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2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Curriculum Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2018 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, we’ve update our list based on feedback from our fast growing community of now 4,600-strong entrepreneurship instructors.

The following are all lesson plans we’ve designed to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to generate ideas, interview customers, prototype and validate solutions.

5. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Many of our students believe an idea is the heart of entrepreneurship. In this lesson, we shatter that assumption, and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative.

This is the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help! We focus your students on problems in this lesson, because the best business ideas come from problems.entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

  • More feasible because they’re focusing on serving people they care about.
  • More impactful because they’re paying more attention to problems than they are products.
  • More creative because they’ll use those problems as inspiration.

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

4. Personal Business Plan

In this exercise, shared with us by Rebeca Hwang from Stanford University, students create a business plan about themselves. Students approach themselves as a company, and apply the tools they learned during their entrepreneurship course to understand how they add value to the world.

Students answer questions about their future vision and about their present plans and passions. One of our professor’s favorite components of this exercise is that students choose who grades their personal business plan (and that our colleagues at Stanford provide a very robust rubric)!

teaching entrepreneurship personal business plan

Through this exercise, students:

  • Learn to see themselves as a company,
  • Learn they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for their future,
  • Embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future,
  • Understand learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Teaching Customer Interviewing

We consistently hear from faculty that teaching customer interviewing is their biggest challenge. In this lesson plan students use a combination of ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards, with an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot), to learn:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • What questions they should and should not ask

customer interviewing teaching entrepreneurship

Students then get an interview script template they can use as the basis for their problem discovery interviews.

This exercise teaches your students:

  • What objectives they should and should not attempt to accomplish during a problem discovery interview and why,
  • What questions they should and shouldn’t ask during a customer discovery interview and why,
  • What a comprehensive interview script book looks like

View Customer Interviewing Cards Lesson Plan

2. 60 Minute MVP

One of our most popular lesson plans is the 60 Minute MVP. During this class, students launch an MVP website, with an animated video and a way to take pre-orders, in an hour with no prior coding experience. One of our professors told us after running this exercise:

“One student described it as like a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.”

Your students will love this class period; they progress from the anxiety of the challenge confronting them (build a website in 60 minutes) to the elation of their journey (launching a website they built in 60 minutes). This exercise creates tremendous energy in your classroom. Students create something real.

On the lesson plan page you can view an example video students created in about 20 minutes, built around actual customer problem interviews:

You can also view a great example of a website built in just 60 minutes:

Your students will create landing pages like thisUpscale dining at its finest!

Some critical learnings for your students are the true meaning of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that it’s easier to launch a product than they thought, and that the easiest thing about building a business is launching that product.

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

1. Teaching Customer Observations

During our years of research on what topics entrepreneurship professors struggle to teach, we heard “customer interviewing” over and over again. Our ExEC curriculum includes a robust method of customer interviewing, but customer observation is another great way to gather customer information. So we developed our Teaching Customer Observations lesson plan to help students learn learn the value of seeing how their customers experience problems, as opposed to imagining their customers’ problems.

In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2019 Annual Conference!

This exercise positions your students to observe customers in their natural settings. This allows them to discover new business opportunities and increase their empathy and behavioral analysis skills.

Our goal with this exercise is to teach students to have an empathy picture/analysis that frames the problem they are trying to solve before they jump to a solution. Having this clear picture will allow them to come up with better creative solutions.

During this two-class exercise, your students will experience customer empathy and how to plan and translate an observation experience into ideas for products and services. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Introduce students to a powerful tool to gather information on customer experience in real life situations. This allows students to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it.
  • Students practice how to listen with their eyes in order to understand what people value and care about, & what they don’t.
  • Provide a common reference experience for expanding on topics later in the course.

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

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Customer Interviewing Card Game

Customer Interviewing Card Game

Students don’t like customer interviews, but they do like games!

So we combined the two to make customer interviews more fun and approachable.

