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


Covid or not, certain skills are difficult to teach inside the classroom. It is notoriously challenging to develop people’s creativity, initiative-taking, resilience, collaboration and empathy. Such skills have always been developed more strongly when learners are immersed into the world outside their classroom. Some teachers have been forerunners in facilitating such learning experiences. In the process, they have developed some very specific pedagogical skills, including innovative uses of digital tools and a reliance on emotional events. Now that Covid 19 has forced students to leave the classroom, their teachers could learn a lot from a small group of forerunners in “beyond classroom”-based teaching. This text summarizes five key insights that could help millions of teachers who are newcomers in such teaching.

As a scholar in emotional action-based education, I have for many years studied experiential education on all age levels, from preschool to university and beyond. When students learn outside the classroom, it is often in some very specific and marginal(ized) contexts. Terms used are vocational education, apprenticeship education, progressive education, internships, entrepreneurial education and work-integrated learning. A common denominator is emotionally charged learning events taking place outside the classroom. Such learning experiences have for decades been an exception to the classroom based cognition-oriented norm in education.

“Educational innovation? Thanks, but no thanks…”

Relatively small communities of teachers have for decades developed innovative approaches, methods and techniques that support their rather specific needs and ambitions. I have worked as a researcher together with many innovative forerunner teachers, and nowadays I often get invitations to speak in front of other teachers about what I’ve learned from them. Stories of some rather unusual but powerful pedagogical practices leave most teachers politely nodding, perhaps even genuinely fascinated, but silently disengaging in regards to their own teaching. Why complicate student learning when you can keep it simple? After all, by containing all students in one single large room and doing all the necessary didactics and assessment there, life as a teacher undeniably becomes more manageable.

Teaching in the Covid era

Covid changed all this. Suddenly teachers all over the world were thrown into teaching and assessment that necessarily needs to happen outside the classroom. It is interesting to see what happens when an entire world of teachers is forced to take up novel approaches, methods and techniques, often digital ones. But I must admit that so far, for me as a scholar in the field of “beyond classroom” teaching, it has been a disappointment. Most initial attempts at moving learning outside the classroom come across as amateurish and simplistic to me. Instead of taking advantage of the emotionally charged and wonderfully rich world outside of the classroom, teachers opt for a mere digitization of their traditional cognition-oriented classroom practices. Students now sit at home, instead of in the classroom, listening passively to the teacher doing the same lectures they used to do in the classroom. The change has so far been technological, not pedagogical. Lecture length has even stayed largely the same in most cases, despite people finding it difficult to retain attention in a 40 minutes long digital lecture.

Still, there is certainly hope in the longer term. A booming interest in digital and/or emotional pedagogies could over time also trigger significant pedagogical development on a broader scale. To help teachers get beyond technology in taking their first steps into the wonderful world of emotionally charged experiential “beyond classroom” learning, I will here try to summarize five key insights I’ve learned from forerunner teachers and their students, having studied them in-depth over many years with action research methodologies.

Insight #1: Theory and practice – mix them in fine-grained ways

When the world of practice is integrated with theoretical perspectives from the classroom, we often see how students grow exponentially. Instead of teachers teaching to the test, we get students who learn for life. Putting theory into practice already while in education makes students see the purpose and true meaning of knowledge and skills. The question “Why are we learning this?” disappears from the students’ agenda, much to the relief of their teachers. But practice must not replace theory, they need to be integrated so that they strengthen each other.

Integrating theory and practice is not easy. One recommendation I’ve managed to distill from the forerunners is “fine-grained”-ness. Theory and practice needs to be mixed in a fine-grained way. When practice is integrated into theory, it is not good enough to have a year or a month of theory followed by a year or a month of practice. The mixing preferably should happen every week, even every day if possible. A vision I’ve developed for myself comes from professor Kieran Egan (2008) – theory in the morning, practice in the afternoon. Not easy, but a very useful vision to guide pedagogical decisions. Such mixing of theory and practice is often facilitated by digital tools, see further below.

Insight #2: The action-reflection cycle – assess your students through deep reflection

Teaching is often dictated by the assessment regime in place. When learning moves outside the classroom, and when learning outcomes include difficult-to-teach skills, teachers need to turn to more innovative assessment, see overview by Ferns and Moore (2012). One of the most common assessment practices among forerunner teachers is student reflections. When learning-by-doing becomes the norm, assessment of learning is often done by requiring students to reflect in writing upon what they learned from the doing. Also here, fine-grainedness is a key issue. Written reflections (and corresponding teacher feedback) need to be integrated into students’ everyday action learning processes, rather than dealt with after the action-taking is over. And also here, digital tools can be used to facilitate student reflection, see further below.

The most advanced pedagogical forerunners we’ve studied spend a lot of effort on trying to shorten the action-reflection cycle (cf. Schön 1983). Reflection is connected more tightly to the actions taken. This makes student learning more visible to the teacher and also clarifies the intended learning-by-doing path for the students. This way, teachers provide their students with increased clarity around the question: learning-by-doing-what? The end result is a better alignment between the doing, the learning and the assessment, as prescribed by Biggs and Tang (2011) in their seminal work on Constructive Alignment. Reflective depth is a resulting key challenge for the forerunner teachers. We’ve found the advice from groundbreaking work by Moon (2004) to be very useful here.

Insight #3: Value creation pedagogy – make your students make a difference to others

Much of the emotionality in the “beyond classroom” based teaching we’ve studied comes from the meaningfulness inherent in helping others. Many of the apprentices, interns and entrepreneurship students we’ve studied have one thing in common – they all learn through creating something of value to others. Knowledge and skills are “burned” into the minds of the students through the sheer emotionality stemming from deeply personal, truly relational and community-embedded experiences of helping other human beings. What forerunner teachers do is that they design value-creating assignments into the core of their pedagogies. Students then need to apply curricular knowledge in practical emotional “learning-through-creating-value-for-others” experiences outside the classroom or lecture hall (read more in Lackéus 2016). A common technique is for teachers to let students ask themselves “For whom could this knowledge be valuable today?”, and then act upon their ideas for answers to this question.

