What’s distinctive about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education? – PDW at 3E 2016 Conference

The 3E Conference (ECSB Entrepreneurship Education Conference) has been held annually since 2013 in Europe, coming to the UK for the first time this year, in response to the explicit political agenda at national and EU level to promote Entrepreneurship education at all levels of the school system. The assumption is that entrepreneurial skills are the key to enhancing an innovative culture, which in turn will result in higher competitiveness and economic growth.

This relatively small (~100 participants) conference is consciously participative, friendly and open, with every session apart from the best paper nominees given “un-plugged” (no power point presentations) with only 10 minutes of introduction, and 30 minutes facilitated questions and answers. There are no keynote speakers and lots of time in and around the sessions for networking. New for this year was the introduction of a Practitioner Development Day. It was attended by a mixture of researchers, practitioners and support staff.

Mine was one of 16 PDW’s (Practitioner Development Workshops) in 4 parallel sessions on the first day on the following themes:

  • Engagement, impact and evaluation
  • Entrepreneurship for non- business students
  • Entrepreneurial learning, incubator and executive education
  • Values, ethics and critiques of Entrepreneurship education
  • Pedagogical theories in Entrepreneurship education

My PDW had been developed from my realisation that the word “entrepreneurial” had become pretty ubiquitous.

Advertisement seen in Newcastle in 2016 – begging the question “What business is not entrepreneurial?

Are we perhaps in danger of over using the term and rendering the word’s meaning to be so all-encompassing as to become nothing but a trendy label? Is it time to get clearer about what we really mean when we educate in entrepreneurship? How can we differentiate entrepreneurship manifest in the HE sector in any subject discipline from entrepreneurship as a subject discipline? Recent work (Lackéus, 2015) promoting value creation as an educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship would suggest that an entrepreneurial approach may be taken to teaching and learning in any subject discipline in an educational context. Where does that leave HE programmes claiming to teach entrepreneurship? What implications does this have for the curricula of such programmes? Using the theory of threshold concepts and the concept of expertise as bridges between the domains of education and entrepreneurship; I developed a practitioner workshop aiming to explore the distinctiveness of specialist entrepreneurship programmes, more general Business programmes and other type of HE programmes, using the visual research method of triad comparison. My intention was that participants would leave this workshop with a clearer understanding of the potentially unique differentiating characteristics of specialist entrepreneurship programmes, enabling better curricula design and delivery, as well as the improved marketing of such programmes.

My workshop was called “What’s distinctive about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education? – threshold concepts and expertise”. The 30 participants working in small groups were asked to identify what characteristics pairs of the items in the triad had in common, that were not shared by the third, and note them on the template handout. I was introduced to this visual research method in a REDP session given by Elaine Hall, Reader, Northumbria School of Law. I secured ethical approval from both Durham and Northumbria Universities to record and collect the data at this session as I planned to use it as part of my doctoral research, into threshold concepts in Entrepreneurship Education.

The key questions which were investigated were:

  • How are programmes with entrepreneurship at their core distinct from general business programmes, and indeed from all other HE undergraduate programmes?
  • What are the most important and distinctive concepts of programmes with entrepreneurship at their core? What may be the likely threshold concepts of entrepreneurship education?

By clarifying the distinctiveness of programmes specialising in entrepreneurship, attendees were able to explore ways to enhance curricula design and the delivery of their programmes, and be able to develop clearer marketing campaigns for such programmes, improving their communication to prospective candidates.


The triad comparison method used is a robust knowledge elicitation technique which produces representations of domain concepts, and encourages the elicitation of attributes that are central to distinctions within the domain (Cooke, 1994). Threshold concepts are defined as concepts which open up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something (Meyer & Land, 2003). One of the strengths of the notion of threshold concepts is how effective it is in engaging academics in discipline-specific conversations about teaching, the expectation being that the identification of these threshold concepts will allow more effective curricula design. This workshop constitutes exploratory research in preparation for a transactional curriculum inquiry study using a staged design, to identify perceptions of the concepts in entrepreneurship education which are transformative for student learning in HE, and how this knowledge might be used to optimise the effectiveness of such programmes.

The style of the workshop was informal, interactive and participant led. It was designed for almost exclusive participation and delegate involvement with only a very brief introduction. Visual research methods and conceptual techniques of knowledge elicitation were not familiar to many of the participants who found them of interest and potentially applicable in many contexts where a dyad-comparison approach might prove unsatisfactory. Discussions ranged to explore the design of the curriculum of entrepreneurship programmes, as distinct from approaches treating entrepreneurship as an underpinning educational philosophy with wider disciplinary applications.

Reviewer feedback was very positive; “Without doubt, this proposal is on a very interesting and highly relevant topic by addressing fundamental questions by using an interesting pedagogical method.” (Reviewer 1). “The underpinning philosophies will be of interest to a wide range of conference participants.” (Reviewer 2). I was delighted and proud to be given the “Best Practitioner Development Workshop” Award for the conference. My grateful thanks to Elaine Hall, Elaine Campbell and Vicky Gleason who enabled me to pilot the workshop, and also to Professor James Cunningham who gave me feedback on my written conference submissions.


Cooke, N. J. (1994). Varieties of knowledge elicitation techniques. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 41(6), 801–849.
Lackéus, M. (2015). Value Creation as Educational Philosophy. (Doctor of Engineering), Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Meyer, J. H. F. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (1) linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. Improving student learning theory and practice – 10 years on. (pp. 412–424). Oxford: OCSLD.

Author: Lucy Hatt is a Senior Lecturer & Programme Leader at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University. She won the Best PDW (Practitioner Development Workshop) Award with her workshop titled “What’s distinctive about Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial education? – Threshold concepts and expertise” at the 3E 2016 Conference in Leeds, UK on 11–13 May 2016.


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