Our updated method of teaching customer interviews is using ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards with an online collaborative quiz game to show students:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should and should not be, and
  • What questions they should and should not ask

Fully Engaged Class

When you run this exercise, your students will be fully immersed in the lesson as they hurriedly sort cards into different piles and compete with one another using their phones to see who can correctly answer the most questions, the fastest.

Here’s what it looked like when we presented it at USASBE:

And here’s what one of the professors who tested this lesson part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) reported back:

Big hit tonight! Lots of competition!

Really got through on true purpose of problem discovery and what questions to ask / not ask. They are in much better shape going into interviews than my prior students.

– Jen Daniels, Georgia State University
Give the Customer Interview Cards lesson plan a shot. It’ll add a boost of energy to your course and your students will love it.

Step 1: Prepwork

To set students up for success, they need to do a little prework. Have your students watch this video on what to ask during customer interviews.

You need to do a little prework yourself:

  • Print and cut one set of Customer Discovery Interview Cards for every two students.
  • Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here.
  • Review the answers to the Interview and the Objective cards here and print a copy for your reference.
  • Print out one copy of the final interviewing script for each student.

Step 2: The Setup

Prior to this class session, familiarize your students with the purpose and he value of customer interviewing.

Pair students up, give each pair a set of the gray “Problem Interviews Objective” cards, and give them a few minutes to find the six objectives they should achieve during customer discovery interviews from the 12 objective cards.

Customer interview cards

You also need to set up Kahoot and project that on the screen. Turn all the game options off except for the following, which should be turned on:

  • Enable Answer Streak Bonus
  • Podium
  • Display Game PIN throughout

customer interview

Find detailed instructions for setting up Kahoot in the full lesson plan.

Step 3: Play the Warm-Up Game

Project Kahoot on the screen and read the first objective question aloud. Students use their phones to indicate if it’s a good or bad objective for a customer discovery interview based on how they categorized their cards.

After all students record their answer, you have an opportunity to discuss why a particular objective is good or bad for a customer discovery interview. Students will generally have different opinions for each of the 12 objectives.

This warm-up game is an opportunity for rich dialogue to help students deeply understand the purpose of customer interviews.

Progress through all 12 objectives, discussing each one as you go. Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through 12 objectives, but let everyone know this was just a warm-up game. The real game is next – to determine what are good and bad interviewing questions.

Step 4: Play the Real Game

Students now know what their customer interviewing objectives should be. Hand out the 24 Customer Interviewing Question cards, and students should identify which 9 questions are ideal to ask.

customer interview cards

Now start the Questions Kahoot game and have students join. Lead students through the same process you did with the Objectives Kahoot.

Students record their answer in Kahoot about what are good and bad Problem Interview questions. This is another powerful opportunity to discuss why a particular question is good or bad for a customer discovery interview.

Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through all the questions.

Crown the Customer Interviewing Champions! Reward them with some prize. Make a big deal of this to let students know how important customer interviewing is to entrepreneurs.

Step 5: The Interview Template

Your students now have a strong understanding of customer problem interviewing objectives and good questions to ask. It is time to give them an interview template they can use to connects all of the dots.

If you use this exercise as a part of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we provide an interview template for your students to use. Otherwise, you can create your own.

After playing the warm-up and the real game, students understand why they should ask the “good” questions.

Students also understand why they should not ask many of the questions they would intuitively think to ask.

Review each question to ensure they understand:

  • How to ask the question, and
  • Why they should ask the question

Now is your chance to answer any questions or fears your students have before sending them out into the field to interview actual customers! But have no fear, your students are well-prepared with solid questions that will help guide their ideation.

If you want to help your students deeply understand why and how to interview customers, get the full lesson plan by clicking below!


Get the “Customer Interviewing Cards” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Customer Interviewing Cards” lesson plan. This exercise walks you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share 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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Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

Gathering information from customers is the most valuable skill an entrepreneur can practice.

