Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute, Turning Ideas Into Reality - Located in Toronto, ON

How to Teach Entrepreneurship

The primary trend in best practices in entrepreneurship education is toward experiential and problem-based learning pedagogies. These best practice pedagogies are known as student-centric education and are typically best understood when contrasted with teacher-centric teaching.

Teacher-centric teaching is based on objectivism, instructivism or behaviorism which includes empiricism and positivism.  Under these philosophies, truth or knowledge is objective or outside of the student, and known by the teacher. The teacher knows all the answers and the student must receive this static knowledge and learn to repeat it back. A simple example would be 1+1 = 2. The teacher knows this, and the student’s job is to learn it. Traditional teaching-centric methods include reading textbooks and presenting lectures – the so called “Sage on the Stage”.

In contrast student-centric education is typically based on constructivism or social constructivism which includes subjectivism and interpretivism.  Here truth or knowledge is created inside the student and is different for each individual. The teacher does not know all the answsers and acts as a “Guide from the Side” to help the students discover knowledge on their own. Student-centric pedagogies include experiential learning, flipped-classroom, simulations, role-playing and case studies.

The follow Table from Gedeon (2014) provides a summary of different pedagogies and where they might apply within an entrepreneurship program:

List of Alternative Pedagogies and When to Use Them

PedagogyReferencesGuideline for Use
Lecture, required readings, content examsSoloman, 2007; Fayolle and Gailly, 2008Good for introducing new content and theory. Good for introductory courses and some course content such as accounting and law.
Business plan writingHills, 1988; Honig, 2004; Carrier, 2005Most common method, but some controversy over effectiveness. Best at end of a program to integrate knowledge using constructivism. May want to add contingency elements.
Consulting projects with practicing entrepreneursCarroll, 1993; Solomon et al., 1994Good way to learn expert scripts, heuristics, values and competencies.
New company startup projectsHills, 1988; Truell et al., 1998Good way to learn the full range of entrepreneurial competencies.
Case studies, Live casesLearned, 1991; Katz, 1995Good for theory integration and problem-based learning competencies.
Interviews with entrepreneurs, Life-stories, Field trips, critical reflection, diariesSolomon et al., 1994; Rae and Carswell, 2000; Cope, 2003; Mitchell and Chesteen, 1995Good way to build networks and learn values, expert scripts, heuristics and entrepreneurial thinking.
Student entrepreneurship clubsHills, 1988; Gartner and Vesper, 1994Good way to build networks and learn the full range of entrepreneurial competencies.
Role playing, behavioral simulations, computer simulations, game playingStumpf et al., 1991; Low, et al., 1994;Hindel, 2002Very good for developing and practicing competencies. Good for managing emotions. Some simulations also good for theory.

Note that the traditional philosophical debate between objectivism and subjectivism may be viewed as a false dichotomy. Knowledge, truth and reality may be objective and exist independent of the student and yet the student must still construct their own cognitive structures to make sense of reality and transform experience into knowledge, expert scripts and heuristics. In essence there are positive elements of objectivism’s metaphysics (namely, that there is an objective reality “out there” that exists independent of the student) as well as positive elements of constructivism’s epistemology (namely, that knowing is a process of constructing personal knowledge representations).

At a deeper philosophical level, Ayn Rand’s (1990) philosophy of Objectivism (with a capital ‘O’) aims to resolve the entire objectivist-subjectivist false dichotomy that has confounded philosophers. Peikoff (1985) applied this unified theoretical foundation for an educational ontology to the philosophy of education and has described this primarily as it relates to primary school education.

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