Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

You’re preparing for fall classes, staring at your syllabus, worrying:

  • Should I teach prototyping or legal formation?
  • Where do I fit in startup marketing?
  • What about IP law or valuation?!

A 16 week semester is far too short to teach everything we want in our entrepreneurship classes. This article will help you prioritize what to teach, because there’s one topic that matters more than any other:

Problem validation is the most important topic to teach in entrepreneurship. Click To Tweet

Problem validation is critically important; everything else in entrepreneurship flows from it. You can’t overlook it when prioritizing your schedule.

Why Problem Validation?

There are 3 reasons you must teach problem validation in your introduction to entrepreneurship, capstone, and your graduate entrepreneurship courses:

  1. It’s the most important aspect of entrepreneurship.

    Customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students can’t figure out what customers will buy unless they validate problems.

    entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea
    Once your students understand how to validate problems, they’ll quickly see how the rest of a business model falls into place.
    Every aspect of business models flow from problem validation, so it’s imperative we teach our students how to do it well.
  2. Problem validation cannot be read. It must be practiced.
    If they have to, students can learn other topics like valuation, IP law, legal formation, and marketing outside the classroom. There are endless blogs and videos that cover the basics of every topic in entrepreneurship…except problem validation.
    Students cannot learn how to talk to customers by reading about it. Your students have to experience asking the right customers, the right questions.

    Students learn problem validation, by doing problem validation. Click To Tweet

  3. You’re their only teacher.
    No one else in your students’ academic career will touch the subject of problem validation.
    Your accounting and finance colleagues can help them with revenue modeling. Engineering professors can help them with product development. Your business law colleagues can help them with legal formation and IP issues.

    But problem validation, this thing that is so important to entrepreneurship, will only be covered by you.

    If you have to cut something from your schedule, cut anything but problem validation. Make sure you’re teaching this because nobody else is, and because it is the most important aspect of entrepreneurship!

    No one will teach problem validation, except you. Click To Tweet

Workshop: How to Teach Problem Validation

It’s critical we don’t just talk about problem validation. We must teach our students how to do it, and to do it the right way.

(Note: surveys are not the right way 🙂 )

If you want help with that, we’re hosting our first free, 1-hour, online workshop on June 22nd, 2017. We’ll talk about the three phases of problem validation:

  1. Problem hypothesis
  2. Problem discovery
  3. Problem confirmation

We will teach you these three phases, and we’ll show you engaging exercises you can run in your class to teach them.

Teaching Problem Validation teaches business model validation

Join us if you want to learn how to teach this subject that every entrepreneurship teacher needs to teach, and teach well!

We will send a video recording of the workshop to anyone who registers, but you don’t want the video. You want to show up live, because it will be an interactive workshop. To see and experience the exercises, you’ll want to be present.


What’s Next?

We will be sharing more exercises to teach customer interviewing soon! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Experiential Curriculum Launch

Experiential Curriculum Launch

We all struggle teaching idea generation, problem validation and customer interviewing in a way that fully engages our students.

Not only are we competing for our students’ attention, our methods for teaching business model validation are uninspired – especially when many of our students don’t want to be entrepreneurs.

Building an Experiential Curriculum

So what can our 1,100-strong community of teachers do about it?

Build our own experiential curriculum.

We need a curriculum that motivates our students to learn skills like:

  1. Quality idea generation
  2. Customer interviewing
  3. Problem validation

With immersive exercises, experience labs, and relevant case studies our students connect with.

We’ve drafted the ideal curriculum and a comprehensive resource guide we’d like to see for our community. Now the question is, should we build it?

We invite you to preview our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum and let us know if you would use it in your classroom, and if not, why not.

We are practicing what we preach, validating demand for a solution to our struggle of teaching idea generation, problem validation and customer interviewing in a way that fully engages our students.

Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

Teaching Failure Through Currency Testing

Learning from failure is one of the most important skills our entrepreneurial students need to learn. It’s also one of the most difficult to teach.