Two common methods for collecting that information are surveys and customer interviews. Customer interviews are, hands down, more valuable for entrepreneurs than surveys because they:

  • Provide the depth of insight to validate problem hypotheses
  • Provide emotionally driven marketing copy from the customer’s perspective
  • Identify high potential marketing channels
  • Identify realistic competitors, and competitive advantages
  • Provide potential pivot opportunities, by eliciting alternative problems to solve if hypothesized problem is not one customers are seeking a solution to

The qualitative nature of interview-based research gives entrepreneurs the chance to dive deeply into the problems and emotions a potential customer is feeling. It’s those feelings that the entrepreneur will ultimately resolve that will lead to their success.

Surveys in entrepreneurship classes, on the other hand, largely avoid addressing customers’ underlying emotional needs, because few, if any, potential customers will complete a survey about their feelings. Instead, customer surveys in entrepreneurship classes often use leading questions in an attempt to do the impossible – predict future customer behavior:

  • Would you use a product that does ______________?
  • How often would you use a product that does ________________?
  • How much would you pay for a product that does ______________?

The result of these surveys is that students either confirm their bias that there’s high demand for their product without discovering the emotional ways customers describe their problems, or they conclude there isn’t sufficient demand, leaving them without any actionable next steps either way.

Validation surveys provide no actionable marketing strategy if demand is “confirmed”, and no potential pivots if demand is “invalidated.”

While surveys have the allure of producing statistically significant data, statistically significant data on people’s predictions of their own behavior aren’t worth anything – especially in terms of business model validation. If we really want to answer questions like how much customer will pay for a product, there are far more effective ways of doing that than surveys, for example, selling pre-orders.

If we believe interviews are a far more powerful tool than surveys for business model validation, the question becomes:

How do we show students interviews are more powerful than surveys?

In our Surveys vs. Interviews Lesson Plan, we provide an experience that will demonstrate to your students just how much more effective interviews are than surveys, by having them complete both experiences, and compare them.

As a part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we recommend that before this lesson, students complete the following lessons:

  • Emotionally Intelligent Innovation. Here they learn that customer problems are the most effective place to look for value propositions, and
  • Idea Generation. Here they hypothesize the customers for whom they are uniquely suited to solve problems, and they hypothesize the problems they are uniquely suited to solve

With this background, they begin figuring out how to test those hypotheses.

Step 1: Problem Survey

Before class, ask your students to complete a Challenges Survey (find a sample in the lesson plan). Your students will be asked questions about the problems they face and how they have tried solving those problems.

In ExEC, we provide results from thousands of students at the universities using the curriculum so you can highlight how difficult it is to validate hypotheses about problems students face using a survey. What we find, and what your students will likely produce, are:

  • Low volume of responses
  • Short answers, with little emotional depth
  • Some responses aren’t even comprehendible

Step 2: Surveys vs. Interviews

Start class discussing with students the pros and cons of asking customers about their problems using surveys and using interviews. Each method of validation has pros and cons, as highlighted below. After the discussion, show this table and highlight any relevant points. Let students know they will now experience these differences.

Surveys Pros Surveys Cons Customer Interview Pros Customer Interview Cons
Fast Difficult to get responses to open-ended questions Higher quality information Takes longer to facilitate than surveys
Can produce statistically significant results Don’t provide insights on an emotional level Significant emotional depth Results aren’t statistically significant
Difficult to probe/ask follow-up questions Probe as deeply as necessary by asking follow-up questions
Often expensive (in time and money) to collect enough quantitative data to be statistically significant Can explore multiple problems

 

Step 3: Discuss Their Survey Experience

In the lesson plan, we guide you through a conversation with your students about this surveying experience. First, discuss why some students did not complete it. Then transfer those reasons to customers from whom they want to gather information. Next discuss what it felt like completing the survey, and how much emotional depth they provided.

Step 4: Interview Experience

We then guide you through introducing your students to customer interviewing. In groups, students will experience being interviewed, interviewing, and taking notes/observing. In these groups, students will ask and answer the same exact same questions from the survey, but in a format that’s much more conducive to problem validation.

