Experiential learning in enterprise and entrepreneurship education: examining the challenges of a worthwhile approach

Experiential enterprise and entrepreneurship learning in higher education can provide students with key transferrable skills in readiness for a rapidly changing socio-economic landscape and nurture graduates with the mind-set and competencies for intrapreneurship and business ownership. While accepting that an experiential approach in enterprise and entrepreneurship education is worthwhile, this paper seeks to reflect on some key challenges. It focuses on two different but interrelated objectives around curriculum design and delivery. Firstly, there is a requirement for programme designs to incorporate the right mix of theory and practice. In this case, theoretical elements require ‘learning about’ enterprise and entrepreneurship that need to be balanced with the practical elements of ‘learning for’ enterprise and entrepreneurship. Secondly, the need to implement appropriate learning and teaching strategies that reflect the classroom (learning about) and the field (learning for) based elements of students’ learning is essential but not straightforward.

To assess these inherent challenges, qualitative data in the form of focus groups, interviews, observations and personal reflections was collected over a three-year period from three separate cohorts of business and management undergraduate students and lecturers on an entrepreneurship module at the University of Bolton. The module is designed to couple academic rigour with practical applications and encourages students to test the waters of business, and their ideas for development, in a safe environment. Student groups form companies, and experience first-hand the entire life cycle of business ownership: from set up, funding, and planning, to goods or service development, marketing, selling, and winding down.

The results indicate a couple of key challenges. First, the new venture creation and management process has the potential to work against the overriding educational objective of fostering entrepreneurship as early exposure of inexperienced students to the varied indeterminable factors surrounding the realities of entrepreneurship can be counterproductive and adversely affect engagement and learning. Second, it can be difficult to create and sustain an environment that fosters experiential learning in terms of balancing the challenges faced by students and the level of support on offer to cope with these challenges. While the challenge element in experiential learning in enterprise and entrepreneurship education is easily achieved, the support element can often fall short of what students require.