We can talk all day about running experiments and testing assumptions, but ultimately they’re a waste of time if our students can’t successfully extract learning from failed experiments and invalidated hypotheses.

The trick to teaching failure is that our students have grown up in an environment where they are taught to avoid failure at all costs. They are taught to fear failure.

In fact, many of your students’ previous teachers leveraged a fear of failure to compel your students to behave a certain way: do busy-work, memorize lists, etc.

In entrepreneurship education, we need to change the perception of failure. Click To Tweet

As entrepreneurship educators, we need to create safe places for our students to engage with failures, so they can practice extracting knowledge from them.

As our students develop their failure analysis skills, they will:

  • Fear failure less – they will realize on a personal level that they can learn more from failure than from success.
  • Increase their confidence – entrepreneurship is less scary when you know even if one experiment fails, you’ll succeed in creating the foundation for the next.
  • Take calculated risks – which are prerequisites to thriving in an innovation economy.

Failure Always Invite Learning

Fast Forward Their First Failure

The Currency Testing lesson plan below will guide you through creating a constructive experience for your students to learn from their first entrepreneurship failure.

In our last exercise, your students launched an MVP, without a line of code. (If you haven’t read that exercise, you’ll want to now. Not only is it a blast, you’ll need to know it for this Currency Testing exercise).

Once they’ve learned that they too can launch a product, you’re ready to show them…

Launching the product is easy. It’s selling the product that’s hard.

In fact, it’s so hard, your students will likely fail their first time around, just like most entrepreneurs, which is the point of this exercise.

By fast-forwarding their first failure, you’re going to turn your students from first-time founders, into “serial entrepreneurs” 🙂 After satiating their drive to “build something” your students will realize…

The only thing more fun than building something, is building something people want. Click To Tweet

As your students begin to focus less on what they want to build, and more on what other people want to buy, they’ll be eager for you to teach them problem validation.

The Currency Test

At the heart of this exercise is something called a “Currency Test.” A currency test is simply an experiment where entrepreneurs test if customers are willing to pay some form of currency (e.g. cash, attention, data, etc.) in exchange for a product.

A currency test is a much more powerful experiment than asking customers, “Would you use this?” or “How much would you pay for this?” because it’s forces them to put their money where their mouth is. Where it’s easy for a customer to say, “I’d definitely use that” to a hypothetical product, entrepreneurs will learn how customers really feel, when they’re asked to break out their wallets.

Best of all, the results of a currency test are always helpful.Either the test succeeds and the entrepreneur validates demand for their product, or it fails and the entrepreneur gets to ask what’s preventing their customers from buying, so they can improve their next iteration.

Your students will conduct their currency test using the MVPs they built.

When they struggle to get currency (which they will, because like most first-time entrepreneurs their MVPs were more product-focused than customer- and problem-focused), their experiment will fail. They’ll be wondering why they couldn’t find customers for a product they thought was such a good idea, and at this point they’re primed.

Having experienced their first entrepreneurial failure, they’re now ready to hear:

  1. Why being problem-focused is essential in entrepreneurship.
  2. Why talking to customers before building is the key to success.
  3. The value of identifying marketing channels.
  4. How important marketing copy is.

And most importantly, they’ll learn from personal experience…

We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. Click To Tweet

The Failure Postmortem

After their failures, the lesson plan will show you how to walk your students through the most powerful part of this exercise: “The Currency Test Postmortem.”

In the postmortem, students answer questions related to what they learned about their customers and problems, and about marketing and selling their product. They’ll also begin to see first-hand the value of problem validation and testing their business model assumptions.

The postmortem also will model an approach to analyzing failures they can use in your class, as well as throughout their careers to overcome failures they and their products, teams, and companies will encounter in the future.

Increase their Grit

If you want to change your students’ relationship toward failure, if you want to instill in them the skills they need to not just recover from failure, but thrive because of it, give the Currency Test Lesson Plan a shot.