Step 5: Compare their Survey vs Interview Experiences

The lesson ends with a discussion, focused on two key points:

  • Comparing the quality and depth of information gathered through each method, and
  • Comparing the ability to validate problem hypotheses using the information gathered through teach method

This is where the magic happens, as you reveal that in both their survey and interviews, they answered the exact same questions. As professor Emma Fleck told us after this lesson:

“I genuinely feel that this was a light bulb moment in my class. Students were frustrated and angry about this survey and didn’t see the point. However, 2 days later, when we did this as customer interviews, I was able to illustrate to them how much I could learn from using a different format with customers. They really started to understand as many of them had taken marketing research classes and were convinced that all of their customer learning would come from surveys!! Great exercise.”

Key Takeaways

This is a powerful lesson for students as they begin their entrepreneurial journey. It engages them in two important methods for gathering information to validate aspects of their business model. But more importantly, it offers two benefits:

  • Students feel the benefit of interviewing as a hypothesis validation tool.
  • Students practice customer interviewing. They learn how to be able to talk to anyone about their problems, so they can put themselves in a position to solve them.

 

Below is the complete lesson plan of the Surveys vs. Interviews exercise.


Get the “Surveys vs. Interviews” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Surveys vs. Interviews” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

Subscribe here to get our next lesson plan in your inbox!

Join 4,800+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

Experiential teaching is arguably the best way to engage entrepreneurship students. At the same time, classes without textbooks are notoriously difficult to assess:

  • No multiple choice tests means objective grades are hard to come by
  • Team & project based-grades cause stress and conflict between students
  • Grading written reflections is subjective, and doesn’t provide the “grade defensibility” more traditional assignments do
  • Grade distributions can be difficult to achieve when the focus is on skills as opposed to scores

We’ve spent the last year developing a robust assessment strategy for our textbook-replacing Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

With the new academic year upon us, we wanted to share our strategies in time for you to incorporate them.

ExEC’s Assessment Philosophy

Assess Process. Not Progress.

What that Means

  • Ensuring students understand how to create businesses that fulfill customers’ emotional needs (e.g. solve problems, achieve desires, etc.) via an iterative process consisting of devising and executing experiments to validate assumptions.
  • As teachers, we have very limited time with students – one, maybe two terms. The businesses they build during their time in school are not going to be their best/last chance at success. Students’ time with us is best spent developing a mindset that prepares them for creating future ventures.

Why We Believe it

A focus on process encourages:

  • Skill development (not syllabus gaming)
  • Meaningful learning about the market, customers, problems, etc. (not inflating/falsifying numbers/results)
  • An experimental entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset they can leverage regardless of where their career takes them

How We Achieve it

Evaluating students’ understanding and implementation of the business model validation process through:

  • Out-of-class exercises
  • Written reflections
  • Presentations
  • Small-group meetings with instructors

What Not To Assess:

  • Achieving “Product-Market Fit” or “Problem Validation.” Often times the best outcomes for business model experiments is determining the model isn’t worth pursuing in its current design. Students should be rewarded, not penalized, for invalidating their assumptions, even if it means they don’t validate a problem during their interviews, or generate revenue during their demand tests.
  • Number of interviews conducted. While students conducting very few interviews (e.g. < 5) aren’t demonstrating an understanding of the business model validation process, a high number of interviews doesn’t correlate to high comprehension of the process. In fact, in many cases, not being able to find customers to interview is a great way to invalidate assumptions. Avoid assessing students on the number of interviews they conduct, and instead, focus on the process they used to try to acquire their interviews, what they learned during their interviews, and how that informed their future hypotheses.
  • Number of paying customers or revenue generated. Putting emphasis here will incentivize students to alter the results of their experiments. Instead, we want to encourage students to run objective experiments, and report out on their actual results, even, and especially, if that means their experiments “fail.” Emphasizing their process, over their progress, will decrease students’ fear of failure, and encourage a more risk-tolerant and innovative mindset.
  • The originality or innovativeness of the idea. Assessing originality and innovativeness can be extremely subjective. Moreover, the focus of ExEC is to show students a process they can use to create successful businesses that solve problems. The solutions do not necessarily have to be original or innovative to solve a problem or teach students a process.

