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Increasing number of research provide evidence that
entrepreneurial learning leads to better performance by the entrepreneurs and in
turn, leads to successful ventures. Entrepreneurial learning is defined as the
process that involves experience and cognitive abilities to cultivate and apply
the gained knowledge for the purpose of entrepreneurship. It allows an
individual to learn to recognize and act on opportunities, organize and manage
ventures (Wang and Chugh, 2015). Sarah Hashemi in her book Anyone Can Do It,
acknowledges that an important aspect of being an entrepreneur is to be able to
see and exploit the opportunities that are present around us.      

Since different researchers’ approach the field and concept
of entrepreneurial learning differently and their definitions are quite
incongruent in nature, this essay seeks to approach the idea from three
perspectives. First, biographical or interpretivist approach seeks to integrate
human interest into the study (Goulding, 1998). Second is the rational choice
perspective which is quantitative, based on econometrics and is purely
mathematical in nature. The third approach seeks to understand the
psychological perspective of the learning process.

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Interpretivism:

The interpretivist perspective illustrates that for deeper
understanding of this world, one must interpret it. The methodology includes
series of objective questions posed by an interviewer to the participants. The
interviewer or inquirer must clearly and explain distinctively the meaning of
the behavior and language expressed by the interviewee. This approach in social
science is attributed to ‘knowing and being’ and not just in relation to the
methodology used (Schwandt, 1994). Researchers often using this approach have
subdivided the entrepreneurs’ lives into segments to further understand and
conduct an in depth search for the causes and consequences of entrepreneurial
learning (Rae and Carswell, 2000; Cope, 2011). David Rae (2000) in his research
has subdivided the entrepreneurs’ lives into five segments. The first two
stages being early life, which includes education, familial background, etc.,
and early career, which includes training for a profession, temporary or part
time work, first jobs. It was the following stages that was Rae was most
interested in. These latter stages include entering a venture, followed by
growing the said venture, and moving on from the venture in search of newer
opportunities in life. Jason Cope (2011) has said that the process of learning
from a venture failure includes three important stages, that is the aftermath,
which includes the different costs one must bear from a venture failure,
ranging from emotional costs to financial costs, followed by the next stage,
which is the recovery, a healing stage, associated with rehabilitation and
learning and this stage is followed by re-emergence, which presents the
learning outcomes after a failure.

Unlike common research, it should be established that the
interpretivist perspective does little to provide definitive laws and theories
that a research is based upon. The nature of entrepreneurship, according to the
interpretivist approach cannot be quantified and therefore, for better
understanding, it is approached as a “human phenomenon”, where culture and a
social sense is integrated, hence the research is approached more objectively
to analyze the external reality (Rae, 2000). These stages are personal to each
individual and provides a constructed sense-making process from which the
narrator or the researcher should derive general themes and meaning. These researchers
provide a local knowledge of the interviewee, which is highly contextualized
and not just providing discrete accounts (Steyaert, 1997).

 

Criticism of this
approach:

The widest criticism of the interpretivist model is whether
the context or ‘stories’ provided by the participants can be believed. Since
the perspective relies heavily on the human context, general human behavior
should also be taken into consideration. Factors such as exaggeration or
concealment could easily distort the researcher’s ability to reach fair
conclusions and derive meanings.

An important part of this approach is to judge whether the
participants have learned or not. Rae (2000) in his researched defined “learned”
as change that permits the individual to do things in a fashion that is more
appropriate. But the interview process takes into account only what the
participants know cognitively, and does not account for the actions that has
been taken by them to judge the learning process. It should also be noted that
as humans, an individual cannot give a correct, valid statements of the process
that they have gone through or progress they have made based on
“self-ascriptions”, which are they ways we know, think, learn and more (Harre,
1989). This is because we give descriptions of our perceived inner thoughts and
feelings and not exact details of the events. 
    

Psychology:

The psychological perspective in entrepreneurial learning establishes
a relationship between the learning process and those with that of entrepreneurial
attitudes and also links cognition with entrepreneurial abilities (Corbett,
2007). The cognitive aspect of the research explains how the mental makeup of
an individual is related to the identification and exploitation of
opportunities for entrepreneurial purposes. Earlier models in this field of
research, i.e., entrepreneurship, have failed to address the process of
learning and the effects of learning (Corbett, 2005).