Insight #4: Social learning – make interaction with others mandatory for your students

When learning moves outside the classroom, there are myriad ways to make the learning experience more social. Pedagogically motivated sociality leans on a key principle – designing tasks that require students to interact with others. The more remote the external people in such interactions are, the more powerful the learning becomes. But students can also get started by interacting with people they already know. Forerunner teachers we’ve studied seldom need to prepare the external people much, students are in many cases fully capable of independently initiating contact with external people. Here, digital tools become a key enabler of students’ external interactions. Social media platforms are but one way to make students connect to the outside world. In a digital world, also a Covid quarantined student can experience social learning.

Students are often helped by a clearly articulated purpose with their external interactions. Here, insight #4 can be coulped with insight #3 of creating value for others. The purpose of external interaction can be stated as a challenge for the students to try to help other people. While the purpose from the teacher’s perspective is still learning of curricular knowledge and skills, students often find a helping purpose more engaging and meaningful. This is especially important in the Covid era, where self-directed learning processes are a sheer necessity.

Insight #5: Go beyond LMS – use more specialized digital tools

What is obvious from our study of teachers working in line with the four insights above is that pedagogical practices become significantly more complex. Some of this complexity can be absorbed by a regular learning management system (LMS). But LMS:es were not built with “beyond classroom” teaching in mind. They were rather built to support the administration of classroom-based teaching. The reality is unfortunately that much of the increased complexity needs to be absorbed by the teacher and her colleagues. Many schools we’ve studied have therefore employed co-ordinators who take care of some of the added complexity. But the regular Covid era teacher who just got thrown into a digital pedagogical sitation in most cases doesn’t have a co-ordinator to help her. I think this is one reason why most newcomers in “beyond classroom”-based teaching do not go beyond traditional teaching.

But also here, there are good news. What we’ve seen is that forerunner teachers try to go beyond their traditional LMS mandated by their school / college / university organization. There are many different digital tools available today for “beyond classroom”-based teaching. While this is not the space to go through them all, some tools are indeed more useful than others for digital emotional pedagogies. I could probably write an entire blog post on what digital tools we’ve seen being used out there, and how they have worked, so I will not dig into this further here. But what is clear from our study of forerunner teachers is that they all see a strong need to go beyond their limited and limiting traditional LMS. Some also take this step in practice, with much success. Digital tools can truly help teachers with all of the four above insights in many tangible ways, saving lots of time for them while at the same time increasing efficiency and impact of their teaching. I will try to come back to this topic later here. If you can’t wait, have a look at the digital tool teachers we work with use. I’ve also summarized many of our digital tool-related insights in a scholarly book chapter here. And if you know of digital tools and practices that support teachers in acting upon some or all of the above insights, please let me know!

But why change?

Despite these five pedagogical insights distilled from forerunners, teachers might still ask themselves: “Why care?”. Isn’t it enough to digitize lectures temporarily until we all can get back to normal again? That will most likely be the case for many teachers. But I think that Covid is an emotional learning event in itself for teachers of the world. My hope is that 2020 will be a turning point in the area of engaging pedagogies, where teachers start to take up interest for new and natively digital ways to teach. Forerunner teachers can show the way in education more broadly, and Covid could be the event that makes teachers more broadly pay attention to them and their unique and very useful insights. If this happens, we will get more students who get to experience a more motivating education with a resulting deeper learning of curricular knowledge and skills. We will also get more citizens who are equipped with the creativity, initiative, empathy, collaboration skills and resilience needed in a post-Covid era of skyrocketing unemployment, resource scarcity and societal depression.


Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does – Fourth edition: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Egan, K. (2008). The future of education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ferns, S., & Moore, K. (2012). Assessing student outcomes in fieldwork placements: An overview of current practice. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 13(4), 207-224.

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

Moon, J. A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action. New York: Basic Books.


Entrepreneurial education: its unique and novel contribution to education


[NOTE: This text was later published by Springer, see here]

Entrepreneurship is undeniably an action-oriented, emotional, team-based and interdisciplinary human activity. As the common acronym YCDBSOYA implies, you can’t do business sitting on your armchair. The face value and contribution to education more broadly of an entrepreneurial approach might therefore seem significant and unique. But education has for centuries been inundated with a constant stream of ideas on how to make students more active, collaborative and engaged in their learning. Countless approaches have been proposed that let students take action to do authentic things in groups, aiming to awake their inner desire to learn. It is thus not easy to articulate or substantiate the contribution of entrepreneurial approaches to education.

Therefore, the main question asked here is: What is the unique and novel contribution to general education of an entrepreneurial education approach? Increased clarity on this issue could remedy some of the frequent confusion in interactions between general educators and entrepreneurial educators. Focus will be on learning-by-doing approaches, since traditional lecture-based teaching does not pose a problem in distinguishing a unique contribution. Teaching about entrepreneurship as a topic is easy to distinguish from teaching about other topics.

The blog post is structured as follows. First, the current situation is summarized. Main learning-by-doing approaches in general education are summarized. Then, learning-by-doing approaches in entrepreneurial education are presented and analyzed in relation to their unique and novel contribution to general education.  Finally, a brief analysis is conducted based on nine conceptual dimensions of entrepreneurial methods, representing a conclusion and some pointers for future work.

Learning-by-doing approaches in general education

Learning-by-doing can take many forms in general education. Table 1 outlines some common answers to the question “Learning-by-doing-what?” in general education. What to do in order to learn varies depending on which approach is used. Different approaches have different levels of complexity, emotionality and impact. The less complex approaches imply staying in the classroom to solve problems and create artifacts in teams. The more complex approaches imply going out physically into the world outside the school building and participate in more or less organized production of goods and services for customers or other types of beneficiaries. A generic “catch-all” term for all learning-by-doing approaches is experiential learning, implying having an experience that goes beyond lectures, books and exams, and then reflecting upon it.

Learning-by-doing is one of the oldest forms of learning in the history of humanity. Apprenticeship education has been around since late middle ages. A pair of shoes carefully designed and crafted by the shoemaker’s apprentice would inevitably one day be handed over to a presumably satisified customer, constituting the inescapably emotional and deeply motivating “moment of truth” for the young shoemaker apprentice. Most theoretical development of learning-by-doing was, however, done in the 20:th century. Some key contributors were John Dewey, Maria Montessori and David Kolb.