What To Assess:

Student’s ability to:

  • Effectively recruit prospective customers for business model validation experiments.
  • Design and execute business model validation experiments like demand testing, customer interviewing, etc.
  • Conduct interviews to understand the emotional perspective of their customers.
  • Use information from business validation experiments to devise and iterate possible solutions to their customer’s problems.
  • Assess the financial viability of their solution.
  • Describe their validation journey and understanding of the process.

An overview on how we implement our philosophy is below.

Assignments and Rubrics

There are four steps to the ExEC assessment model, all of which are graded on the following scale:

  • Full Credit: means the student demonstrates a consistent and complete understanding of, and ability to apply, the validation principles underlying the assignment.
  • Partial Credit: is given when students demonstrate an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the underlying principles, or difficulty applying the principles.
  • No Credit: is given when students demonstrate a lack of willingness to learn, or apply, the underlying principles of the exercise.

Instructors are given the freedom to implement this scale as they see fit (e.g. a points system, A-F grades, etc.). Details on the specific steps of ExEC’s assessment model below:

Step 1: Exercises

Written assignments students complete outside of class that help them design and execute their business model validation experiments.

There are 29 exercises students do outside of class during a typical 15-week ExEC course. So as to not overwhelm our instructors, we recommend they assess most exercises with a simple complete/incomplete scale, based on good faith effort. We do however call out four exercises that are worth assessing thoroughly:

  1. Business Plans vs Business Experiments: A written, or recorded, reflection on their Tower Building Challenge, where students educate a fictitious friend about the dangers of hidden assumptions and the power of experimentation and iteration.  Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. First exercise of the class.
    2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of the pros and cons of business planning versus business model validation.
    3. Underscores the importance of experimentation, which they will be assessed on repeatedly throughout the class.
  2. Your Early Adopters: This exercise demonstrates the difference between Early Adopters, Early Majority, et al., and helps students identify who they should conduct problem interviews to increase the efficacy of their outreach. Why grade this thoroughly:
    1. Basis for student interviews. If they don’t get this right, much of the rest of their exercises will falter.
    2. Will highlight the importance of empathizing with customers, which they will be assessed over and over throughout the course.
    3. Key principle of entrepreneurship.
  3. Customer Interview Analysis & Interview Transcripts: In these exercises, students record and transcribe (via automated transcription tools) each of their customer interviews, and build affinity maps to highlight the patterns in their qualitative data. Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. Demonstrates students’ ability to conduct customer interviews.
    2. Demonstrates students’ ability to empathize with customers.
    3. Demonstrates students’ ability to do qualitative analysis.
    4. Will determine future experiments.
  4. Experiment Design Template: This exercise asks students to design an experiment to test their Business Model’s riskiest assumption, including how they’ll execute the experiment, how long it will take to execute, what the success and failure metrics are, and what their next steps are based on the potential outcomes of the experiment. Why we grade this thoroughly:
    1. Demonstrates students’ ability to identify the riskiest assumptions of their business model.
    2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of effective success metric definition.
    3. Demonstrates students’ ability to design and execute experiments that test falsifiable hypotheses.

Step 2: Validation Check-Ins

Short, 10 minute meetings between our instructors and individual teams where instructors assess a team’s understanding and application of the validation process, and help them overcome specific challenges they’re facing designing/executing their experiments.

Each check-in’s assessment focuses on four elements:

Criteria
Preparedness: students completed and brought all required materials.
Empathy: students were able to understand the emotions driving their customers’ pains/gains, and utilize that understanding to effectively resolve their customers’ needs.
Experimentation: students effectively hypothesized falsifiable assumption and design, and implement experiments to test those assumptions.
Overall Process Execution: students effectively demonstrates an awareness of why they are taking a given step in the validation process, understand how it will lead to their next validation step, and execute those steps effectively

Step 3: Business Model Journal

A collection of Business Model Canvas iterations, and written reflections, detailing each student’s business model assumptions, experiments, and learnings throughout the course.