Within the psychological perspective, there are different
approaches that have been explored to address said perspective. The first
approach is the trait approach and the second is the cognitive approach (Kolvereid and Isaken, 2012). The trait approach is used to establish the
psychological characteristics that distinguishes entrepreneurs from
non-entrepreneurs. The trait approach addresses the question of what the
entrepreneur does rather than the normative question of who the entrepreneur is
(Gartner, 1988, cited in Kolvereid and Isaken, 2012, p28).
With focusing on what the entrepreneur does, this approach provides an emphasis
on the learning undertaken by the entrepreneur. The cognitive approach associates
entrepreneurship with the individuals’ thought process and behavior and
categorizes them as intuitivists, who are non-conformists, and address issues
in an open-ended fashion and analysts, who are more compliant and structured in
addressing issues (Allinson and Hayes, 1996, cited in Kolvereid
and Isaken, 2012, p28).

As previously stated, entrepreneurial learning includes
experience and cognitive abilities. Using the Experiential Learning Theory or
the Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning , where experiential learning is
explained as the process where knowledge is created through the transformation
of experience. Corbett (2007) conducted his research with participants from the
technology sector. The cycle has four models, which are the concrete
experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active
experimentation (Kolb, 1989, cited in Corbett, 2005). Kolb presents two ways in
which information can be acquired. They are apprehension, which is based on
tangible qualities of immediate experiences. The second is comprehension, which
focuses on conceptual interpretation and symbolic interpretation. He also
presents two ways in which individuals transform experience to knowledge, which
is opposed to each other. It is either transforming either through extension or
intension.  Extension is when ideas and
experiences are tested in the real world and intension is when ideas and
experiences are internally reflected upon. These two dimensions present the
four models of the experiential learning. The purpose of this theory is to address
three major themes. The first theme is learning, i.e., the method in which
experiences are transformed. The second theme is the unique ways in individuals
learn and these differences are important to analyze how each opportunity is
identified and final theme this theory seeks to address is that these different
learning styles may vary on effectiveness depending upon the opportunity
identification and exploitation process.

Criticisms of this
approach:

Corbett (2007) conducted his research among participants
from the technology sector and the sector is highly uncertain with much
ambiguity. Hence the results derived from the study is not the most applicable
to be used among the general population. This could be said on studies which
focuses on one particular group, whereby the results are often unable to be
taken out of context. The study also placed a lot of emphasis on the information
or the knowledge aspect, whereas the focus should have been on the learning and
assumed that both gaining information could be the same as the learning
process.

Corbett’s (2007) research examines individual level
characteristics for firm levels and trying to explain firm outcomes using
individual level characteristics might not provide the best results. These
independent and dependent variables could have been mismatched, leading to
inaccurate results. The trait approach can criticized since previous data
provides evidence that individual ‘traits’ are not prime determinants of
outcomes related to entrepreneurship (Kolvereid and
Isaken, 2012).

Rational Choice:

The rational choice perspective or based on economics,
explains that the role of an entrepreneur is primarily to process information.
But, in fact not all entrepreneurs have the same level of information, or even
when they do, they don’t necessarily process information the same way, leading
to different results. This differentiates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful
ones (Frankish, Roberts and Storey, 2008). Economists like De Clerq and
Sapienza (2005) believe that entrepreneurial learning requires a rational view
since objective learning is impossible to verify.

One method of understanding entrepreneurial learning is to
simply verify whether the business survives or not. This way, we can understand
the learning process quantitatively (Frankish, Roberts and Storey, 2008).
However Jovanovic’s (1982) argument was that the ability of entrepreneurs’ is
drawn from a known distribution and entrepreneurs are unable to recognize their
ability before entry. The expansion or contraction of a firm is based on the
entrepreneurs’ evaluation, which is their individual judgement on ability to
perform. The methodology used in the rational choice perspective hypothesizes
scenarios and provides results from a data set that is collected from
entrepreneurs. Although the data set might seem stochastic, there has been results
in which entrepreneurs with higher ability trade for a longer time and probability
of exiting decreases with time. 

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