In problem-based learning, students learn through attempting to develop a viable solution to a more or less authentic problem. In project-based learning, such problem-solving activities are organized in a project where students get to work in teams over longer periods of time to take on a more comprehensive problem or issue. Cooperative learning focuses on team-based aspects, implying for example that team members should be dependent on each-other and be individually accountable. Game-based learning is when games, be it analog or digital ones, are designed with educational purposes. In design-based learning, the focus shifts slightly from the process to also be about the outcome of a project. A key focus is to let students learn by producing a more or less innovative artifact, broadly defined as anything created by human art and workmanship.

This necessarily brief and superficial overview will now turn to the more complex and emotional approaches to learning-by-doing where leaving the school building is a definitional and mandatory part of the learning experience[1]. In service-learning, focus is on placing students in real-life situations where they deliver a service experience that meets actual community needs. A key challenge in service-learning is to achieve a good balance between curricular concepts and real-life demands. In cases where real-life activities take over, it is no longer defined as service-learning. A more appropriate term could then be situated learning, defined as the learning that occurs when newcomers work together with old-timers in a community of practice. A related term here is work-integrated learning, where students are integrated into worklife for the purpose of learning. Common forms of work-integrated learning are internships and apprenticeships.­­

Learning-by-doing approaches in entrepreneurial education

Also in entrepreneurial education, learning-by-doing can take many different forms. Table 1 outlines some common answers to the question “Learning-by-doing-what?” in entrepreneurial education. Ideally, the different forms constitute a progressive learning journey in three stages. Opportunity creation is followed by value creation and then finally venture creation. In an early stage characterized by relatively low complexity, ideas and opportunities are explored or created, primarily in a classroom. The resulting ideas and prototypes are then acted upon in attempts to make a valuable and tangible real-life contribution to people outside the classroom or the school building. The third and final stage is about organizing the endeavor into a new social or business venture. All three stages can be supported by entrepreneurial methods.

Early examples of learning-by-doing in entrepreneurial education were based on approaches taken from general education. Students learned through on-site internships for practising entrepreneurs, through trying to solve more or less authentic problems that entrepreneurs face, and through team-based projects. The novelty about this was that existing learning-by-doing approaches in general education were applied to entrepreneurship as a new field of study. Therefore, they did not contribute with novelty back to general education.

1970s: Business opportunity-based learning

In what could be the first example of a learning-by-doing approach more unique to entrepreneurial education, students were from the 1970s asked to come up with an idea representing a business opportunity and write a business plan around it (Ronstadt, 1990). Over time, this approach developed its sophistication, involving an increasing array of techniques for creative ideation, prototype creation, business idea pitching and prototype testing to reveal the robustness of one’s assumptions. A unique and novel contribution to education of this approach could be its focus on opportunities rather than on problems. It has been claimed that people get more motivated by working with opportunities than by working with problems. A focus on being creative around opportunities to make money could then be viewed as a contribution to general education, being a different perspective than the usual problem-solving focus in established learning-by-doing approaches. A challenge here is that most non-business teachers have difficulties in seeing the relevancy of teaching students to make money, at least in relation to their own curricular subject.

1970s: Venture creation-based learning

Around the same time[1], another learning-by-doing approach unique to entrepreneurial education emerged. Secondary school students learned about the world of business through starting and running a real-life mini-venture for around eight months. This rather complex activity necessitated concept providers such as Junior Achievement in the US and Young Enterprise in the UK. These organizations grew over the years, and have today reached worldwide diffusion with a presence in 120 countries, reaching around 10 million students yearly. Letting students learn through starting a real-life mini-venture was also picked up by colleges and universities. In some rare cases, students are even required to start a full-scale in-curricular venture in what has been termed “Venture Creation Programs”. If the venture becomes successful, it gets incorporated by the newly graduated students who then become founders and owners. Another kind of venture creation-based learning is when it is combined with game-based learning into analog or digital venture simulations.

A unique and novel contribution to education of the venture creation approach could be the real-life activity of starting and running a real venture for some time, with real paying customers. Prior to the 1970s, such an experience had not previously been integrated into curricular activities. Just like for business opportunity-based learning, a challenge has been that most non-business teachers do not see the relevancy of letting students run a venture, at least not in relation to their own curricular subject.

Learning through business opportunities and through venture creation have met significant resistance in attempts to apply them more broadly in education. Most teachers reject the two approaches, since they perceive them as irrelevant in relation to their own non-business curriculum. While both novel and unique in their character, the two approaches have thus not succeeded much in contributing to general non-business related education. They have instead remained marginal, making up less than 1% of the world’s education related activities.

1990s: Opportunity-based learning

The difficulties in applying a business-centric approach more broadly in education led in the 1990s to a new approach being proposed by professor Allan Gibb in the United Kingdom. The new approach was termed “enterprise” education, distinguishing it from the narrower business venture creation approach, termed “entrepreneurship” education. Money-making, business management and organization creation connotations were de-emphasized or removed altogether. Enterprise education was positioned largely as a pedagogical approach. It was presented as a reaction against passive, formal and detached teaching of abstract content. Instead, emphasis was put on active and experiential learning from a creative and authentic process of participation. The aim was to make students learn those competencies needed to be able to generate and realize ideas and opportunities. Being enterprising was positioned as an opportunity-focused posture, requiring ‘entrepreneurial’ competencies such as initiative, creativity, perseverance and tolerance for uncertainty.

While enterprise education was a liberating move for many teachers not keen on integrating business venturing into their teaching, other teachers were confused. Was it a mere replication of progressive education principles? Progressive education is a centuries-long tradition in general education, leaning on giants such as Comenius, Rousseau, Dewey, Montessori, Steiner, Freinet and many others. Its main tenets are very similar to enterprise education. Due to this similarity, some scholars have questioned whether enterprise education is a novel and unique contribution to general education. They instead claim that it is a typical case of “old wine in new bottles”, i.e. a mere relabeling of a well-known concept, only contributing to conceptual confusion. Some have even posited enterprise education to be a dangerously diluted version of entrepreneurship, jeopardizing both its distinctiveness, legitimacy and potential impact in education (see for example Neck and Corbett, 2018).