Unlike courses that produce a single Business Model Canvas at the end, ExEC students iterate their canvas upwards of 10 times throughout a course based on the experiments they run. Each iteration of their canvas is accompanied by a short reflection describing:

  1. What hypothesis the students tested this week
  2. The experiment they ran to test the hypothesis
  3. The results of that experiment
  4. How those results influence the experiment they’ll run next

Instructors can use this written history of each student’s validation journey, to assess how well the student understands and applies the validation process individually – independently of the contributions of their teammates.

Step 4: Process Pitch

A presentation of each team’s validation journey during the course, including all of their (in)validated assumptions, emphasizing their ability to execute the validation process, more than the final outcome of the business.

Students wrap up the ExEC course with a pitch, but not a traditional product-centric, Shark Tank-style pitch; this pitch is process-centric.

More important than the outcome of any single experiment, or grade on any one assignment, is helping students learn an entrepreneurial mindset – a process they can use to repeatedly use to solve problems of the people they want to serve.

This pitch not only helps instructors assess how well students understand the validation process, it will reinforcement one more time, the most important principles of that process:

  1. Empathy
  2. Experimentation

Exams

ExEC does not include any exams, choosing instead to focus student efforts on out-of-class projects. ExEC is however compatible with exams when appropriate or required by an institution.

For midterm or final exams, we recommend presenting students with a scenario and asking them to describe what should be done next. For example:

  • Illustrate the focal venture’s business model using the BMC. Students can also be asked to create different version of the BMC based on changes in a key aspect of the business model (e.g., customer segment).
  • Creating an interview guide (who to interview, where to find them, what to ask)
  • Identify the riskiest assumption of the focal venture’s business model and design an experiment to test it (what assumption to test, specifics of the experiment design, metric to track success)

For possible scenarios/cases that can be used for an exam, consider the following:

  • EcoWash: A business opportunity worth pursuing?
  • An episode of the podcast “The Pitch.” In each episode of this podcast, real entrepreneurs are pitching their ventures to real investors.
  • A news article about a newly-opened venture started by a local entrepreneur. (As an illustration, here is an article about an entrepreneur who started a shoe cleaning service). The business page of the local newspaper is a great source for possible scenarios.

Thoughts? Feedback?

That is the overview of the ExEC experiential assessment model. If you have any feedback, or suggestions on how to improve it, we’re all ears. Please leave a comment below.

We’d love to hear how you structure assessment in your experiential class.

On the other hand, if you…

Want Structured Assessment in your Class?

If you like the engaging of power of experiential teaching, and are looking for a structured approach to assessment, request your preview of ExEC today.

It only takes a couple days to get a feel for the material, and get your course set up to use it. If you’d like to try ExEC for your upcoming term, take a look today.

 

Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

How to Teach a “Walk A Mile” Exercise

This exercise highlights the relevance of understanding the customer’s thought process when they make a buying decision.

More specifically, it will help your students:

  • Understand the importance of talking to customers before creating a product
  • Gain confidence in speaking with customers
  • Understand customer pain points by ‘walking in their shoes’
  • Gain insights and new ideas from seeing things from the customers perspective.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird


Students are placed in a situation that allows them to complete a ‘walk-a-mile’ immersion in a 50-minute time frame.

The complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: The Set Up

You will want to review Best Practices for Restaurant Website which are provided in the lesson plan. BJ Restaurant is an example that fulfills the requirements of a good site.

Step 2: Class-time

This class starts with students brainstorming, as a customer, what they would want from a restaurant website.

You can help students brainstorm ideas by asking: “what info did you look up the last time before you went to a restaurant?”

You can also suggest different scenarios, such as going alone, with friends, for dinner, for work, etc.

The goal is for students to ‘put themselves’ in a customer’s shoes. To gain an understanding of a customer’s needs and wants.

