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Conceptualizing the observational side of entrepreneurial learning: a social learning theory approach

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date2012
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Event35th Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Conference - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 7/11/20128/11/2012


Conference35th Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Conference


Objective: The overall objective of this paper is to uncover in-depth processes used by entrepreneurs when learning through observing significant people. As entrepreneurs have numerous opportunities to learn from observation, this paper builds upon Bandura’s (1977, 1986) Social Learning Theory to propose a conceptual model which focuses on learning from the most significant observations (Kempster 2006). This paper adds to the present understanding of entrepreneurial learning since until now, the bulk of scholarship on entrepreneurial learning theory has focused on the importance of experiential learning (Wang & Chugh 2010).

Prior work: So far, two dominant learning traditions - organizational and adult learning - have driven the majority of theoretical core conceptualisation of entrepreneurial learning. Scholars rooted in the organizational learning tradition conceptualise learning by mainly adopting organizational learning theories to the entrepreneurial context (e.g. Franco and Hasse (2009)). In contrast, others scholars have built upon adult learning theories (e.g. Cope (2003) and Corbett (2005)). In accordance to the development of learning theories, recent works in entrepreneurial learning have also highlighted the importance of social learning (Hamilton (2011)). This paper joins the latter group of researchers in order to explore how entrepreneurs learn from observing significant people.

Approach: An inductive qualitative research approach was used to explore the following research question: how do entrepreneurs learn by observation? In particular 18 entrepreneurs were interviewed through semi structured interviews in 2011. Each participant was asked to draw a timeline highlighting significant people in their entrepreneurial journey. At a later stage participants were asked to describe what they considered to be the learning acquired from each significant person in the timeline. Data was recorded in digital format and most timelines were photographed. Data was then analyzed drawing on grounded theory procedures (Corbin & Strauss 2008).

Results: Based on Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory our findings suggest that entrepreneurs go through a 5 stage process when learning through observation of significant people: Connection, Retention, Stock, Evaluation and Reproduction.

Implications: This study carries implications for researchers, practitioners and course organizers. For researchers it adds to the ongoing debate on conceptualizing entrepreneurial learning. For practitioners this research highlights the need for a constant screening of role models. For entrepreneurship course organizers our research suggests the requirement for the incorporation of observational learning spaces in the student’s learning journey.

Value: Extends the established framework for entrepreneurial learning by conceptualizing the process by which entrepreneurial observational learning is acquired.