Multi-Disciplinary Entrepreneurship Clinic: Experiential Education in Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

I hear and I forget I see and I remember I do and I understand --Confucius

Introduction

Entrepreneurship is a complex set of activities that encompass a wide range of knowledge, behaviors, and motivations in the identification, evaluation and development of opportunities (Shane and Venkataraman, 2000). Developing entrepreneurs requires an equally complex set of activities to facilitate the acquisition and understanding of the requisite entrepreneurial abilities. Teaching entrepreneurship, then, requires a multi-dimensional and cross-disciplinary approach with an emphasis on dynamic processes that will exposes students to the complexity of entrepreneurial activities in such a way that their actions can be examined and understood relative to the context of their own entrepreneurial development.

Experiential education provides just such a set of activities for teaching complex concepts and activities. This paper provides a theory base for the development of effective experiential educational practices for entrepreneurship and then goes on to describe the implementation of that theory base through the use of clinicalbased education in business and law. Finally three cases are provided with reference back to the theoretical framework to illustrate the effectiveness of the outcomes of experiential education.

Educational Theory

Dynamic Paradigm

Robinson (1996) noted that current social science theorizing about the nature of personal characteristics has adopted the perspective of a dynamic interactive relationship between an individual and the environment. Mitchell and James (1989) describe this relationship as:

   a new view that stresses the important attributes of people, their
   contexts, and their interactions. First the person is seen as
   fitting into an environment. Second, both the person and the
   environment change over time. Third, changes in the person can
   cause changes in the environment and changes in the environment can
   cause changes in people. Fourth, people are both active and
   reactive with respect to these changes. Fifth, people's views of
   their past and future influence whether they are active or reactive
   and how much or how little they change. Thus, what emerges is a
   human who is active psychologically and behaviorally, interacting
   in a dynamic way with a changing environment. For the person, there
   is both stability and change, there is [pro]active and reactive
   behavior, [and] there are abilities and acquired skills that merge
   (p. 147).

This paradigm of human environment interaction has strong implications for education and training where the objective is to go beyond rote learning. With a dynamic paradigm, learning becomes a process whereby knowledge and understanding (2) are created through the transformation of experience with a realistic environment. In education this is best achieved through actual performance of task relevant to the learning objectives (Specht and Sandlin, 1991). This model has been a standard in the field of medicine for hundreds of years. Students of medicine are expected to learn through the "practice" of medicine and this "practice" usually includes a clinical setting as part of the overall curricula. It also follows that learning entrepreneurship or law would be best accomplished through undertaking entrepreneurial activities or "practicing law" in a realistic environment.

The fundamental assumptions of experiential education embraces a wide variety of activities consistent with the dynamic person-environment interaction critical to achieve understanding and the kinds of learning discussed above. Crosby (1995) indicated that the assumptions underlying experiential education are more reliable than those underlying traditional theories of education. By this she means "that students educated according to these assumptions are better prepared to deal with the world than are students educated according to traditional epistemologies" (pp. …