Bell, Robin (2018) The Impact and Support of Constructivist Learning Environments to Develop Entrepreneurial and Enterprising Graduates to Enhance Employability. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Governments have encouraged higher education institutions (HEIs) to develop entrepreneurial, innovative and highly employable graduates. Accordingly, employability, enterprise and entrepreneurship are all high on the agendas of United Kingdom (UK) HEIs (Sewell and Dacre Pool, 2010) and the use of constructivist approaches, such as experiential learning and problem based learning, may offer an effective way to develop the entrepreneurial, enterprising and employability skills that both graduates and employers need.

Constructivist approaches in higher education (HE) have become increasingly common across a wide range of disciplines in recent decades. This is particularly true in the field of entrepreneurship where the development of entrepreneurial skills requires different hands-on or experience based approaches to the more traditional didactic lecture based teaching methods (Jones and English, 2004; Jones and Iredale, 2010; Zahra and Welter, 2008). Constructivism lends itself to active based learning approaches which can result in improved problem solving skills, improved knowledge retention, and improved motivation (Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Rhem, 1998; Snyder, 2003). Furthermore, unlike didactic teaching approaches, constructivist active learning can lead to changes in both thought and attitude, and the development of behavioural skills (Bligh, 2000; Grimley et al., 2011).

Whilst there is much practical practitioner based research focusing on the implementation of constructivist enterprise education, there is limited existing research focusing on the constructivist learning theory underpinning constructivism. This has led to a degree of separation between practitioner-based research and constructivist learning theory in abstraction and application.

This thesis addresses three research questions

• How can constructivism be applied to enterprise education in HE?
• What is the relationship between constructivist learning environments and the development of enterprising graduates?
• How can learning environments be created and implemented to effectively support the development of enterprising graduates?

This thesis investigates a range of constructivist pedagogic interventions across a range of academic levels, subjects, and disciplines, both within and outside of formal curricula, to explore their ability to develop enterprising skills and to consider how they can be created, developed and implemented to effectively support the development of these skills.

In addition, the portfolio contains an assessment of the relationship between a range of entrepreneurial attitudes and the likelihood of graduate employment in a professional field six months after graduation in Paper 1. This provides some quantitative evidence that enterprising skills that can be developed by constructivist active learning can have an impact on graduate employability.

This portfolio provides a strong case for the use of constructivist approaches in developing a wide range of entrepreneurial and enterprising skills that graduates require, enhancing their employability and enabling them to be more enterprising. These skills included developing a proactive disposition, achievement motivation, self-efficacy, interpersonal skills, team working, communication skills, planning, attitude to risk, leadership and a preference for innovation. This portfolio found support for the contention that in general, students respond positively to these approaches and satisfaction levels are high e.g. in Paper 5 and in Paper 6. However, Papers 2 and 4 highlighted the importance of adequate temporary scaffolding, where appropriate, to ensure access to learning for all students.

The learning points that can be taken from the portfolio to help develop and create the best pedagogy and constructivist learning environment for students to maximise the benefits of constructivism are summarised in Appendix 2. Paper 7 considers the development of a constructivist intervention that involves external stakeholders. This research focused on the perspectives of students, faculty and stakeholders to better understand the creation, implementation, and development of such pedagogic interventions.

This thesis concludes that enterprise education in HE should be based not only on didactic teaching but should also involve the application of constructivist active learning approaches (particularly experiential learning) based and grounded on constructivist learning theory to develop enterprise skills. Thus enterprise education can be viewed as a mixture or fusion of didactic teaching to impart essential theoretical knowledge and the application of constructivist learning approaches which seek to develop experiential knowledge and skills, which can be developed through both experience and reflection.

This thesis contributes to knowledge by combining constructivist learning theory and practice based research to underpin the application of constructivism in enterprise education. It provides additional depth and breadth to research on constructivist pedagogy, using a range of research methods across a range of educational settings, to support the development of enterprise skills and employability. It identifies how to achieve best practice in the delivery of constructivist learning through the implementation of constructivist learning principles and highlights the pivotal role of the educator in supporting student learning in a constructivist learning environment.

Robin Bell FINAL THESIS.PDF - Accepted Version
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