Opening the «Black Box» of Learning in Action-Based Entrepreneurship Education - Assessing how a Learning Environment stimulates Entrepreneurial Learning
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There exists an agreement among scholars that entrepreneurship can be taught, and the action-based approach is claimed as an appropriate teaching method to let students gain entrepreneurial competences within an academic context. The literature review in this thesis demonstrates the lack of empirical in-depth studies of how learning transpires within action-based entrepreneurship education, and few articles have empirically accounted for how a learning environment enhances entrepreneurial learning. This underlines a need for more empirical research examining entrepreneurial learning through social relationships. The purpose of this thesis is to open up the black box of learning within action-based entrepreneurship education programs to gain insights in how a learning environment stimulates entrepreneurial learning. Three research questions have been designed to fulfill the purpose of this thesis, where the authors have investigated how action-based entrepreneurship education is delivered by faculty, how students practice action-based entrepreneurial learning, and how learning materializes through interaction within a community of practice. In order to answer the research questions, secondary data through a literature review and primary data through qualitative research have been obtained and combined. Since the authors have studied a contemporary phenomenon in real-life context, a case study design has enabled a possibility to investigate how action-based entrepreneurial learning occurs, and how a learning environment stimulates the students´ learning. Based on a literature review, a conceptual model of action-based entrepreneurial learning has been developed. This conceptual model has been further developed based on insights from in-depth case studies. The authors selected three university programs; Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, NTNU School of Entrepreneurship and Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship. All three have extensive experience with action-based learning, which ensured relevant empirical data. All the programs provide new venture creation as a part of the educational curriculum. Empirical data has been acquired through individual interviews with the faculty and focus group interviews with students of the program. The empirical findings have been analyzed and discussed with the aim of understanding the interaction between the individual student, co-students and faculty. The authors found that proactive behavior, the level of motivation, type of educational background and the level of effort are all important characteristics of the students attending action-based entrepreneurship education programs. The empirical findings underline that action-based entrepreneurship education programs requires the faculty to operate as facilitators, where they provide an educational framework that the students can operate within. Further, it was found that faculty should have confidence in the students taking responsibility for their learning at the same time as the students need to take responsibility in obtaining entrepreneurial competencies. The empirical findings also emphasize a need for guidance in where the students focus their actions and in their process of reflection. Summarized, the faculty should support and challenge their students, rather than being controllers of learning. By investigating the involvement of students and faculty within a learning environment, the authors have identified how students enhance each other's learning through share of knowledge, engagement and support. It has become evident that learning materializes through collective learning between co-students, and the culture that is created within action-based entrepreneurship education programs is seen as essential for how students learn. This underlines how entrepreneurial learning should be understood as a social phenomenon, rather than purely individual. The main contribution of this thesis is how entrepreneurial learning is stimulated by the interaction between students within a community of practice, termed student-to-student learning. Based on theoretical perspectives and in-depth case studies, a conceptual model has been developed to obtain an overall understanding of the research scope. This can provide higher educational institutions that want to establish or further develop their ABEE programs, with a deeper understanding of how entrepreneurial learning takes place within such programs. This thesis further provides students with a deeper understanding of their requirements and responsibility of learning. When the students recognize their role within action-based entrepreneurship education, they are able to adjust their expectations to the educational program and act accordingly. You cannot judge a book by its cover, and the same can be applied for action-based entrepreneurship education, where the black box of learning has to be opened up to grasp the meaning of entrepreneurial learning as student-to-student learning.