Still, there is at least one possible unique and novel contribution that enterprise education could claim. It has a clear focus on opportunities rather than on problems. Not only business opportunities but any kind of individually perceived opportunity in life. This aligns with a common definition of entrepreneurship viewed as being about an individual meeting an opportunity. If one could evidence the value of learning through exploring opportunities also in non-business subjects, enterprise education could indeed become a unique and novel contribution to education more broadly. But so far, evidence is scant apart from qualitative single case studies conducted by enthusiastic teachers at universities, most often at business schools. Many teachers have also perceived enterprise education as fuzzy and difficult to integrate into their existing teaching. Enterprise education is so far therefore difficult to scale broadly in general education.

2000s: Entrepreneurial method-based learning

A recent addition to learning-by-doing in entrepreneurial education entails letting students apply entrepreneurial methods. It reached significant traction in late 2000s. Some common entrepreneurial methods include “effectuation logic” as prescribed by scholar Saras Sarasvathy, “lean startup methodology” as prescribed by entrepreneur Eric Ries, and “design thinking” as prescribed by practitioners in the product design community. Students can apply effectual principles such as starting a creative process with what they have, who they are and whom they know. Students can apply lean startup principles such as building a prototype and testing it on real-world stakeholders to see if their assumptions about what is deemed valuable hold true. Students can also use empathy and observation principles in design thinking to learn about what new solutions are needed in society.

These distinctly entrepreneurial methods arguably represent a both unique and novel contribution if diffused more broadly into general education. Previous learning-by-doing approaches in general education have not given similar prescriptions on how to go about solving problems, running team-based projects or facilitating experiential learning. The reason these entrepreneurial methods can be so detailed is because they are based on careful studies of and distilled experiences from real-world experts in entrepreneurship. But there is a limitation also here. Entrepreneurial methods are all based on primarily business centric practices, so the problem of business venturing not appealing to most non-business teachers is again coming back.

Up until the 2010s, teachers in non-business subjects interested in entrepreneurial education have thus been faced with a difficult choice between the distinct but commercially oriented business-based practices and the perceived broader relevancy of a fuzzy and unproven enterprising approach.

2010s: Value creation-based learning

In the 2010s, a new trend in entrepreneurial education has been to remove the focus on business creation but to keep and reinforce a focus on students creating value for real-world stakeholders. Creating value for others has been a core tenet of entrepreneurship since the 18th century, when pioneering economist Richard Cantillon defined entrepreneurs as non-fixed income earners. Entrepreneurs take a risk by being dependent on the uncertain income paid in exchange for the customer value they create. The corresponding learning-by-doing approach in education prescribes students to learn from an uncertain process of trying to create real-life tangible value for external stakeholders. The value created can be social, cultural, ecological or enjoyment based, thus taking a broad view on what is valuable. The reward for students is in most cases not income, but a highly engaging and relevant learning experience. Empirically speaking, strong development of entrepreneurial competencies has been easier to prove from letting students learn through value creation than from organizing enterprise education activities.

An educational emphasis on students creating value for others has made it easier for entrepreneurial education to contribute more broadly to non-business subjects and on educational levels outside colleges and universities. Teachers get access to the strong motivational effects of entrepreneurial activities without having to deal with a problematic business emphasis at odds with curricular content or with the fuzzy enterprise concept difficult to act upon.

Letting students learn through creating value for others is not new to general education. It has very old traditions, such as apprenticeship education, internships and other work-integrated and socially situated forms of learning. Also service-learning involves students creating value for others. The novel and unique contribution here can rather be articulated as its broad applicability in general education, and in its reliance on entrepreneurship as a practice grounded in expertise, traditions and prescriptive methods. While work-integrated learning is a quite marginal approach primarily used in secondary and tertiary vocational education, learning through creating value for others has been possible to integrate into all subjects and on all levels of education. Another contribution to existing value creation practices in education is an emphasis on novelty. Established forms of value creation in education entail mainly routine-based value creation. Students create value to well-known customers on established markets. When more novel value is created by students, motivation and learning can become even deeper and entrepreneurial methods and practices can support the learning process.

The unique and novel contributions summarized: Opportunities, methods and value creation

Summarizing the unique and novel contribution of entrepreneurial education more broadly, three aspects stand out; opportunities, methods and value creation. While unique and novel one by one, they could also be combined. Teachers can let students learn through applying entrepreneurial methods, resulting in opportunities to apply curricular content, hopefully leading to more or less novel value creation for external stakeholders. This represents a novel, unique and broadly applicable contribution that entrepreneurship can make to general education.

Stripped of its business connotations, entrepreneurship as an opportunity-oriented value-creating practice and a domain of expertise and methods can thus empower general education. It provides a simple to integrate yet powerful purpose for those students who ask themselves and their teacher “Why are we doing this?”. Curriculum content applied in value-creating practices becomes more engaging, motivating and relevant. This deepends and expands student learning. It is also a new answer for many teachers who might be asking themselves the question “Learning-by-doing-what?”.

A group of teachers that could find this a slightly less novel approach could be a small group of vocational educators working with apprenticeships and work-based learning. But also this group of teachers could benefit from a stronger opportunity focus, a stronger novelty focus, and entrepreneurial methods relieved of their business semantics.

A final comparison is conducted in Table 2, where nine entrepreneurial dimensions common to many entrepreneurial methods are matched with the learning-by-doing approaches in general education outlined in Table 1 (dimensions taken from Mansoori and Lackéus, 2019). The matching is tentative, and should be seen here as a possible foundation for future work and food for thought. Some entrepreneurial dimensions are much more common in general education than others. Rare dimensions in Table 2 represent an opportunity to expand future work on what is unique and novel with entrepreneurial education. Also, if entrepreneurship is viewed as a practice simultaneously combining all nine dimensions, a contribution to general education could be when students get to experience all of them simultaneously in their education. Perhaps entrepreneurial education can even be defined as when students as formal part of their education get the opportunity to “manage uncertainty by expanding their knowledge and resource base through continuous learning from feedback, in an iterative and interactive manner involving close collaborators, acting to create new kinds of value for oneself and for others”? (cf. Mansoori and Lackéus, 2019).

[1] One could certainly find examples of problem-based, project-based and design-based learning where students get to leave the school building, since reality is always much more complex than any idealized concept. Focus here is, however, to give a succinct and simplified overview of learning-by-doing approaches.

