Yvette Larsson is the Co-founder of AHA! Accelerating Education. She is an international Swede, who is passionate about learning and innovation so that we can create a better world together. She uses applied neuroscience, design thinking, and project-based learning, focusing on our human potential and the question: What does it mean to be human in a global age of technology? Her personal story starts 100 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, where she grew up with a lot of freedom and adventure to roam the mountains and the forests of Swedish Lapland and developed her sense of creativity and entrepreneurial mindset from growing up in a UNESCO protected area with omnipresent nature as her playground. She became an avid reader, traveled in her imagination, and explored ideas. She also became a vivid traveler early on, as her grandparents and parents were explorers.
As I start writing this article, the COP 27 Conference is about to start in Egypt. We are on the brink of winter in northern Europe and with rising electricity prices we all brace ourselves. The war is going on in Ukraine and we have high inflation at hand. Polarization in society is on the rise and a far-right party has just entered a coalition government in Sweden, the country where I live. We just came out of a pandemic and youth well-being is in the spotlight.
These are all examples of challenges in the world we live in now. These are all reasons why entrepreneurship in schools is so important. The unpredictability of today prompts innovation, and the capability to see opportunity for sustainable change. We need to support young people with the skills they need in order to navigate the reality we live in, to not only survive, but thrive and write a hopeful future.
I am a mum and an educator. I am also someone who is sometimes seen as an innovator within the areas of learning and education. I meet young people every day in my role as an educator, and I focus my work on looking at key questions such as “What does it mean to be human in a global age of technology?”, “What would happen if we educated the heart first and foremost?”. I apply neuroscience in the way I teach and learn, as behavioral science is a key to building strong and healthy relationships, that are the foundation of any society.
Let’s look at five key concepts that can equip learners with skills, to become the game-changers that the world needs now, key concepts that support an entrepreneurial way of thinking and doing.
1. Project-based learning and design thinking
Let’s look at project-based learning as a method and design thinking as a cognitive pathway to solve complex challenges. Through PBL and DT learners are set up for the ambiguity of an uncertain world. They are not given a blueprint, but rather a road map with tools for them to find ways to be problem-solvers, or I would rather use the word solution-finders. PBL and DT in school-settings are focusing highly on student action and agency. The learner is in the driver’s seat and learns to pose analytical questions, be an inquirer, invent new solutions through immersive hands-on real-life challenges. The educator in the room is a facilitator, a guide, who is giving micro-lessons on subjects that are connected to the project and can offer tools and strategies. When the learners learn how to drive an innovation process, s/he can take on any challenge, as this skill is transferable to any area in their lives.
What I have learnt from working with young people at school and at our AHA! Youth Hackathons is that young people wish to be trusted, they want autonomy to explore and create, and they don’t want us adults to talk for hours on end about content, they want to be active themselves. Educators need to trust the process of what young humans can do, take a step back and watch the magic happen.
We are living in a knowledge dominated society, where anyone can learn anywhere with the help of a simple connection to wifi and an electronic device such as a smartphone, iPad or computer. AI is becoming smarter and smarter and in this context skills are important. Some name them future skills, or 21st century skills, but the future is already here. I like to refer to them as essential skills, skills that innovation leaders need, skills that learners of entrepreneurship need.
In the scope of human history and development, there are two skills which stand out: collaboration and communication. Hare and Woods wrote the book The Survival of the Friendliest, where they put forward the thesis that Homo Sapiens survived, not because we were the strongest who walked the savannah, but the ones who worked together and could communicate and solving challenges together.
Communication and collaboration are the two skills that stand out when it comes to leadership in entrepreneurship. In close connection comes creativity, creativity to find new ways, to moon-shoot, to imagine new ways, to plan scenarios, to dare asking difficult questions. Creativity marries well with courage. One needs to be courageous in order to act on game-changing thoughts, such as “Shall we build a bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark, with an adjoining tunnel under the sea?”. Someone thought that thought. We do have a bridge that connects our two countries now, with an adjoining tunnel. Someone also had the thought “Shall we go to the Moon?” “Shall we build a pyramid?” “Shall we try and find the cure for cancer?” “Shall we build an app that can help…?”
Other skills that support entrepreneurship are for example digital skills, research skills, critical thinking skills, self-awareness, well-being skills, empathy, and compassion.
Skills are transferable in any area in your life, hence, once learning them as an entrepreneur, they will be useful in all your life.
3. Authentic challenges in a classroom without walls:
Very often students can’t see the connection to what they are studying in school and how they will use that knowledge in their real-life. It is important to understand the why, the purpose, and us teachers need to be better at connecting a young person’s life to what he or she is studying. When studying entrepreneurship in school it is of utmost importance that the projects are connected to the world we live in, to a challenge that needs to be solved in what I call a classroom without walls. The students will be more motivated if they are part of the process of choosing what the project should be about, be it youth well-being, urban mobility areas, safety, or school itself, for example. Motivation and engagement increase when the projects become real. If we think about it, why wouldn’t everything we do in school be connected to young people’s real life?
4. Growth Mindset:
When working in teams we sometimes run into challenges within the team, we need to overcome hurdles – and the growth mindset plays an important role here, to overcome those hurdles. Our brain is moldable. We have neuroplasticity, which means that we can create new pathways in our brains, depending on the way we think.
Entrepreneurs develop resilience through practicing a growth mindset – to not give up but to put one foot in front of the other. Entrepreneurs with a growth mindset are not afraid to fail, as they create a room where “the ceiling is high” and it is ok to try out new things without judgment and blame.
With the growth mindset the entrepreneur learns to ask for help, set goals, adjust things that don’t work, adapt, fail fast, take a pause, and then move on.
These are all behaviors that an entrepreneur with a growth mindset exhibits, and these are traits that also benefit the person in her/his everyday life.
With a growth mindset the entrepreneur can make use of applied neuroscience – when you have knowledge about neurotransmitters, it is easier to change the course of a situation. Oxytocin adds warmth, love and care to a situation, Serotonin creates rapport and feelgood, Dopamine drives motivation, excitement, inquiry, creativity, Endorphins are for overcoming obstacles and having fun and laughing together. When these things are in place, the learner, the entrepreneur will become more communicative, creative, and collaborative. That benefits teams and makes it easier to create a better world.
Glocal is what I refer to when looking at a community that is both local and global. When we, AHA! organizing our Hackathons for Youth, we always go glocal. We wish for the local community to connect to communities across the globe. For students of entrepreneurship in 2022, the world is their oyster! We can have direct access to experts anywhere, through Zoom calls, workshops, courses, through public speaking events, through collaborations. We can truly create a “classrooms without walls”. Why should learning only take place in a square room in the school building when learning happens everywhere?