And remember the entrepreneurship proverb…

Teach a student how to fish; she’ll eat for a lifetime. Teach a student how to fail; she’ll innovate global food distribution... providing sustainable food sources for half the world’s population at a fraction of the cost while employing thousands of previously unemployed and under-employed. You should do this one.

😉

Get the Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Teaching Failure Lesson Plan to help you prepare your students to learn from failure. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above plus a few surprises!

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In a future article, we will provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Exercise: 60 Minute MVP

Exercise: 60 Minute MVP

Imagine looking out at your classroom, and every student is talking and typing furiously. It’s noisy. Students are learning together and teaching each other.

There’s a buzz of nervousness and excitement!

Exercise: Students launch landing pages in < 60 Minutes

This is by far, one of Justin and my favorite in-class experiences because “60 Minute MVP” is engaging, fun, and fully-immersive, while teaching critical aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Your students are going to build, and launch, an MVP in 60 minutes…with no technical expertise!

If fact, during this hour, your students will build…

A Landing Page

A simple website that describes the problem they’re solving to the customers they want to serve.

Your students will create landing pages like this

An Explainer Video

A quick video that hints how their solution will solve the problem.

And a Currency Test…

…to validate demand for their product!

Your students will learn how to use a service called Celery to take pre-orders for their products to demonstrate real demand, without them actually having to charge money/store credit card information/etc.

For example:

currency testing sample

And they’ll do it all, in an hour.

What are Landing Page MVPs?

Over the course of an hour, your students will create a landing page (a simple, single-page website) that:

  1. Tells their customers the problem their team is solving,
  2. Uses a video to demonstrate how, the team will solve the problem and
  3. Asks for some form of “currency” from their customers to validate demand.

You can incorporate this exercise into one class period in your syllabus; push your students to complete every step within an hour. They can tweak things later, the important thing is that they don’t spend a ton of time trying to get everything perfect the first time around. As they will find later on, doing that for every experiment wastes a lot of time.

It’s important to note, for this exercise:

They’ll Learn More in 60 Minutes

…than they will in 6 hours of lectures:

  1. The true meaning of MVP. They will learn exactly how “minimum” a minimum viable product should be. MVP doesn’t mean “beta” – it means making least amount of investment possible, to test a business model’s riskiest assumption.
  2. How much they can accomplish when they work as a team. By dividing and conquering, your students will be astounded at how much they can collectively accomplish in one hour.
  3. How many great, free tools exist for entrepreneurs. The internet is a crowded place, so we want to show them that there are free tools out there to help them develop skills they don’t yet possess.
  4. The upside of deadlines. Our students don’t usually work under tight deadlines, but they will soon! We want to show them how tight deadlines push them to get everything done, and give them a positive experience executing under tight deadlines.
  5. It is easier to launch a product than they thought. Most of our students are overwhelmed at the idea of launching a product, because their assumptions are wrong. We want to correct those assumptions so they believe in their ability to launch.
  6. That the easiest thing about building a business is launching the product. In a future post, we will explain that the most difficult part of launching is actually the testing and validation. Getting something into the world is quite easy, which your students will understand after this experience.

Most importantly, they will learn…

When it comes to MVPs, done is better than perfect.

Your Job in the Class

You have an important role during this exercise. While we’ve documented all of the instructions your students need to follow (see the lesson plan for details), you’ll need to be the chief cheerleader, time-keeper and discussion leader.

Here’s what that entails:

  1. Give your students the instructional videos. We’ve recorded step-by-step videos for your student teams to follow when creating their MVPs. Links to the videos and instructions are provided in the lesson plan below.
  2. Play music. Ask them what music gets them pumped, and then play that. Create an energetic, intense, exciting environment for the students.
  3. Keep shouting how little time they have left. Create a sense of urgency; don’t write time on the board. Don’t announce it in your normal tone. Shout it, wave your hands; stress how important it is that something get launched, even if it’s not the perfect something. It is likely your students will want to focus on minor technical or design details. Because the goal is to execute in 60 minutes, you need to refocus your students on that goal and steer them away from their inclination toward perfection. Remind them that:

“Done is better than perfect.”