[2] While Junior Achievement started already in 1919, its first 50 years were focused on after-school programs.


MANSOORI, Y. & LACKÉUS, M. 2019. Comparing effectuation to discovery-driven planning, prescriptive entrepreneurship, business planning, lean startup, and design thinking. Small Business Economics, In press.

NECK, H. M. & CORBETT, A. C. 2018. The scholarship of teaching and learning entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy, 1, 8-41.

RONSTADT, R. 1990. The educated entrepreneurs: A new era of entrepreneurial education is beginning. In: KENT, C. A. (ed.) Entrepreneurship Education: Current Developments, Future Directions. Greenwood Publishing Group.

How is an employee entrepreneurial, and why should we care?


I’ve been a teacher in corporate entrepreneurship for five years now, and a researcher on how to make people entrepreneurial for ten years. Despite this, it’s not until recently that I’ve started thinking deeply about who the “entrepreneurial employee” is. And, perhaps more importantly, how she “is” and “becomes” entrepreneurial in practice. Research has shown that entrepreneurial firms perform better than non-entrepreneurial firms. Both in financial and in non-financial terms, see a relatively recent literature review here.

But research has so far been largely mute on how to make a firm’s employees more entrepreneurial. Some even see it as an oxymoron – an entrepreneurial person is by definition not employed by someone else, the narrow-minded reasoning goes. As if being entrepreneurial were a legal-administrative issue of who employs who. Others think it’s more interesting and effective to search for already entrepreneurial people outside the firm to collaborate with. Static and fixed mindsets abound here.

Entrepreneurial competencies in corporations

My quest for a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial employee started when I boarded a flight from Leeds to Amsterdam in September last year. On the plane was Dr Margherita Bacigalupo who works for the European Commission’s research centre in Sevilla. We had both been speakers at the IEEC conference, the leading annual meet-up for enterprise educators in the UK. As always, our talk on the plane centred around EntreComp, EU:s increasingly diffused and celebrated framework for entrepreneurial competencies that Margherita is one of the main co-authors of. She told me that they had started investigating how EntreComp can be applied not only to education but also to work-life. It turned into a captivating discussion.

When we said good-bye and went to our different flight connections at Schiphol, I had become fully convinced that the entrepreneurial employee is an important topic to investigate further. After all, most people who could become more entreprenurial in their life are employees, not students. If we don’t manage to make people more entrepreneurial while they are students, we should not give up on emancipating them from a life of creating the same types of value over and over again. A routine value creation based worklife is most often largely void of exploratory value creation. Left alone, most of these people would merely be sustaining the current world of work, not contributing much to creating a better world. This is especially lamentable when we consider that ability and willingness to create a better world is not a trait people are born with, it’s a habit and identity that can be acquired. An entrepreneurial identity. Read all about it in this recent book by my colleague Karen Williams Middleton and others.

Not much focus on entrepreneurial employees

There and then, my research direction changed somewhat. I’ve now been investigating the topic of entrepreneurial employees extensively for about seven months. I’ve ordered about a meter of books. I’ve downloaded countless articles. While I’ve not read all of it, I’ve sifted through a vast amount of literature, relating it to our own research on making people more entrepreneurial in education. To my surprise, not much has been written about the entrepreneurial employee. Most literature on what is often called “corporate entrepreneurship” is focused on the entrepreneurial firm, its organizational and cultural characteristics, and especially its top managers. An entrepreneurial firm is defined as innovative, proactive and risk-taking, sometimes also allowing for autonomy and competitive aggressiveness. There are well-established survey instruments available for measuring a firm’s entrepreneurial “orientation”. Questions used are for example:

Q: How much do you agree with the following statements? (grade 1-7)

  • Our firm emphasizes both exploration and experimentation for opportunities
  • Our firm seeks out new ways to do things
  • We always try to take the initiative in every situation
  • The top managers of our firm favor a strong emphasis on R&D, technological leadership, and innovations

The answers to such surveys are provided by corporate executives, especially CEOs. Research is thus focused primarily on the views of top managers, not on the grassroots employees and their more or less entrepreneurial everyday endeavors. Applying this upper echelon approach, scholars have made some impressively rigorous studies. In one study by leading scholars Johan Wiklund and Dean Shepherd, they made thousands of phone calls to business managers. First they asked how entrepreneurial their firm was, and then, one year later, they asked how well the firm was performing financially. It turned out that those firms who were more entrepreneurial were also one year later performing better in terms of profitability and growth. Great news! It indeed seems to pay off for firms to be entrepreneurial. Or, if you wish, those firms who perform well financially can also afford to be more entrepreneurial. Macro-level statistical research cannot really tell the diffence.

Truly rigorous research – but is it relevant?

Still, after about six months of digging into the field of corporate entrepreneurship literature, I ended up with the same depressive impression I have of my home domain entrepreneurship education. Most work is done on a macro level, superficially studying large collectives of people and their attitudes, not so much their behaviors, emotions and related underpinning meanings on a micro level. Survey research is the primary data collection method, and the results are rigorous in mathematical terms. But what do they really tell us about the entrepreneurial employee? Not much, from what I can discern. If anything, being entrepreneurial is treated as a static variable. Either a firm is entrepreneurial or it’s not. Most recommendations on how to become more entrepreneurial are focused on top managers’ attitudes, organizational structures and external stakeholders. If training programs are discussed, the most important factor is to identify and better prepare those employees who are already entrepreneurial. A learning-oriented perspective is largely absent (for a refreshing exception, see this paper). Static, oh so static.

Is the entrepreneurial employee born or made?

The current state of corporate entrepreneurship reminds me of the discussion in the early years of entrepreneurship education research, three or four decades ago. See for example this article from 1985. Back then, a debate emerged on whether entrepreneurs are born or made, and consequently whether it was even worth the effort to train people to become more entrepreneurial. Now we know that while some entrepreneurs are indeed born, entrepreneurs can also be powerfully made and re-made through education and training.

