Five Stages of Lifelong Learning

Entrepreneurship education means many different things to educators...from primary schools to the university, from vocational education to an MBA. At each level of education, it is reasonable to expect different outcomes as students mature and build on previous knowledge. But the overall purpose remains to develop expertise as an entrepreneur.

The Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education supports the concept that entrepreneurship is a lifelong learning process that has at least five distinct stages of development. This lifelong learning model assumes that everyone in our educational system should have opportunities to learn at the beginning stages, but the later stages are targeted to those who choose to become entrepreneurs.

Each of the following five stages may be taught with activities that are infused in other classes or as a separate course.

Stage 1 - BASICS: In primary grades, junior high and high school, students should experience various facets of business ownership. At this first stage the focus is on understanding the basics of our economy, career opportunities that result, and the need to master basic skills to be successful in a free market economy. Motivation to learn and a sense of individual opportunity are the special outcomes at this stage of the lifelong learning model.

Stage 2 - COMPETENCY AWARENESS: The students will learn to speak the language of business, and see the problems from the small business owner's point of view. This is particularly needed in vocational education. The emphasis is on beginning competencies that may be taught as an entire entrepreneurship class or included as part of other courses related to entrepreneurship. For example, cash flow problems could be used in a math class and sales demonstrations could be part of a communications class.

Stage 3 - CREATIVE APPLICATIONS: There is so much to learn about starting a business it is not surprising that so many businesses have trouble. We teach future doctors for many years, but we have expected a small business owner to learn everything by attending several Saturday seminars.

At this stage, students can take time to explore business ideas and a variety of ways to plan the business. Although it is still only an educational experience, students must gain a greater depth and breadth of knowledge than either of the previous stages. This stage encourages students to create a unique business idea and carry the decision-making process through a complete business plan.

This stage may take place in advanced high school vocational programs, two-year colleges where there are special courses and/or associate degree programs, and some colleges and universities. The outcome is for students to learn how it might be possible to become an entrepreneur.

Stage 4 - STARTUP: After adults have had time to gain job experience and/or further education, many are in need of special assistance in putting a business idea together. Community education programs are widely available in the vocational schools, community colleges, 4-year colleges and universities to provide startup help. The U.S. Small Business Administration sponsors many of these training programs.

Stage 5 - GROWTH: Often business owners do not seek help until it is almost too late. A series of continuing seminars or support groups can help the entrepreneur recognize potential problems and deal with them in time.

Many community colleges and continuing education programs at universities or colleges offer such seminars and workshops for their business community. They recognize that the best economic development plan is to help the community's existing businesses grow and prosper.

Educators at each of these stages of entrepreneurship should focus on their own special outcomes, and reach out for partnerships with educators at other levels of this lifelong learning process. There is room for entrepreneurship in some way everywhere in our educational system.


Note: This article was published in EntrepreNews & Views and may be copied for local school use. Please reference it as follows: by Cathy Ashmore, The Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, Columbus, OH.

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