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Entrepreneurial learning

About this trend

Entrepreneurial learning fosters business-critical skills needed by all workers – those running or planning to run their own business and those who intend to remain employed but want to help address organisational challenges (intrapreneurship). The most obvious skills needed by entrepreneurs are: creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, teamwork, flexibility, risk-taking and a strong work ethic. The modern day entrepreneur also needs to have the ability to work with available resources and to create value.

According to the European Institute of Innovation & Technology, for someone to be an entrepreneur, they need to have ‘a desire to solve a problem, a burning passion, and a nurturing environment to bring it all together’1.

Entrepreneurship is beneficial to individuals, organisations and to society as a whole. It generates growth, new jobs and economic success. It enables innovation through the development of new products and services. It is also increasingly being used as a way to tackle societal issues and challenges at a community level and amongst people with common passions and goals – for example, around climate action. This combination of business and social justice objectives is often described as social entrepreneurship, helping learners become change agents in society.

Typically, there are four main goals for entrepreneurial learning:

  • Developing learners’ capabilities “for” entrepreneurship – helping people who want to start and run a business
  • “about” entrepreneurship – based on academic traditions and concepts
  • “through” entrepreneurship – the development of competencies for achieving societal goals through entrepreneurship
  • “in” entrepreneurship – acting and behaving in an entrepreneurial manner

An entrepreneurial learning approach can help develop learners into future leaders, as well as business owners. Research2 indicates that there are seven teachable skills that are essential to achieve this: problem solving, tolerance for ambiguity, failing forward, empathy, creativity with limited resources, responding to critical feedback and a teamwork approach.

Organisations can approach entrepreneurial learning in many ways – mentoring and/or immersive simulations that mimic real world challenges, for example. Design thinking, when new products, services or solutions are created in a human-centred and participatory way, is often used to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

1The Power of Entrepreneurial Education. European Institute of Innovation & Technology

The expert view

Chris Russell, Senior Policy Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

Chris Russell

A lot of young people in particular are passionate about certain topics and ideas and want to follow their dreams. Much of it is around sustainability and climate change and/or around technology and it isn’t people just wanting to go out and earn loads of money. Young people have a lot of “side hustles” and an aspiration to go their own way, which should definitely be encouraged.

Whenever there’s a survey about future skills, they always say the same things – problem solving, creativity, etc. And these are the skills that entrepreneurs need. Entrepreneurial skills are very much aligned to the development of soft skills – problem solving, creativity, showing initiative, risk taking, personal organisation and so on, which are also the skills needed to be an effective manager. Organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of soft skills and are developing them.

Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial learning in the workplace is a cultural thing.  You can’t just have a one-day training course on having initiative and expect people to go off and do it. You have to create the right environment. You have to encourage people to be creative, to go out and try new things. There has been quite a lot of research that shows that mentoring is helpful for developing entrepreneurship – helping business owners to grow their business, for example. Being customer focused is also essential – entrepreneurs always have to have their customers in mind.

At a big picture level, there’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment. For example, around what AI and technology changes mean for people and business. As good as things like ChatGPT are, they are not at a level where you can have it coming up with creative solutions or problem solving. These are

more human skills and they are increasingly essential. What skills are most important for future growth? Tech skills tend to come out on top in surveys, but that’s slowly changing as organisations recognise the importance of softer skills.

Top tips:

  • Culture is important – where appropriate, seek to encourage staff to take initiative or be creative
  • Consider how your skills audit and training plan incorporates employees’ broader skills and not just their technical expertise, using tools such as the Skills Builder Partnership
  • Encourage your team to explore their passions within work and in their spare time – encouraging them to pursue their interests can help them to develop their wider skillset

Traditionally, entrepreneurial learning has been associated with business and management courses and so hasn’t been very inclusive. We need to broaden our perspective and mindset to develop entrepreneurial skills.

Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme
Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University


  • Forbes Leadership article: Key skills of a 21st century entrepreneur and why they’re important. December 28, 2020.

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Read the original report behind Trends in Learning

The Innovating Pedagogy report is an annual report co-authored by academics at the OU's Institute of Educational Technology, and this year, together with researchers from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town.

Read Innovating Pedagogy

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