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The mature learner: understanding entrepreneurial learning processes of university students from a social constructivist perspective.

Mueller, Sabine


Sabine Mueller


Alistair R. Anderson


Entrepreneurship is identified as a highly complex (Neck and Greene 2011), unpredictable (Kuratko 2004), dynamic (Cope 2005) and constantly evolving (Anderson 2000) phenomenon that is embedded into and emerges from its social and cultural context (Jack and Anderson 2002; Rae 2001). Consequently, entrepreneurial learning is understood as a social learning process (Korsgaard and Anderson 2011) of profoundly experiential nature (Krueger 2007). The thesis addresses the development of entrepreneurship education and discusses the discrepancy between the large quantity of educations and their limited ability to respond to its current needs (Gibb 2005). A closer look is taken at the concept of learning and how the major learning theories contribute to understanding and enabling learning processes. It is argued that social constructivism (Gergen 1999) provides a good explanation of the entrepreneurial learning process (Chell 2000; Fletcher 2006; Rae 2006) as it considers knowledge to be constructed by the individual based on her experiences with the world. But when looking at entrepreneurship students in a university context a question emerges. If learning is based on knowledge from lived experiences, how can university students, who do not possess entrepreneurship experience, learn to be entrepreneurial? Based on a constructivist methodology (Gergen 1999) the research question is investigated in the scope of a qualitative study with 4 entrepreneurship education programmes in Europe. Semi-structured interviews to explore general aspects on learning were held with altogether 54 learners and 19 lecturers. To analyse data, a constructivist approach to Grounded Theory (Charmaz 2000) was chosen. The results demonstrate that constructivism provides a good explanation of learning “ especially in a higher education context. But while entrepreneurs seem to construct knowledge through experiencing practice, students seem to learn through experiencing knowledge in the scope of the education. Thereby, they use and develop certain personal qualities. First of all, the learning process requires a high level of responsibility for their learning which functions as a driving force to engage with new knowledge. Information is gathered and knowledge is experienced through social exchange with peers and lecturers; and new knowledge schemes are built through critical and independent reflection on their learning. Thus, entrepreneurial learning emerges as an iterative process, altering discussion and critical reflection of knowledge. It brings about a personal development that concludes on a stage where learners successfully integrate their seeking for both social integrity and individuality. This stage seems to mark their individual readiness for entrepreneurial activities and may be considered as a stage of personal maturity - or entrepreneurial maturity - a stage where all previous qualities are harmoniously reconciled.


MUELLER, S. 2012. The mature learner: understanding entrepreneurial learning processes of university students from a social constructivist perspective. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 21, 2012
Publicly Available Date Dec 21, 2012
Public URL
Award Date Feb 29, 2012


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