Enterprise Learners v Entrepreneurial Learners

A few days ago I made a posting in which I shared an animated video of a keynote presentation by John Seely Brown in which he talked about the concept of the entrepreneurial learner, and today I’d like to follow up on that post.

To recap, and to explain the term, “enterpreneurial learner”, JSB says:

“This does not mean how to become an entrepreneur. This really means, how do you constantly look around you all the time  for new ways, new resources to learn new things? That’s the sense of entrepreneur I’m talking about that now in the networked age almost gives us unlimited possibility.”

Later in his presentation, he uses the analogy of a whitewater kayaker to explain how an entrepreneurial learner operates.  Rather than being like a steam ship that sets its course and keeps going for a long time (having picked up a set of fixed assets that have been “authoritatively, transferred in delivery models“), the whitewater kayaker participates in the ever-moving flows of activities and knowledge, “because in this new world of flows, participating in these knowledge flows is an active sport“. Furthermore, in this new world of constant flux “learning has as much to do with  creating the new as learning the old“.

And why is it necessary to be an entrepreneurial learner? Well, as JSB, as well as others, point out “in a world of increasingly rapid change, the half life of a given stock/skill is constantly shrinking“, at around 5 years. So it’s going to become a vital skill for everyone in this new world of flows, to stay on top of all the new knowledge and skills relevant to today’s employment market place.

And how does entrepreneurial learning fit with organizations? Well, as there is no longer a job for life, where a company gives you regular promotion, salary, and all the training you need to do your job, most organizations don’t really see the need to provide anything further than training people to do their basic duties. They are not that interested in helping them acquire new knowledge and skills for fear of losing them.  It is also clear that most organizations take the “steamship” approach to training their people to become competent and compliant in doing their jobs, and new technologies are used simply to refit the steamship. Hence “enterprise learners” simply follow the course that has been set for them.

But it is also clear that there are already plenty of entrepreneurial learners inside organizatons, whitewater kayaking out on the Internet, continuously learning the new. It’s just that most organizations don’t encourage or support this – often because they find it a threat to their steamship approach (or even a threat to the organisation itself).  Nevertheless there are  others who do recognize the value that these entrepreneurial learners have for the organisation, since these are the “makers and tinkerers” as JSB puts it.  “They also understand critical thinking, because if you are a maker, or if you  are a tinkerer, there is a notion of grounded truth. [This is] where knowledge and practice meet.”

The concept of the “entrepreneurial learner” is close to my heart; I didn’t have an adequate term to describe it before. I’ve often talked about self-organized, self-directed, self-managed, continuous learners, but it just didn’t encapsulate everything I wanted to say.  John Seely Brown, of course, articulates it much more elegantly than I could ever hope to do (so take a look at the transcript of his March presentation if you want to read more). But I want to continue my focus on this aspect of learning and consider in practical terms how we can help to develop the entrepreneurial learners of the future (in education) who are not just able to stay afloat in their kayak but navigate through the turbulent waters.  I also want to focus on how to help organizations adopt more entrepreneurial learning practices; not just by embedding them into their steamship approaches – but as a distinct learning approach.  I’ll write more on this shortly.