The effects of online-based entrepreneurship programmes

By Kåre Moberg on Thursday, 2 November 2017.

The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship strives to improve ways of teaching entrepreneurship. We are interested in new technology that makes it possible to teach about entrepreneurship in new ways. Online education and the use of ICT have become increasingly popular in educational institutions during the last decades – there has been much development and improvement in the field.

This rate of development is set to increase even further in coming years with virtual reality and gamification seeing rapid development. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming increasingly popular and their methods more and more sophisticated. Everything therefore indicates that ICT will gain much ground within the field of entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, many are sceptical about the feasibility of teaching entrepreneurship in an online format, as they believe that entrepreneurship education needs to be learnt hands-on, in a practical and experiential manner.

Role models are a key component of many entrepreneurial programmes. Research has shown that for role models to be an effective part teaching, it is important that students can relate to them. They should, for example, be close to the age of the students. The gender of role models is also important. Boys are most influenced by male role models and girls by female role models.

Teachers can find it difficult to source suitable entrepreneurial role models, as typically this requires a large network. The difficulty in providing suitable role models may have unfortunate consequences: students following similar programmes could receive education of different quality. With online education, this “drawback” is easily overcome: online education allows students to access a range of relatable role models, and guarantees the quality of presentations. In this way, online education has the additional benefit of flexibility: it can be adapted to individual student profiles or preferences.

Effects of online-based entrepreneurship programmes

In order to further our understanding of the effects of online-based entrepreneurship programmes on young pupils, we performed a randomised controlled trial studying the effects of a role model-based online programme. The results from this study indicate that this type of programme can have a long-lasting influence on young pupils. For the experiment, 576 ninth-grade students were randomly selected to participate in either an entrepreneurship programme or a programme focused on natural sciences. Both programmes consisted of four teaching sessions, each taking approximately one hour to complete.

We collected questionnaires in October 2015 before the programmes started, and again immediately after they were completed. A year later in October 2016, we collected a new round of data. The results show that the pupils who participated in the entrepreneurship programme had more positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship; had increased intentions of pursuing a self-employed career path; had increased confidence in their entrepreneurial abilities and their perceived knowledge about entrepreneurship. One year after the intervention, these students still had significantly higher levels of entrepreneurial intentions and perceived knowledge about entrepreneurship. These results remained stable when we controlled for multiple demographic variables as well as the pupils’ experience with entrepreneurship education.  

The experiment thus shows that a very short online programme in entrepreneurship can have a significant impact on young students. This is probably because most pupils in this age group (14-15 years old) are not familiar with entrepreneurship and see it as something abstract. Exposing pupils to relatable role models can thus be an effective way to demonstrate the significance entrepreneurship can have on them in their own lives. However, the educational intervention had no significant influence on more general entrepreneurial skills and abilities, such as creativity and the ability to manage uncertainty. The results open up a discussion about what type of entrepreneurship can be taught with simple online assignments and lectures, and what type of entrepreneurship needs to be teacher led and taught with experiential teaching methods. 

This RCT was funded Nordea Foundation and by the IGL Grants Programme in collaboration with the Argidius Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Nesta.