  1. Celebrate the hell out of each MVP as it launches. Show each team’s MVP on the screen, and congratulate them on the incredible things they accomplished in 60 minutes.
  2. Host a discussion with your students about what it was like to build an MVP in 60 minutes. You’ll find your students reflect most, if not all, of the learning objectives listed above.

Note: when they step out of their comfort zone, they’ll get the most out of this exercise.

Full Class Engagement

If you’re looking for an immersive exercise that activates your class, complete with a chaotic, noisy, high pressure environment, that teaches real entrepreneurial principles, give “60 Minute MVP” a shot.

Justin and I both love it. We think you, and your students, will will too 🙂

Complete details, including all the instructions for you, and videos for your students are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “60 Minute MVP” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “60 Minute MVP” exercise walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!

Subscribe here to get our next classroom resource in your inbox.

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Build your Syllabus with your Students

Build your Syllabus with your Students

You want your students to be engaged. Your students want you to be engaging.

This exercise will show you how to do both.

Best of all, it will create engagement from the first day of class until the last.

The Syllabus Post-It Cloud

Creating problem Post-It cloudsIn our last post we described the basics of getting your students bought-into your course using the Problem Post-Its Cloud.

Now we’re going to show you the advanced version, where you’ll use the final Problem Post-It cloud to modify your course syllabus in real-time.

Note: if you’ve already read the last post on Problem Post-It clouds, you can skip to Step 4.

Step 1:

Give each student a pack of post-it notes. Ask each student to write down their top 5 problems or fears in each category below – remind them to only write one problem/fear per post-it note.

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Money

Don’t give them too long for this step, you want instinctual thoughts here, 2-minutes per subject should be enough.

Step 2:

Ask your students to review their 25 post-it notes and pick out the 5 that are the scariest, most concerning, to them.

With their top 5 problems, ask them all to join you at a wall in your classroom. Tell your students that collectively you’re going to create problem clouds, so you can see the most common problems among your customers students.

When everyone is standing with you at the wall, ask for someone to volunteer one of their problems. They might say:

I don’t know how to build a network.

To which you can reply, “Okay, great, who else has a post-it that says something about building a network?”

Every student who has that problem will raise their hand. Collect all those notes and put them up on your wall together to make a cloud for the “Build a Network” problem.

Repeat Step 2 until you have everyone’s post-it notes on the wall, grouped into problem clouds.

Step 3: Connect the Dots

Look at the wall. You now know your students’ most common problems and fears. Most importantly, you know them in their own words.

Now is your chance to connect the dots for your students between their problems and fears and the skills you’re going to teach them.

If you can paint this picture, your students will engage!

Your opportunity here is to reflect your students’ problems and say, “During this class, we’re going to solve these problems” using your students’ actual words and problems.

You can tell them, “If you’re unsure how to find and talk to people to build a network, you can use the same techniques I’m going to teach you in this class to identify the people you want in your network!”

Encourage them further by saying, “The same techniques you’re going to use to interview customers, you can use to interview potential mentors and bosses – increasing the size and quality of your network. You can build your dream network using the skills you’ll learn in this course!”

Step 4: Beginning a New Syllabus

Now you can take your students’ engagement to a whole new level!

You can begin to update your syllabus on the fly in front of them to match the goals of the class with their problems and fears.

  1. Pull up your syllabus on the screen and scroll to the place where you list your schedule of topics and deliverables by date or class session.
  2. Add a column where you can add their problem / fear that corresponds with the topic.
  3. Pick the two problem clouds with the most post-it notes. Type in those two problems in the new column corresponding to the appropriate course topic.

    For instance, next to the Customer Interviewing topic, in the new column, type “Build a Network.” Reiterate to your students that the techniques they will learn to interview customers will help them build a strong network.
    Or if they’re low on cash, you can describe how the techniques you’ll show them when they generate pre-sales for their product can help them discover a profitable business during this semester.
    If they’re having relationship challenges, you can describe how empathetic interviewing techniques can help them connect with family, friends and significant others.

