (2001).

[4] See Goss (2005) and Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (2011).

[5] See Cope and Watts (2000) and Rae (2005).

[6] See Mansoori (2018) and Mansoori and Lackéus (2019).

[7] See Jarvis (2006) and Roberts (2012).

[8] See Cuban (2007), Tynjälä (1999) and Fohlin et al. (2017).

[9] See Black and Wiliam (1998) and Hodges, Eames and Coll (2014).

[10] See Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) and Rosenshine (2009).

[11] Read more in Read et al. (2016).

[12] See, for example, reports in Utbildningsradion (2019) where in the introduction they ask “What became of this initiative? Who talks about entrepreneurship in schools today? “.

[13] See Bacigalupo et al. (2016).

[14] See Lackéus and Sävetun (2019a).

[15] See Lackéus et al. (2020).

[16] See Mansoori (2018) and Mansoori and Lackéus (2019).

[17] For a summary, see York and York (2019).

[18] See for example Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (2011).

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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Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation In Y. Engeström, R. Miettinen, & R.-L. Punamäki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fayolle, A. (2007). Entrepreneurship and new value creation: the dynamic of the entrepreneurial process. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Feldman, DB, & Snyder, CR (2005). Hope and the meaningful life: Theoretical and empirical associations between goal – directed thinking and life meaning. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24(3), 401-421.

Fiske, ST (2008). Core Social Motivations – Views from the Couch, Consciousness, Classroom, Computers, and Collectives. In J. Shah & W. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of motivation science New York, NY: Guilford Press. pp. 3-22.

Fohlin, N., Moerkerken, A., Westman, L., & Wilson, J. (2017). Basic book in cooperative learning: the path to the collaborative classroom. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Frankl, VE (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York City: Simon and Schuster.

Goss, D. (2005). Schumpeter’s legacy? Interaction and emotions in the sociology of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(2), 205-218.

Graeber, D. (2001). Toward an anthropological theory of value: The false coin of our own dreams: Springer.

Gärdenfors, P. (2006). The meaning-seeking man. Stockholm: Nature and culture.

Harari, IN (2015). Sapiens: a brief history of humanity: Nature & culture.

Hattie, J. (2011). Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact On Learning. London: Routledge

Helgesson, C.-F., & Muniesa, F. (2013). For what it’s worth: An introduction to valuation studies. Valuation Studies, 1(1), 1-10.

Hoff, E. (2010). Playful children become creative adults. Cross-section – on humanities and social science research, 3(10), 14-17.

IBM. (2010). Capitalizing on complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. Somers, NY: IBM Institute for Business Value

Jarvis, P. (2006). Towards a comprehensive theory of human learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jonassen, DH, & Land, SM (2000). Theoretical foundations of learning environments. London, UK: Routledge.

Jones, C. (2011). Teaching entrepreneurship to undergraduates. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Juul, J. (1997). Your competent child: on the way to new values ​​for the family. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand.

Labaree, DF (2005). Progressivism, schools and schools of education: An American romance. Paedagogica historica, 41(1-2), 275-288.

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. (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. (2017). Does entrepreneurial education trigger more or less neoliberalism in education? Education + Training, 59(6), 635-650.

Lackéus, M. (2018). “What is value?” – A framework for analyzing and facilitating entrepreneurial value creation. Uniped, 41(1), 10-28.

Lackéus, M. (2021). The science teacher – a handbook for research in school and preschool. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

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.

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Lucas, B., & Venckute, M. (2020). Creativity – a transversal skill for lifelong learning. An overview of existing concepts and practices: Literature review report. Seville: Joint Research Center, European Commission

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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