17 September 2018

What can education learn from entrepreneurship?

Johanneke van ‘t Land and Suzanne van Hoogstraten wrote their thesis in Educational Science on entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurs learn from their social network. With the cooperation of starting entrepreneurs from different sectors, they investigated the role of the social network in their development. Johanneke discussed opportunity identification competence, the ability to find new ideas. Suzanne has further explored explorative and exploitative learning; how entrepreneurs respectively learn something new and how they develop and elaborate on existing ideas.

Suzanne, Yvette en Johanneke
Suzanne, Yvette and Johanneke

Johanneke: Entrepreneurs need to be useful in many different things, such as coming up with new ideas. Some entrepreneurs have the ability to do this, opportunity identification competence or KIC, by nature, but it can also be learned. I wondered how the social network of entrepreneurs plays a role in this.  

Suzanne: The entrepreneurship process is often described as a learning process. I have therefore investigated the exact role of an entrepreneur's social network when it comes to the exploitative and explorative learning processes.

Yvette Baggen was the thesis supervisor for Johanneke and Suzanne and specialises in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial learning. ‘Entrepreneurship crosses different disciplines and that is precisely why it is so interesting in the context of education. The importance that entrepreneurs have from their social network can also be extended to how students learn. Which social ties do they use for which issues? Entrepreneurial learning has a lot of potential for students.’

Outer and inner circle

Suzanne: A remarkable result I think is that the research shows that entrepreneurs also get a lot of support from their social network. Our questions were much more about the learning process, but the emotional bond you have with a person turns out to be just as important. 

Johanneke: I had expected that people further away (the outer circle) would be more important for opportunity identification. Doing business has an impact on your life and the people who are close to you (the inner circle) grow with you. So you would expect that these people are less important for new impulses. This turned out not always to be the case. The inner circle is also important for new input because it is people you trust. For questions about personal development entrepreneurs go more often to people in the inner circle. The more specifically the question is focused on knowledge and expertise, the more entrepreneurs are willing to look into the outer circle: 'Do I know an aunt of a friend who can tell me more about developing a new product?

Suzanne: Entrepreneurs therefore think very carefully about who they turn to for which issue and that is an important learning process. 

Yvette: In education science it is known that asking for advice is often driven by expertise. In the field of entrepreneurship, the emotional ties are more often examined: the strong and the weak ties. It is new to look at the combination: Do I need trust or expertise?

Entrepreneurial education

Suzanne and Johanneke have both been interested in entrepreneurship for some time. Johanneke has her own company in educational development and has also made an e-learning about entrepreneurship. Suzanne studied Essentials of Entrepreneurship during her bachelor and sees many people starting a business in her environment. This also makes her interested in the learning process of the entrepreneur. Nowadays she works at Educate-IT where she also sees a role for her research: 'In education we can apply a lot of the way entrepreneurs learn. Students need to gain more ownership of their education, so that they can behave more entrepreneurially. This will change both the role of the student and the role of the instructor. 

Yvette: This research does not mean that all students should just start a business. But just like entrepreneurs, students have a lot to do with uncertainty and it is interesting to see how this is handled. 

Suzanne: Education could be more about doing, experimenting, trial and error. 

Johanneke: And about exploiting opportunities. That can just as well be done in education. 

Yvette: It is very valuable if the learning process is entrepreneurial. If, as a teacher, you can allow learning surprises in your education, then you get a very nice education with motivated students. 

Are you also interested in entrepreneurship education? In collaboration with Centre for Academic Teaching, the Centre for Entrepreneurship has set up a Special Interest Group Entrepreneurship Education. The next meeting is led by Yvette and is on Thursday 20 September. You can register via this link.

Johanneke and Suzanne are working on the publication of a combined article about their theses. Until then, a summary can be found here.