That’s the great thing about teaching entrepreneurial skills…

Entrepreneurial skills = life skills. Click To Tweet

Virtually any challenge your students face can be aided in some way via the lessons you teach in your experiential entrepreneurship class.

Step 5: Delivering a New Syllabus

engaging students through reflectionOvernight, finish adding the problems and fears from the post-it problem clouds into your syllabus where they match the course content. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the next class to introduce the new syllabus. Point out exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.

You have co-created a syllabus with your students!

Takeaways

There are five reasons we love this exercise:

  1. Students have never experienced anything like it…and they love it. They’re having fun, brainstorming, moving around the class, creating big messy Post-It clouds on the wall, making connections with classmates, and they’re getting to talk about their challenges with someone who genuinely cares (you).
  2. Your class will stand out. How many professors take the time to listen to their students, and adapt their course to ensure it’s relevant to the people sitting in the room? You’ll let your students know from the get-go, that this class is going to be special, impactful and helpful.
  3. Increasing engagement. Not on will they love this exercise, you’ll know exactly what to say to engage your students in future exercises. You’ll simply refer to the problems you outlined together and describe how they exercise you’re about to do will help them solve the problems you brainstormed together.
  4. It will change the way you relate to your students. By understanding their challenges, you’ll empathize and connect on a more substantive level than you would otherwise. That connection will magnify your impact.
  5. You’re modeling a problem-oriented approach with your students; the same kind of relationship you want them to have with their customers. They’ll see you practicing what you preach, and how empowering it is for both the “entrepreneur” (you) and the “customers” (them).
Engage entrepreneurship students by turning their problems into your syllabus. Click To Tweet

Co-Create your Syllabus Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your syllabus. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above, in a handy editable document.

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


Free Workshop

We’re hosting free, online, workshops for entrepreneurship teachers. Please vote to help us pick our next topic:

What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share an exercise that will give your students an opportunity to launch a product in 60 minutes!  Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Exercise: Post-It Note Problems

Exercise: Post-It Note Problems

Click play above for the video version of this post.

Engaging students is an uphill battle; one of the most demoralizing experiences as a teacher is to teach apathetic students. Students who are bored and disengaged.

In this article we’ll show you an easy exercise that gets students bought-in and motivated to participate in class.

Engaging Students Right Away

engaging students as customersThe secret to engaging students is to get them students bought in to what we’re teaching. To get them bought in,

It’s most effective to treat our students, like our customers.

At the end of the day, you want your students to leave your class with a new set of skills. To accomplish that you can either:

  1. Take an authoritarian approach where, “I-am-the-teacher-and-you-are-the-student-and-therefore-you-listen-to-me” power dynamic.
    This is where most of us start because a) it’s the way we were taught and b) its not obvious how to change this paradigm and still accomplish our goals.

    The authoritarian approach is great for generating compliance and obedience from students, but its abysmal at garnering the enthusiasm, energy and participation you need in an experiential entrepreneurship class.

  2. Alternatively, you and your students can collaborate in defining the nature of your class, just like companies and their customers collaborate to define mutually beneficial solutions.
    The key is to recognize…

    We teachers are selling a set of skills and ideas that we want our students to buy-into.

    The most effective way to get our students to buy what we’re selling, is to use the same techniques we teach them to get their customers to buy-in. Which leads us to the tried and true principle of entrepreneurship:

    Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

Practice What You Teach: Solve Their Problems

Customers don't buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.If our goal is engaging students, we need to use the exact same principles we’re teaching to our students in class. If we follow these principles with our students to get their buy-in, we recognize that we can’t sell them “products.”

We can’t sell them “products” like:

  • What they’ll learn
  • Experiences they’ll have
  • Projects they’ll do
  • Grading structure of the class

They won’t buy it, because those are the products of teachers.

If we want our students’ buy-in, we need to solve their problems.

