Bringing Critical Thinking Into the Entrepreneurship Classroom: Six Techniques

IUSE Workshop Series, Critical Thinking; photo of a woman thinking and holding up a marker

Through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) workshop series, funded by the National Science Foundation, social scientists collaborated with entrepreneurship educators to bridge the gap between their areas of expertise. The resulting white papers provide research-based insights and classroom techniques for inclusive entrepreneurship educators. This ongoing series currently covers Teamwork, Motivation, and Critical Thinking. Stay tuned for more topics!

“Critical thinking is not only closely intertwined with entrepreneurship, but it is also a meta-skill to master other entrepreneurship skills/abilities.”—Carla Firetto, Abdullah Konak

Successful entrepreneurs not only have to engage in entrepreneurship processes—the knowledge and skills to turn an idea into a business—they also need an entrepreneurial mindset that looks for problems and solutions. Critical thinking is crucial to both of these elements. Throughout the entrepreneurial journey, from customer discovery to idea generation to business model innovation and beyond, critical thinking skills are necessary to engage these complex tasks in a meaningful, useful fashion.

Entrepreneurship education must therefore include critical thinking skills, and fortunately, the messy nature of starting a business is the perfect subject matter for teaching critical thinking.

Carla Firetto and Abdullah Konak have outlined six tools that entrepreneurship educators can use that teach both entrepreneurship and critical thinking.

Download the full white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Critical Thinking: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

Carla Firetto, assistant professor of Educational Psychology at Arizona State University
Abdullah Konak, distinguished professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Pennsylvania State University, Berks

1. Encourage Students To Probe Their Own Decision-Making

Asking questions in a purposeful and intentional manner pushes students to develop their critical thinking skills to figure out answers. Thousands of years after its invention, the Socratic method still works. In particular, ask students to clarify their ideas, probe their own reasoning, and consider different viewpoints as they work through a complex project. In entrepreneurship, being able to identify inconsistencies and question assumptions is essential to the process, and will improve students’ decision-making skills. The questions you ask them become the questions they learn to ask themselves.

2. Teach Logic Through Guided Role-Play Activities

Group discussion and debate are the most common ways that reflection and argumentation—asking students to express their thoughts and reactions and also to construct logical arguments—show up in the classroom. But these are highly flexible tools for teaching critical thinking and can be put into practice in many different formats: spoken or written, individually or in groups, led by instructors or led by students, or as self- or peer-assessments. In entrepreneurship classes, consider combining reflection and argumentation with role-playing when you ask students to evaluate one another’s ideas and projects. Try out tools like Bono’s Six Hats and other role playing scenarios to facilitate structured reflection and argumentation. Role-playing can make argumentation or critiques more fun, less confrontational, and easier for students to engage with and learn from.

3. Dig Into Problem- and Project-Based Learning

Active learning is crucial to entrepreneurship education, and it is a powerful tool for teaching critical thinking. As the authors write, “Critical thinking skills can be developed by interacting with and learning about a thought-provoking subject matter without explicitly introducing critical thinking.” When students engage with a hands-on, real-world entrepreneurship project or problem, the complexity of the task demands that they apply critical thinking in order to succeed.

4. Untangle the Complexity of Building a Business with Case Studies

By presenting real-world business scenarios with multiple perspectives and dilemmas, case studies allow students to analyze complex situations. To enhance critical thinking skills, ask students to identify key aspects of the case, consider various viewpoints, and evaluate alternatives and consequences. Push these skills even further by holding discussions that encourage students to reflect on their analytical processes.

5. Offer Experiential Learning Through Virtual Simulations

Simulations and interactive games are increasingly popular in entrepreneurship education for their ability to simulate real-world business scenarios. They offer multiple decision pathways and unexpected events, and they allow students to explore various strategies and see the outcomes of their choices play out. These dynamic, immersive learning environments stimulate critical thinking. Games that involve role-playing and strategic decision-making are particularly effective in fostering critical thinking skills.

6. Connect Students with Mentors To Build Their Skills

Mentors play a key role in experiential learning and entrepreneurship. They help students internalize their experiences by providing guidance, feedback, and constructive criticism, which then enhances problem-solving and decision-making skills. In entrepreneurship education, mentorship is often linked with extracurricular activities like student competitions, incubators, and accelerators. In these settings—or in classroom-based experiential learning projects with mentors—the mentors encourage students to explore new ideas and also provide a reality check through constructive criticism. Mentors help students focus and develop their skills effectively.

7. The Ability To Think Critically

Critical thinking is, of course, not only useful in entrepreneurship. Once learned, the habits of critical thinking can be applied to any endeavor, any problem. Teaching critical thinking is essential to teaching entrepreneurship; successful entrepreneurs will use these skills every day as they face unexpected situations and are called on to make important decisions under imperfect circumstances.

The reverse is also true. Entrepreneurship is a wonderful vehicle for teaching critical thinking. Not every student in an entrepreneurship class will found a company… or three. But every single student will benefit from learning critical thinking and honing their critical thinking skills on this challenging and engaging material.

Dig into the research and get more insights and classroom tools. Download the white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Critical Thinking: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under IUSE Grant No. 2220329.

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