Sep 202010

I hope you’ll allow me a blog post that is a bit less practical (it’s not “7 ways to do xyz”) and a bit more of an indulgence on my part.

I have been involved with entrepreneurship and entrepreneur education for roughly 20 years (really 30+, if you take into account all the entrepreneurial things I did as a kid).  I have been amazed by how much the educational process has changed in that time, and I see it changing even more dramatically over the next few years.  The whole concept of “open learning”, coupled with the reality that fewer and fewer parents will be able to afford to send their kids to top-notch educational institutions, will have a profound effect on how entrepreneurial education happens, and on what is considered “quality” education.  I expect a lot more education to take place purposefully on an experiential basis (I say “purposefully” because, in my opinion, most of the best education has always happened that way, but by default), with a far higher degree of dependence on open sources, even at the higher end.

So what again is “open learning”?  Well, I’m not sure of the official definition out there, but from my point of view, it is educational material that is available free of charge, or at low cost, when compared to what it would cost from, say, a top university.  I had heard a couple years back, for example, that MIT had released a bunch of its course materials, which anyone with a computer could get access to.  It didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time.  It wasn’t until recently, when a good friend of mine pointed out to me the vast quantity of university-level lectures, some video, some audio, available (free!) on sites such as Itunes (see iTunesU), that it occurred to me how much this is likely to change the education process, especially in the area of entrepreneurship.  And it appears this is only the beginning.

The free availability of the above mentioned coursework, along with the reality that a lot more successful practitioners now make their educational “systems” and short, practical programs available at a very reasonable cost (particularly in light of where college tuition has gone), is a complete game-changer in my opinion.   How important is it to have a degree from a fancy school?  I think for certain applications and certain professions, it makes a real difference.  For others, such as most entrepreneurial endeavors, it probably isn’t worth much.  It can help a lot with some other things, such as connections, but in the end, are those connections worth $250k plus?  They could be, but there may be much more economical ways of obtaining them.  I think the entrepreneurial mentoring I received at my business school was worth more than the traditional, formal education I received, and again, that is likely something that can be obtained elsewhere on a more time- and cost-effective basis.

So what am I saying?  The education game is changing, in some cases dramatically, particularly in the area of entrepreneurial education.  Open learning, experiential learning, and training/mentorship from successful practitioners may be just exactly what the doctor ordered for the vast majority of startup entrepreneurs and small business owners.  What do you think?  Please let me know with your comments below.

If you found this article interesting and/or helpful, please go ahead and get it out to your Twitter followers and your Facebook friends.  There should be buttons for this below and also a button to “Like” this article, if in fact you do. 🙂  Again, please leave me your comments below.  I’m very interested to hear your opinion on this topic.

Paul – Entrepreneur Blog


  • vic williams


    I agree, and I think it’s already a swamp. If you look at the MIT materials a lot of them are ‘attached’ to an expensive text book, and that text book often comes with a disk/web access that offers course help. Nice and easy and ‘canned’ for the teacher. If you have to buy the book then you get course materials anyway. On the other side, does a lot on multi-national open source, but don’t wander into ‘big guy’ territory like the USA or China – too many ‘know it betters’ in those countries. The model reflects that ‘other’ countries often want to rework things into their ways.

    And then there’s “closed source” thinking/qualification/credentials hooks. I’m recently back from years in China, and interested in China matters including entrepreneurs. They need better English, ESL, leading into international entrepreneur learning. And it’s very good to mix experiential learning with the ESL, in the lead-in to a entrepreneur program. I go into an ESL group on LinkedIn and find that the thinking/how-to-do is like “from a textbook” or course. I point out that we can open up, and one example is blended learning, partially computer and partially human interactions (as I’ve done in China). I get shot down, told that I don’t have credentials, it’s not found in existing courses, and then banned. As far as I can tell that pattern is common in US schooling. A lot of businesses will follow that kind of thinking, because its a norm.

    I think it’s still the way to go, but at least in some situations the naysayers/powers that be will squash things.

  • Vic, thanks for your comments. I found them very insightful. I’d have to agree with you that naysayers in the education arena can be extremely close-minded and unfortunately, quite powerful as well. In my time around entrepreneurial education, I’ve found a lot of entrenched interests, with a strong interest in maintaining the status quo. That said, I think this wave of “open education” will be tough to hold back. I found your comments on ESL particularly interesting. I spend a large portion of my time in Latin America, doing business in English, Spanish and Portuguese — I’ve had some exposure to the language learning space, directly and indirectly. It’d be good to catch up realtime at some point. I expect to be headed to China relatively soon to catch up with an old friend of mine, who’s had quite a bit of success in his entrepreneurial endeavors in China, mainly in Shanghai. Took a quick look at your website — looks like you have quite a bit of experience with China. Paul