Exercise: Problem Post-Its

Exercise: Problem Post-ItsA fast, and fun, way to discover the problems of your students is called the Problem Post-Its.

This exercise is inspired by Laura Klein, the author of UX for Lean Startups and you’ll find that it’s a fantastic brainstorming exercise in general. We’ll use it for brainstorming problems here, but you can also teach it to your students as a way for them to brainstorm any kind of ideas. This technique balances the energy of extroverts on a team, with the great insights the introverts on a team, so all voices are heard.

DARE to Solve Their Problems

This exercise can be broken down into four steps. We use the acronym DARE to outline each step. DARE to ask students their problems

  • Discover – discover your students’ problems.
  • Analyze – analyze and categorize them.
  • Reflect – reflect their problems back to them to get their buy-in.
  • Emphasize – emphasize the solutions to their problems that you’re going to offer throughout the course.

We’ll take these one at a time starting with…

Step 1: Discover Their Problems

To discover your students’ problems you’re going to arm them with a set of post-it notes. Give each student roughly ten post-it notes and a Sharpie or some other kind of marker. Ask them to write down one problem they have per post-it note. 1 Problem Per Post It

It’s a good idea to emphasize this one-problem-per-note bit. If you don’t, you’ll find that at least one person in your class is going to end up writing down all their problems on a single post-it note.

So it’s one problem per post-it note. Then, give them two minutes to write down all of the problems they have related to:

  • Jobs that they want
  • Financial problems they have
  • Career problems
  • Business related problems

When you focus your students’ attention to problems in these categories, it will constrain the problem set to ones you can actually help them solve during your course.

During their two minute silent brainstorming, ask them to aim for at least ten problems – so at least ten post-it notes.

After the two minutes is over, move to…

Step 2: Analyze Their Problems

Have your students take their 10-ish Post-It notes and pick out their top three problems. Then ask your students to stand up and meet you at a wall in your class with their top 3 Post-It notes.

Creating problem Post-It cloudsNow that you have all of your students standing with you at a wall in your classroom, you’ll start grouping their problems into “problem clouds”, where similar problems are posted next to one another.

To do that, ask a student to volunteer a problem. They will say something like,

“I’m about to graduate and I don’t know what kind of job I want.”

To which you’ll reply, “Okay, great, who else has a Post-It that says ‘I don’t know what kind of job I want after school?’”

Everyone who has that problem will raise their hand and you’ll collect all those notes and put them up on your wall together to make a cloud for that problem. engaging students analyze problemsNow ask another student for a problem they have.

They might say something like,

“I’m broke.”

You say, “Okay, who else has a post-it note that says ‘I got no money?’”

Collect all those post-it notes and make another problem cloud on your wall. Ask for another problem and maybe someone will say,

“I know what job I want but I’m not sure how to get it.”

You’ll collect all those and create another problem cloud kind of close to the original “I don’t know what job I want” cloud because they’re both related.

Keep going until you’ve got everyone’s problem post-it notes on the wall, after which you’ll move on to…

Step 3: Reflect Their Problems

Now that you have all these problem clouds, you’ve analyzed your students’ (i.e. customers’) problems.

You can see what problems your students have, and what are the most common problems. You’ll now know the most prevalent, the most pressing problems of your customers, in their own words.

You’re now ready to reflect the problems you’ve heard back to them. Not only do you want to make sure you’ve heard them right, but when you reflect your students’ problems back to them in their own words, you will get their buy-in.

When you 1) reflect your student’s problems back to them and 2) help them take steps towards solving them, they will buy in.

You can say to your students, “I hear you that you’re broke. I totally get that. In fact, you can actually fund your next semester’s tuition with the techniques you learn in this class!”

You can tell them, “If you’re unsure what kind of job is right for you, you can use the same techniques I’m going to teach you in this class to identify the right kind of business for you, to identify the right kind of job for you!”

And you can encourage them by saying, “The same techniques you’re going to use to interview customers, you can use to interview potential bosses – increasing the likelihood that you’ll get the job you want. You can find your dream job using the skills you’ll learn in this course!”

