Over the past couple years, I’ve slowly adopted the “flipped classroom“, moving away from using class time to present content and using homework for application of that content. I’ve incorporated video lectures, blogging, discussion forums, working on the startup and other pedagogies for students to learn content outside of class. Then, in class, we spend the time almost purely for interaction, activities, and exercises so students can extend the learning and learn from one another.
On Monday, I had the first class of a new “special topics” course I’m teaching, Lean Startup Lab. The main purpose is for students to make accelerated progress with their startup ideas through a systematic process that minimizes wasteful time. The entire course is based on the lean startup methodology, customer development process, and business model canvas.
In designing the course, it occurred to me that the flipped classroom was perfect for lean startup-based and other hands-on entrepreneurship courses.
The best way for entrepreneurs to learn is by doing. And entrepreneurship, by definition, involves taking action. So, from a learning perspective, nothing beats actually taking the steps towards launching a new venture. Combine that with the next best way for entrepreneurs to learn – from the experiences of peers – and the learning goes to an entirely different level.
At DePaul, students typically get only three hours a week in the classroom yet a startup obviously requires far more than that to make significant progress. So the only way to maximize the learning is to work like crazy outside of class and then use the classroom for students to share experiences, learn from one another, hear from the experiences of seasoned entrepreneurs, and ask questions in a safe environment.
This makes even more sense with the lean startup methodology and its focus on “getting out of the building” to learn as fast as possible. The most effective way for an entrepreneur to learn from customers is to talk with them which, for most students, can technically be accomplished only outside of class. Furthermore, the only way to test the hypotheses they have about their business idea and potential (which used to be in the archaic form of a business plan) is to run experiments…again outside of the proverbial building.
So that’s what I’m doing with Lean Startup Lab.
It requires an intense amount of out-of-class activities: talking to customers, updating business model canvases, reading about lean startup concepts, running experiments on hypotheses, attending events, blogging on lessons learned, and more.
To me, it’s not homework, it’s actually the “content” of entrepreneurship: taking action and doing the things that entrepreneurs should do. And since I can’t cram it all into a three-hour timeframe, I rely on their ability to get it all done on their own time.
If they do, I know they’re driven, ambitious, and hard-working, the best inputs for entrepreneurial success. If they don’t, perhaps they’re not cut out to be entrepreneurs or that particular venture isn’t the right one for them.
In class, I can also measure what they’ve learned from the interaction we have: their questions, presentations, and peer exchanges. I can call them out if I believe they’re B.S.’ing and congratulate them if I believe they’re being sincere. I can hear about their ups and downs, starts and stops, hopes and fears. I can see the passion in their eyes and hear it in their voices, concluding that they’re not viewing all that work as work. Most critically, as a teacher, I can learn over time whether or not they’re learning.
Of course, these are all hypotheses that I myself am testing.