Five key elements of Entrepreneurship Education – Engage’s Educational Framework

Engage’s Educational Framework

By Eirik Gjelsvik Medbø, Innovation Manager, NTNU

We all want to form our students to be able to handle situations they may face in their professional life. At Engage, we focus on developing our students’ Entrepreneurial Skills and Mindset for our students to handle changing circumstances in an uncertain world. But how can we stimulate these aims through our education?

Engage seeks to “Develop higher education to increase the number of students in Norway and around the world with entrepreneurial skills and mindset to become change agents and innovate for the better”. Our intention is to enhance the likelihood that students will identify and capture the right opportunity at the right time for the right reason, even in uncertain and unpredictable conditions. This requires an educational approach that goes beyond understanding and verbalising, it requires using, applying, and acting – it requires practice. But what sort of practice, and how can we introduce that into our educational activities?

As educators, we each have our own settings for teaching, we teach differently, and we have student groups with different needs and prior knowledge. In other words, educational activities are not necessarily directly transferrable between different educators, so we should constantly work to develop our own ways of teaching. When we at Engage work to develop our educational activities, we try to let our students learn through five elements:

Engage’s Educational Framework

  • Act – Engage with doing
  • Interact – Engage with others, partners or stakeholders
  • Challenge – Engage with the world outside the university
  • Embrace – Engage with and handle uncertainty
  • Reflect – Engage with internalising knowledge and skills

In other words, we try to make our students act to solve issues through practice or real experiments, interact with other students or external stakeholders, challenge the “real-world” outside the university, embrace uncertainty instead of shying away from it, and reflect to create personal sense-making and transform raw experiences into internalised knowledge.

These elements are not a “one-size-fits-all”, we rather use them as a reminder of practices that are important to develop Entrepreneurial Skills and Mindset.

These elements are not a “one-size-fits-all”, where any educational activity needs to touch all elements. We rather use them as a reminder of practices that are important to develop Entrepreneurial Skills and Mindset. We ask ourselves; do my students get to practice on these elements over the course of their studies? Which aspects within their education do they struggle with, where they might need more practice throughout their education? As these five elements are probably not self-explanatory, we will dive deeper into each element. 

The five practices – Explained

Act refers to the practice of experimenting, iterating or hypothesis testing – the practice of using action as a way to approach uncertainty: If you don’t know what to do or how to find a solution, you could in many cases do an experiment to see whether it works, rather than getting stuck in “analysis paralysis”. This will be done in different ways in different disciplines, but some examples of action could be rapid prototyping, creating minimum viable products, doing simulations, focus groups or simple experiments. Students who learn through acting, would also learn to accept failure as a learning step, and the value of simplifying complex problems to make them testable.

Interact is the practice of involving and learning from others, throughout a problem-solving process. Complex and uncertain problems often require a variety of different types of knowledge, and innovative ideas need validation and feedback. This practice involves both discussing and hypothesising between students within a class or project team, as well as learning from experts, users, professors or other stakeholders outside the project team. An important aspect of entrepreneurship is to be able to mobilise other stakeholders as well as resources, and activities involving interaction is a way to let students practice this.

Challenge is the practice of having students work on real problems, from outside the university – problems that aren’t simplified or tailor-made. Real problems are often complex and uncertain, and students may be more motivated and enthusiastic about trying to solve them. These challenges may be introduced in a number of ways; challenges introduced by external businesses, organisations, practitioners or users, challenges in relevant research projects, self-observed issues that students want to solve, issues related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals etc. Learning through real challenges give students the chance to practice their future professional skills, and relate them to theoretical concepts they learn at the university – a challenge they will all face when they graduate. 

Learning through challenges from outside the university gives students the chance to practice their future professional skills, and relate them to theoretical concepts they learn at the university

Reflection is how we enable our students to internalise and abstract the learning they acquire through learning activities. This is a great way to connect experiences with domain-specific knowledge and to link experiences to theory, which is especially important in entrepreneurship education, and it enables students to apply that knowledge and skillset to future experiences. To engage students’ reflection, we make them consider the experiences they’ve had and ask them to understand or explain it. Reflection could be done individually, within a team or group, or through class discussion with the educator. This requires conscious attention from the educator as to what theories that the learning could be linked to, what questions we ask from them, and that we have time and a setting that allows for students to form their own reflections. 

Click here to read more about how to incorporate reflection into your educational activities

Embrace refers to the practice of trying to tackle uncertainties, by actively investigating them and trying to find good answers. Entrepreneurship as a practice involves large amounts of uncertainty at many levels. To handle them, we require training to be able to find the uncertainties to prioritize, and striking the balance between avoiding some potential problems and working to solve others. We need to consciously evaluate what amount and form of uncertainty our students are able to handle – inexperienced students might need small and manageable levels, while more experienced students could handle a lot. Great change agents are able to structure and manage uncertainties – and use action, interaction, challenge and reflection to solve them.