Step 3: Break out session

You will have students form teams, and give them 15 minutes to evaluate their favorite restaurant’s website, to see if it meets their list of requirements. Teams should also be on the lookout for particularly bad websites, which they will present in the next step.

China Garden – Example of a bad website.

Step 4: Debrief

After the teams had time to review websites, have each group present the worst website they found and discuss why they feel it was not a good website.

Questions to address after each team presents can include:

  1. How did they arrive at this decision?
  2. How did they feel when the website didn’t fulfill their requirements?
  3. How does a website that fulfilled their requirements improve their experience?
  4. How did they feel this exercise helped them connect with customers?

See the complete lesson plan below for more ideas and topics to cover.

Results

When I run this in class, students have an a-ha momentwhen realizing how a better website, a website they would use, is created when you understand the customer. By making themselves the customer, they see how they wouldn’t use a poorly built site and how it would affect their impression of the restaurant.

Students will realize the benefits of talking to customers before creating a product or business because they have discovered the importance of understanding the customer’s perspective and thought process surrounding the buying decision.

By having students go through this exercise early in the course schedule, you can draw on their experiences when they are developing ideas, and be planning out their customer development work.


This article is a collaboration with Naema Baskanderi, UX Lead & Researcher, and UX Instructor. The goal of this exercise is for students to understand a critical component of creating a product or business that fulfills a customer’s needs.


Get the “Walk A Mile” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Walk A Mile” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


Last Call for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us this Thursday May 10th. Jim Hart, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

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Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Are you participating in our Digital Conference on May 10? If not, this is your chance to participate for free!

If you teach entrepreneurship and want to learn engaging exercises to do with your students that demonstrate:

  • Why interviews are more powerful than surveys
  • The best business ideas come from customers
  • That failure is the fastest teacher

…then you want register for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference.

We’re hosting a digital conference experiment, and we’re offering free tickets to attend the event live!

Use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Conference Agenda (all times PDT)

9am                       Kickoff with Doan Winkel

9:15-10:30am     Julienne Shields and the Ping Pong Challenge

Join Julie live in her classroom as she gives her students piles of ping pong balls and a complex mission to accomplish with them.

Watch (and help!) her students iterate their way to a solution as they discover the benefits of small, fast experiments and embracing the failures they encounter along the way.

Use this exercise in your class to help your students learn to take calculated risks and an iterative/experimental approach to solving problems.

10:45-12:00pm     Jim Hart Creating with Customers in Mind

Jim will walk you through an interactive, partnered, exercise you can use with your students to help them understand:

  • Creativity comes from asking the right questions
  • The best ideas are inspired by customers
  • Interviewing customers isn’t as hard/scary as it seems

If you want to help your students with idea generation and motivating them to interview customers, definitely join Jim’s session.

12:15-1:30pm     Justin Wilcox Surveys vs. Interviews

Justin will show you one of the most popular exercises from the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

This exercise will show your students once and for all, why it’s better for them to use customer interviews for problem discovery, than it is to use surveys!

Our ExEC professors cite this lesson as producing “Light Bulb Moments” in helping students understand the power of customer interviews. Join us to see it in action!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern


It Works In Our Curriculum, So Why Not A Conference?

After the positive impact of our ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum’s “Show, Don’t Tell” approach to experiential learning across 20 universities, we decided to apply that approach to the conference experience.

We know you enjoy learning by doing. We enjoy showing, not telling. It’s a perfect match!

See you there – be sure to grab your ticket here! Remember, register even if you can’t join us live because we’ll have recordings available.

Last Chance for Free Tickets

Remember to use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Click play above for the customer interviewing tutorial outlined in this post.

You want your students to “get out of the building” and talk to customers, but that idea can be anxiety producing, for both you, and your students.

They’re anxious because they have to talk to strangers in a way they’ve never had to before, and you’re anxious because you know customer interviewing is the point in the course when students are most likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

You’re hearing every excuse imaginable from your students about why they haven’t interviewed customers:

  • They don’t want to ask the wrong questions.
  • They aren’t sure who the “right” people are to interview.
  • They just broke up with their girlfriend. Or they have the swine flu. Or both.