When you connect the dots for your students between the problems they have and the skills you’re going to teach them, they will buy in. Reflect their problems and your students will engageIn fact, they’ll do more than that.

They will engage.

With a young or old, undergraduate or postgraduate, MBA or freshman, when you understand the problems of your customers, connect the dots, and show them how what you’re going to teach them is going to help them solve those problems, you will engage your students!

Step 4: Emphasize Their Problems

Now that you’ve reflected their problems back to your students, you want to emphasize that you’re going to solve those problems throughout their course.

What that looks like is simply reminding them for each exercise you do, or each day of your course, how this is going to help solve one the problems in their original problem clouds. engaging students emphasize solutions

For instance, when it’s time to reach out and interview customers, you can say, “the same skills you guys are going to use today to reach out to your customers are the skills you can use to reach out to potential employers.”

You are always emphasizing how elements of this course tie back to the problems they are actually experiencing.

That is how you DARE your students to tell you their problems:

  • Discover
  • Analyze
  • Reflect
  • Emphasize

Bonus: You’re Modeling a Problem-Centric Mindset

In addition to discovering the keys to engaging with your students, by running this exercise, you’re modeling the behavior you want your students to exhibit. Namely…

Focusing on their customers’s problems.

By genuinely engaging with your students’ problems, you’re showing them what it looks like to be empathetic. They will take the same sincerity you apply to this exercise with them when they conduct problem interviews with their customers.

Summary

That is the secret to engaging entrepreneurship students is:

  1. Getting our students to buy-in, by treating them like customers.
  2. Customers don’t want to buy products. engaging students by solving problemsThey don’t care about the organization of the class, the syllabus, or the textbook, or the lectures or anything like that.

They care about solving their problems.

  1. DARE to solve their problems.

When you show your students how your course will solve their problems, they will engage with your class like never before.

Problem Post-Its Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Problem Post-It Lesson Plan to help you engage your students in the DARE process. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan


It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In a future article, we will explore in more detail how to use the DARE exercise to co-create a syllabus with your students! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Entrepreneurship Syllabus 101: Start a Conversation

Entrepreneurship Syllabus 101: Start a Conversation

Our students are not engaged. Disengaged students drag down the energy in any class, which makes learning is harder to create. In any class, engagement starts with the syllabus. This article will help you create an engaging entrepreneurship course, starting with an engaging syllabus, which we have a template for (which you can download below).

Students are trained to expect spoon feeding, and professors have been trained to deliver. Look at almost any syllabus – it is filled with boundaries, limitations and administrative legalese. Imagine your syllabus as a promise; what if your syllabus invited students on a journey to discover their passions and path in life? What if your students believed this promise and were excited for every class session?

Many professors spend the majority of the first class reading through the syllabus. This is a student’s first impression of you and your course (other than maybe a perusal through www.ratemyprofessor.com). Think about teaching entrepreneurship – what first impression do you want to give?

Do you want to spoon-feed your students, or do you want to wake them up to the universe-altering, career-accelerating and impact-creating power of entrepreneurship?

Look at your syllabus. Seriously – print a copy and lay out the pages on your desk.

What message does that document send your students? Are you inviting them into a conversation? Does the language encourage students to be curious, to explore, to take risks? Would you be excited to take your course?

Is it really all that shocking that students are not engaged?

Imagine inspiring your students with your syllabus. What if you gave your students permission to leap through the language and tone of your syllabus?

Start With Your Syllabus

My goal is to challenge and enable faculty to create engaging classroom environments. It begins with our syllabus, but can also happen in many other ways (I highlight some of my crazy thoughts in my TEDx talk).

We need to trust our students and invite them to co-create their learning experiences. It begins with our syllabus.  We as professors need to relax our iron-clad grip on our classrooms. Our insecurity, manifested in our need for control, is our students’ greatest enemy. It begins with our syllabus.