This knowledge seems not to have reached the corporate entrepreneurship domain. Being entrepreneurial is rarely regarded to be a competence that an employee can develop. The question of whether entrepreneurial people are born or made is largely not even asked yet. Instead, firms are advised to look primarily outside their own organization to find entrepreneurial people they can work with. Recommendations are that firms should work with open innovation, since most entrepreneurial people are out there somewhere. Firms should find, attract and work with start-ups, who are deemed to be so much more entrepreneurial than the firm’s own employees. And firms should establish a corporate venturing unit that identifies and then spins out those few entrepreneurial people inside the own firm to newly established small corporate-owned start-ups, thus making them even leave the firm. Oh, irony.

Defining the entrepreneurial employee

Enough moaning about the perceived (imagined?) shortcomings of extant work. What do we at Chalmers aim to do about it? Well, we are currently working on an article for practitioners tentatively titled “The entrepreneurial employee – What, Why and How?”. In this article we will attempt to transfer our twenty years of research and insights in how to make people more entrepreneurial into the corporate sector. If this article is then picked up by practitioners, we might be able to document the outcome systematically to see whether and how it works.

Some of the content of this article will come from our clinical lab based research environment at Chalmers. Through a lab approach of doing research on our own students while in treatment, and also on our alumni post graduation, we have been able to prove empirically that entrepreneurs can indeed be made. Perhaps more importantly, we have also developed a unique and easy-to-use model for how people become entrepreneurial in practice, on a very detailed level. The model consists of four key cornerstones; agency, novelty, value for others and learning, see figure below. We are presenting our first article on this model at a research conference called 3E in May this year.

We believe that this model is transferable to the corporate sector. Entrepreneurial firms will then be defined as firms that encourage a fair share of their employees to take autonomous action (i.e. agency) to try creating innovative kinds (i.e. novelty) of value for their current or future customers (i.e. value for others) through an intensive trial-and-error process of building new knowledge about what works (i.e. learning).

“Value for others” captures the perhaps most salient feature of being entrepreneurial: the never-ending interest in understanding needs, contexts, and how needs can be satisfied in a way appreciated by others. “Agency” can be defined as not only caring but also daring and engaging on a deeply personal level. One can care about a lot of issues but to also act upon them is something different. “Novelty” is about working with new solutions and claiming them – a core part of being entrepreneurial. Last but not least, “learning” is about managing uncertainty and persevere in the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial journey through reflecting upon personal experiences, searching for facts to then imagine new solutions, and sometimes even pivoting into totally new directions.

Future will have to tell whether our assumptions are right. We aim to give this model a try in corporate settings. We have also involved one of the most experienced corporate entrepreneurs we have in west Sweden, an alumni from Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship anno 2000, who as a co-author will contribute with some real-world perspectives from the corporate entrepreneurship domain.

Taking a “from within” perspective to the entrepreneurial employee

The model we’ve developed at Chalmers takes a “from within” perspective, resulting in practical implications for any regular employee at any firm. This model is therefore valid and useful regardless of the current level of entrepreneurial orientation of the employee’s  top managers, the firm’s venturing units or its open innovation initiatives. Instead of waiting for the own firm to become more entrepreneurial, or waiting for collaborations with external entrepreneurial people to impact the own department, any employee can now use this model as an inspiration to become more entrepreneurial today. In their own setting and unique situation, and on their own terms. Whether or not they will be supported by their organization and its top managers, is something we here choose to largely disregard. It’s just like in “regular” entrepreneurship, where some entrepreneurs have access to better support structures than others. Lack of support has seldom stopped, and shouldn’t stop, those who are determined to do some serious entrepreneuring.

You can watch a short 2-minute video about our model of being entrepreneurial here:

Being entrepreneurial – a new definition


A diluted Enterprise Education version 1.0 and a more promising version 2.0


It has been stated that enterprise education represents a risk of diluting entrepreneurship so much that it loses both its power and its legitimacy, since enterprise education leans on such a broad definition of entrepreneurship. See for example in this article by Heidi Neck and Andrew Corbett, where they write:

“…we need to create boundaries for [entrepreneurship education] so as not to dilute its impact while also working to establish its legitimacy.”

I can understand and sympathize with such critique. But I’ve not seen a deeply probing definitional and critical examination of enterprise education before. So I wrote an article aiming to do just that. Last year it was included as a chapter in a book about enterprise education in the UK that you can find here. Today I posted an open access version of that chapter on this website, you can download it here. It’s the same text, except that the pagination doesn’t work.

Since I’m an engineer (I guess), I cannot just stay in the critical stance and delve into all that doesn’t work. In those situations, I always get an urge to propose solutions to the problematic situation. The solution I propose here is that we add two definitional perspectives to enterprise education, resulting in a situation where we go from Enterprise Education version 1.0 to version 2.0. One of these definitional perspectives was added in the 2000s – entrepreneurial competencies – and reinforced in the 2010s by among others European Commission. The other of the definitional perspectives is of course the perspective I’ve come to be obsessed by – value creation.

When we add these two perspectives, enterprise education changes both in its means and in its ends. It is no longer solely about seeing opportunities for oneself, but also about learning through creating value for others. And it is no longer economic policy based, but instead it’s educational policy based. We then can see enterprise education (the 2.0 version) not for the benefits to society’s or individuals’ economy, but for the educational benefits it can offer us while our students are still in school. More engaged students learning core curriculum content more deeply. The desired end then becomes better education instead of better economy.

I conclude my article with a question: Have we then been doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons for decades? Well, I come to the slightly unexpected conclusion that it seems we indeed have. But that’s in itself been for damn good reasons. Because it allowed us to pivot into a new type of educational philosophy that in fact can offer great benefits to all kinds of education, and for all student ages. Thus, increasing the relevance of enterprise education through a deliberate mission creep. That’s not a small feat!

In sum, I’d say it’s been a typical entrepreneurial collective process of doing new things, learning, pivoting and repeatedly so by many practitioners and scholars over vast periods of time. If we hadn’t started digging many many decades ago, we wouldn’t have found gold now. I personally think this is a golden opportunity and time for enterprise education. But many of us will be stuck in enterprise education 1.0 for many years to come. That’s how we are, we humans, we just have to accept that. We tend to keep our habits, stick to what we know and be cautious about new ideas. We are truly path dependent. Meanwhile, I’ve turned to other quests. But I will certainly check in later!