Bottom line is your students are terrified about this critical step in the entrepreneurship process. They are afraid of the unknown. When the time comes for them to step outside the classroom and validate their assumptions with actual customers, they are likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

How do you turn their fear into excitement?

You show them what customer interviewing looks and feels like. You do a live customer interview in class.

Making yourself vulnerable in front of your students will give them the confidence they need to succeed! Click To Tweet

Below, and in our lesson plan, we lead you through the 5 simple steps to conduct a real customer interview call during your class.

Live Customer Interviewing

mTurk is short for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. What you need for live customer interviewing is a human being who has a problem. The mTurk marketplace is the perfect place to find a stranger who experiences a particular problem.

mTurk Customer Interviewing

Note: Do not stage this interview by having a colleague or friend or business partner call in. It is imperative you create the situation your students are so nervous about – interviewing a stranger about a real problem they experience.

You need to feel a little nervous about this process, and share those feelings with  your students so they know it is normal to feel that way. You are the role model;

If you want your students to engage, you need to show them how Click To Tweet

Class 1: Create a HIT on mTurk

A HIT is short for a human intelligence task. Create a new HIT here. In this example, we want to talk to parents who have children in day care.

Customer interviewing through mTurk

Step 1: Describe the HIT

Here you want to provide enough details so the people looking for tasks on mTurk can decide if they fit the criteria.

Keywords are an important way for people to find your HIT.

Describe the HIT

Super Important:

You must turn off “Master Turkers.” Master Turkers are a pre-screened, and very small, subset of the MTurk population. You want any folks on MTurk to be able to contact you, as long as they meet your qualifications. Here’s how to do that:

Step 2: Pick a Price

We recommend you offer between $.50 and $2.00 so it is attractive (but not too attractive!) to workers.

Pick a price

Step 3: Write up the HIT

Provide quick, clear criteria and instructions for the workers looking for tasks to connect with you for an interview. Include the date and time when you would like them to call you during your next class session.

Write up the HIT

Feel free to copy and paste (and customize) this HTML for writing up the HIT:

<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you are a parent who picks your kids at day care at least once/week, please call us for a 5-10 minute phone survey.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Please dial the following number:</span></p>
<ul>
<li><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>*67&nbsp; [your google voice number]</span></li>
</ul>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Note: dialing *67 before the actual phone number will protect the privacy of your phone number. &nbsp;</span><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you reach voicemail again, please wait 10 minutes.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>&nbsp;<b>Required after Calling</b>&nbsp;- after we finish the survey, we will give you a password to confirm you successfully completed it. Please enter it below:</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”><b>Password:</b>&nbsp;<textarea rows=”1″ cols=”80″ name=”answer”></textarea></span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Thank you very much! &nbsp;We really appreciate your help! &nbsp;</span></p>

Note: the “password” is a word you tell your interviewee to type in once the interview is complete.  You’ll see what they type in before you approve the HIT (i.e. pay them) so you can ensure only the people who successfully completed the interview get paid.

Step 4: Create a New Batch

Step 5: Publish the HITs


Class 2: The Call

Remind your students of the context of your call so they understand what problem you’re trying to solve, and who the customer is you’ll be talking to. After your call, debrief the call by asking your students to critique it.

What went right? What went wrong? Why did it go wrong?

How could you have kept the person on track?

What were some stronger questions to ask? What questions should you not have asked?

Customer Interviewing Homework

Give your students homework of critiquing another real customer interview. The more real interviews they see and hear, the more comfortable they are conducting them, the more engaged they are in your class. Here is a sample interview you can use for a homework assignment.

Get the Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Modeling Customer Interviewing Lesson Plan to help you excite your students about customer interviewing! 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 provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

Join 4,800+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
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.

Join 4,800+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.
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.

Join 4,800+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.