As my brilliant colleague Julie-Ann McFann points out:

“Parker Palmer, in his classic book, Courage to Teach, describes a workshop where the faculty were complaining about their unenergetic students. Just then, classes got out and these supposedly lethargic students were full of life, talking and laughing with each other. Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, has a terrific TED talk where he compares a photo of students in a very large lecture class looking bored out of their minds with these same students at an American Idol audition (looking anything but bored). The solution is easy:

Stop spoon feeding them and get out of their way so that they can take ownership of their learning.”

Overhaul Your Syllabus

Don’t read your syllabus to your students. As Woody Allen points out, they’ve been doing their own reading since the first grade. While research outstanding professors, Ken Bain discovered an approach to creating a more engaging syllabus. He presented this approach, which he calls a “promising syllabus”, in his phenomenal book “What the Best College Teachers Do”. A promising syllabus

“fundamentally recognizes that people will learn best and most deeply when they have a strong sense of control over their own education rather than feeling manipulated by someone else’s demands.”

The key to engaging entrepreneurship students is to not treat them like students. Instead, engaging entrepreneurship teachers see their students as their customers

If you want to unlock your students’ energy and enthusiasm, realize what you want to teach is irrelevant. The problems your customers can solve with what you’re teaching them is the only thing that matters.

Just like we tell our students, customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students don’t care about the skills you want to teach them. Those are the products that you shouldn’t be selling them. When you focus solely on selling products, your business (i.e. your class) will fail. 

What your students care about are the problems those skills will solve for them. Just like any business, if you want to engage your customers/students, focus on their problems, not your products.

Imagine your students feeling a sense of control over their own experience in your class. What if your students trusted you? As you are building a syllabus, keep one question in mind. It is the only question that matters in our interactions with students:

What will help them learn?

Make a promise

Tell students what you hope they will discover, gain, and take away from your time together. Present your students with opportunities your course offers them. What questions will your course help them answer? What goals will your course help them achieve? Students want to know what problems they will wrestle with during the quarter or semester, so tell them what those problems are.

The template (which you can download below) I use has the following headings:

  • My Promise To You
  • Your Opportunities
  • Our Conversation

Explain how students can fulfill that promise

Invite students to engage with opportunities to discover, learn and grow (otherwise called activities). Help them believe that learning happens once they commit and engage. Share your expectations about thinking, reading, writing, and doing. Ask for their expectations.

The template (which you can download below) I use has a section titled The Nitty Gritty. Here I share my perspective of the overall goal, deliverables, learning objectives and questions to answer for the course.

I also include a schedule for the entire semester, including General Topics, Suggested Deliverables, and Suggested Worksheets from the FOCUS Framework tool that I suggest they use.

Begin a conversation about students’ learning

One reason many students are not engaged is because the class is not a two-way conversation; faculty do not ask about and students do not feel comfortable sharing their expectations, their skills, and what and how they want to learn.

If you want a more engaged classroom, your students need to believe that you want to hear them, and that you’re willing to adjust to what you hear.

I include the following language in my template (which you can download below):

This is your journey – I encourage you to create it, own it, and execute it.

Your Conversations Starts With Your Syllabus

Your class is a conversation, with each and every student. With a promising syllabus as an introduction, you create a learning paradigm in your classroom. Your role is a facilitator, not an actor. You design and play games with your students instead of delivering information.

Students create their own learning.

You participate by creating a game plan. It all begins with your syllabus.

Students construct knowledge, they don’t receive it. They learn by asking questions and seeking answers through active exploration. Students fail, quickly, and you help them regroup, process, and take aim again.

You become a supporter, a mentor, and a learning partner.

You can give students a new perspective on learning by inviting them into an entrepreneurial experience. It all begins with your syllabus.

Get the Teaching Entrepreneurship Syllabus Template

We’ve created a syllabus template to help you engage your students. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

syllabus template
Get the syllabus template

Use it as a basis to begin and guide your own conversation with your students.

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we talk how to create a living, breathing syllabus with your students that solves their real problems!

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