I think this is perhaps one of the more provocative papers I’ve written so far. No wonder it had to be hid away in a book chapter. Blind peer reviewers would have torn it apart, because they can. Publishing critical-reconstructive papers is not easy in a peer review regime. Let me know what you think about it! I do think it keeps together quite well, despite its provocative tone. And if you missed the link above to the open access version of the chapter, below is a big link for you. Download it, you can always read it later! (procrastination is another of humanity’s trademarks)

Making enterprise education more relevant through mission creep

Coming soon: First book for teachers about value creation pedagogy


Today it was made official – the first book for teachers about value creation pedagogy will be released in April in Sweden. Unfortunately for non-Swedish, it will be in Swedish. The author is Maria Wiman, a teacher in Huddinge on lower secondary education level. I first heard about Maria when we sent out a call for good examples in practice of value creation pedagogy in 2015. Her name was mentioned, and it turned out that Maria had started working this way by chance about 5 years ago mainly through own serendipitous discovery. We soon found each other, and have kept in touch since then. Maria and her students were part of our largest study for Skolverket (Swedish National Agency of Education) on value creation pedagogy, and her teaching was among the best examples we found in the 19 schools around Sweden that participated. Our report to Skolverket in Swedish is available here. Results from this study are currently in review in a scientific journal.

Maria was interviewed by the publisher of the book, Lärarförlaget, and I have below translated her answers to a few basic but very interesting questions.

Making a difference for real

Q: What is value creation pedagogy?

Maria: It’s about creating something of value for someone else, finding a recipient and a situation outside the classroom where the knowledge has meaning and significance.

Q: Who should read this book and why?

Maria: I myself lacked a book when I started working this way. The book is for all teachers who want to find the motivation and make students think that school is fun.

Q: For which age is value creation pedagogy best?

Maria: I’ve primarily used it on lower secondary education level, but it works fine to start earlier, in primary school, and also to continue on upper secondary education level.

Q: Your class has worked with preventing hate on the internet, do you need a theme to work around? Or how do you get started?

Maria: You can absolutely start with a theme. But to get started I’d recommend to start small. When you’ve read a book, you can send a letter to the author and write about what you thought about the book. Or read aloud for preschool kids. Or write a fairy-tale to them!

Q: Do you work value-creating every lesson?

Maria: No – neither I nor the students would cope with that. But often, it is enough to have a project on-going in one subject. It spreads, and causes a positive impact also on the other subjects. My planning becomes easier, sterring documents and learning goals come to me, so that next step comes more natually.

Q: You give talks a lot both in Sweden and around Nordics, which questions do you get from the audience?

Maria: The most common question is: What do you assess? Then I answer that this is just ordinary teaching – we follow the same steering documents. In addition to my students’ knowledge and skills, I can also assess their entrepreneurial competencies.

Q: Is there any research on this?

Maria: Martin Lackéus has written a dissertation about the effects, and shows very positive impact in terms of how much student motivation increases, and that creativity and courage are stimulated.

Q: How has value creation pedagogy changed your role as a teacher?

Maria: Primarily it has made my job way more fun. It is a completely different “go” in the classroom, which spreads to both the classmates and to me. My students say about me: “Maria, you’ve become much more relaxed!”. Nowadays I dare to let my students’ ideas in, and that means everything. And when I look back – they are right. It was super boring in fourth grade…

Q: Your students that you’ve had since grade 4 will soon finish 9:th grade in the spring. What do you think they have taken with them by working value-creating?

Maria: With a risk of sounding prententious, I’m convinced that my students know how to change and improve the world. They have been given all the tools for how to use their creativity and their drive to make a difference for real.


VCP List expands and gets new layout and classification


It was long overdue, but finally VCP List has been given a new layout based on a new classification, and thereby also a new section covering also Value Creation Pedagogy. The importance of classification work is here illustrated by a picture of Charles Darwin accompanying this blog post.

Over the years our research on Venture Creation Programs (VCP1) has morphed and expanded into research on Value Creation Pedagogy (VCP2). It all started with the realization that students creating value for others was the “active substance” of Venture Creation Programs (rather than the fact that they start a legal entity). And when we took this idea of learning-through-creating-value-for-others outside of Venture Creation Programs, it turned out that it was possible to reach really strong effects without having to go through the complex process of starting a new venture. Achieving the sought-after effects (or at least parts of them) without having to spend the capital and human labor cost of running a venture creation program. Thus, a better deal for taxpayers. More bang for the buck.

This process has taken some years, and I’ve been quite confused around the resulting semantics. When people in the UK started to call Value Creation Pedagogy for VCP, confusion accelerated. We had all from the start used the “VCP” acronym for Venture Creation Programs, and suddenly people started to use this same acronym for something else that was very much related, but still a different animal. And also within Venture Creation Programs, there was significant confusion. What IS a Venture Creation Program? What is NOT a Venture Creation Program? Is Team Academy a Venture Creation Program? Is Young Enterprise a Venture Creation Program? A vexing issue indeed. Lots of emails were sent back and forth between people in Sweden, UK, Finland and USA on this issue.

I have spent 7 years now thinking about these semantic and typological issues. My first attemt to categorize different types of entrepreneurial education was in 2013 in my licentiate thesis (you can download it under the Resources tab). There I had a five-pronged typology, which has almost survived to present day:

  1. Not action-based entrepreneurial education
  2. The Creation approach
  3. The Value Creation approach
  4. The Venture Creation approach
  5. The Sustainable Venture Creation approach

This classification survived more or less unaltered all the way until 2018 when I wrote my conference paper to the 3E conference in Enschede, Netherlands. There I did a renewed attempt at classifying entrepreneurial education into this typology:

  1. Traditional entrepreneurial education (TEE)
  2. Creation-based entrepreneurial education (CEE)
  3. Value creation-based entrepreneurial education (VaCEE)
  4. Venture creation-based entrepreneurial education (VeCEE)
  5. Sustainable venture creation-based entrepreneurial education (SVEE)

Very similar to the 2013 version thus. And in our JSBM article we included a similar classification, skipping step 1, thus becoming:

  1. Creation activities
  2. Value creation activities
  3. Venture creation activities
  4. Sustainable venture development activities

But there was a vexing problem here. We call our program at Chalmers a VCP, since way back in 2011, and in numerous articles that are published and thus “freezed” in their form. But in the above classifications, VCPs end up as Sustainable Venture Creation approach / program / activities. It did not match. Neither in my head nor on the VCP List website.

