Enterprise Learning Advances Achievement: Combining PD, Project-Based Learning and Real-World Experience Propels Student Success

By Terrell, Jessica | District Administration, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Enterprise Learning Advances Achievement: Combining PD, Project-Based Learning and Real-World Experience Propels Student Success


Terrell, Jessica, District Administration


When four South Carolina districts joined forces in 2013 to compete for a federal Race to the Top grant, their shared educational vision was clear: Teaching students to be creative innovators and independent learners will improve school performance. The challenge was finding a model to encompass all the sweeping changes they wanted to implement.

What the districts' leaders eventually settled on was the term "enterprise learning," which refers to both a popular public education program overseas, and a model for professional development in corporate America. The South Carolina schools--working collectively as the Carolina Consortium for Enterprise Learn ing (CCEL)--are now trying to blend the two programs together with the help of $24.9 million in federal funding.

Both kinds of enterprise learning seek to develop a more skilled workforce by emphasizing self-directed learning, creative thinking and problem solving, says CCEL Project Director Gail Widner.

Those high-level thinking skills are increasingly important for students, says educator and author Tony Wagner, whose 2012 book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World served as another source of inspiration for CCEL's program. "There is no competitive advantage to knowing more than the person next to you, because the person next to you can Google it," Wagner says. "The world no longer cares what you know, it cares what you can do with what you know--and that is a radically different concept."

The districts in CCEL--Clarendon School District Two, Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five, Richland School District Two and Williamsburg County School District--may be the first to implement a K12 enterprise learning program in the U.S. But their work aligns closely with a growing number of districts teaching entrepreneurial thinking and real-world problem-solving through programs like MicroSociety--which offers students the real world by organizing school into a society complete with businesses, town meetings and a student-run court--and networks like Hewlett Foundation's Deeper Learning and non-profit Expeditionary Learning.

An enterprising start

In Australia and the United Kingdom, enterprise learning gained popularity in the 1990s. It typically centers on project-based learning with a community-service or business focus. The purpose is not only to prepare students for college and careers, but to encourage them to be "enterprising" in every area of their lives. Enterprise skills include the ability to identify and assess risks, manage resources, collaborate, negotiate, and track personal goals, according to the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia.

In the U.S., enterprise learning is a framework for corporate training that dates to the 2000s and blends formal and informal learning opportunities, often with the help of a comprehensive online technology system for accessing web courses and tracking an individual's training history.

CCEL's enterprise learning program centers on motivational character development, access to 24/7 digital learning opportunities, and problem- and project-based learning (PBL) that addresses real-world challenges.

How does it differ from PBL?

"If you talk about project-based learning, often you are talking about student work," Widner says. "For us, enterprise learning is also about teachers and parents and the community. It is the learning process, regardless of content, regardless of where you are in your professional life."

CCEL used Race to the Top grant funding to hire an enterprise learning coach for every school in the program and 10 digital resource coaches for the four districts. Enterprise learning coaches are creative and experienced teachers who work on professional development and program rollout at the school sites.

The funds also will pay for 1-to-1 laptop programs in all the schools and technological improvements that will allow for more digital learning, including individualized learning plans and classroom apps for students, and a professional development program for teachers. …

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