Finally, towards the end of 2018, my old hosting supplier for the VCP List website said “Now we are throwing away this crappy old site from 2010, its technical end-of-life has been reached”. So I had to do something. After a lot of discussions and anguish within our research team, we ended up with the following classification typology:

  1. Traditional Pedagogy (TP)
  2. Idea and Artifact Creation Pedagogy (IACP)
  3. Value Creation Pedagogy (VaCP)
  4. Mini-Venture Creation Programs / Pedagogy (mini-VeCP)
  5. Full-Venture Creation Programs (full-VeCP) – since they always require a program due to complexity

This classification will be used in a paper I currently have in review in a scholarly journal, assuming that it survives peer review and my own thought processes. And I think it solves some problems. Based on this classification, Team Academy, Young Enterprise and other approaches are classified as mini-VCPs (using VCP as meaning Venture Creation Programs). Programs such as the Chalmers program are classified as full-VCPs. The differentiating factor is then whether the intention is to continue the operation of the venture after graduation or not. In the case of Team Academy and Young Enterprise, it is quite clear that the intention is to liquidate the venture towards the end of the education (I’ve checked this extensively). And in the Chalmers case (and other similar programs, see full-VCP list), the opposite situation is very clearly articulated. If the venture is successful and if one or more of the students want(s) to continue working with it, there is a clear process in place to facilitate further development of the venture after graduation. And the possibility to continue after graduation is a real possibility that boosts student motivation considerably. This difference is so significant that I think it merits two different levels in a classification / typology scheme.

I have now used this classification to build the new VCP List website. Value Creation Pedagogy is labeled VCP2 (it could have been VaCP though, and I might even switch to that later on). And Venture Creation Programs are labeled VCP1 – encompassing both mini-VCPs and full-VCPs. So finally, this meant that I could redesign the website so that it caters to both of the two main areas where we do research – Value Creation Pedagogy and Venture Creation Programs (mainly full-VCPs then). It is thus a much needed expansion of the website, and a more updated presentation of what our research is about.

On the new VCP List, the ambition is to list not only full-Venture Creation Programs, but also mini-Venture Creation Programs and Value Creation Pedagogy examples. I have not yet figured out how to manage this much bigger task of listing and classifying different cases of entrepreneurial education. And I have not yet decided whether or not we will describe IACP examples.

I cannot make up my mind about IACP. The effects are weak from this type of intervention (see our recent JSBM article). And definitions are fuzzy and contested. But on the other hand, it offers an easy way to get started by brainstorming ideas in the classroom. Still, I think that it is perhaps more interesting to brainstorm ideas if there is a clear intention already from the start to try to create something of value for an external person. Not just sit and talk in the classroom. That prospect of getting “real” changes the entire experience, to the better in my view. Future will tell what will happen with this issue.

But now the new website is finally up. With a fresh WordPress template too. And I am open for suggestions from people who want to contribute with case descriptions of VCP1 (both mini and full approaches) as well as of VCP2. There is no workflow for it yet, so just drop me a line and we’ll figure something out.



Intention to incorporate


Our definition of venture creation programs includes not just learning through the venture, but that the learners that are venture creating have the intention to incorporate.  This emphasis aims to address the identity constrution process that occurs while enacting entrepreneurship.  Learning through creating a new venture includes constructing a future self – the future identity of the entrepreneurial individual in the real venture.  This helps to integrate the individual and team’s reasoning and learning around current issues and the influence, consequence and impact of decisions taken in the present.  Intention to incorporate, including pre-emptive framing of collaboration agreements, customer contracts, etc. build entrepreneurial agency in the venture creation process – a factor lacking in many project-based or simluation-based educations.

A venture as a key learning vessel


Entrepreneurship is very often a journey through the unknown, sometimes even exploring the currently unknowable.  Learning to act within uncertainty is challenging to simluate.  VCPs (venture creation programs) use the process of creating the venture as the key learning vessel in order to emerse the learners (students) in the unknown, the uncertainty of the entrepreneurial process.  Of course, to facilitate learning, students/learners are given support and guidance in various aspects of the venture creation: access to theories and practices on creating a new venture; access to faculty and practioners that can act as critical sounding boards throughout the process; a ‘semi-safe’ space that accepts failure and iteration, etc.  But the main intention is that the process is ‘real’ – decisions taken have consequences, customers have demands and expectations, resources are limited.

Matching ideas with entrepreneurial people


Many full-VCPs act as match-makers between inventors and entreprenurial students. It can be a researcher working at the university who has made a discovery, but who lacks the time and interest to commercialize the invention. It can be a corporation whose R&D department has developed technology with applications that lie outside the core focus of their existing business. It can be an individual inventor who has more ideas than time, and who wants someone else to try and take an invention to the market. A full-VCP can facilitate the match-making between these stakeholders, forming ventures with both inventors and students as co-founders and shareholders of a future start-up.

Turning researchers into entrepreneurs is normally a quite bad idea

There is a common but largely flawed logic among entrepreneurial universities that researchers should be transformed into entrepreneurs. In theory, it might sound like a great idea. In practice, a successful researcher often makes a really bad entrepreneur. Scholars are trained into problematizing, scrutinizing, decomposing problems into its smallest parts, and writing about it in very complex ways that very few understand. Entrepreneurs rather need to do the opposite – opportunity orientation, trying to see what works rather than what is problematic and trying to create a whole entity that becomes valuable to common people. A better idea is then to connect really good researchers and their best ideas with really entrepreneurial young students who are willing to give untested ideas a chance. In research, entrepreneurs who take care of someone else’s baby idea are sometimes called “surrogate entrepreneurs”. Many full-VCPs are based on a surrogate entrepreneurship model.

Full-VCPs can deliver a steady stream of innovative successful start-ups

A recent study on 170 incubated ventures in Sweden conducted by professor Mats Lundqvist at Chalmers University of Technology shows just how good of an idea it is to match inventors with entrepreneurial “surrogate” students. In a comparison between 21 different Swedish incubators, those who employed this way of working significantly outperformed those who did not. The study was published in 2014 by the top ranked scholarly journal Technovation. Its title is “The Importance of Surrogate Entrepreneurship for Incubated Swedish Technology Ventures”. Check it out!