ISBE March Blog – Curiosity: The Engine of Achievement

Peter Harrington – Director,Venture Simulations Ltd

Credit for the blog title belongs to Sir Ken Robinson (SKR); renowned academic, best-selling author and gifted TED presenter on matters education.

SKR also says in his 2013 ‘How to escape Education’s Death Valley’ presentation, that “If you light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without further assistance.”

But with mounting challenges in UK Higher Education, how do academics light the spark of curiosity in a student?

Pressure, Threats, Pressure

Funding pressures, staff time, lowering tuition fees, increased class sizes, staff retention, student retention, REF, TEF and Brexit pressures are all issues. And the tightening wrapper is a government seeking more bang for its buck. 

Then there’s learning and teaching. 

Digital native student concentration skills (when in lectures) appear not to be what they once were. And fee-paying students, with differing levels of entitlement, naturally want a return on their £30k+ investment.

Supporting that investment requires universities to engage with employers and develop student employability skills. All of this must be done alongside or within formal teaching.

Changing Practices in Business and Entrepreneurship

In their 2019 Annual Letter Bill and Melinda Gateswrite how “Textbooks are becoming obsolete.”

Whilst true, and a reflection of information being everywhere, it’s also a sad fact. Reading is something I advocate. 

However, having started/grown businesses for 30 years and employed 1,000+ people, I also advocate the best way to teach business and entrepreneurship is to create the circumstances where people want to learn. Or better, create circumstances where curiosity is naturally sparked.

SimVenture Digital Learning Resources

All our research and development work (2002 – 2006), underpinning the original ‘SimVenture Classic’ software, was fuelled by a desire to create curiosity in the minds of students. This meant allowing people to be active through exploration, decision-making and dealing with consequences; rather than passively writing plans, reading textbooks and/or attending traditional lectures.

Critically, the simulation needed to be both authentic and engaging so people could appreciate and enjoy the real truths, challenges and joys of setting up and running a business. ‘Classic’ also had to be flexible so it could be fitted easily into any module at any level.

SimVenture Classic did very well. But on its own, it’s not enough.

Supporting students and academics in today’s multi-pressurised HE climate requires fresh thinking.

Developing New Technology

Between 2012 and 2016 our team of technologists worked alongside 9 UK Universities. The goal was to develop an on-line business and entrepreneurship simulation platform that addressed the changing learning landscape.

SimVenture Evolutionwas built to: engage digital native learning (spark and sustain curiosity); allow for greater flexibility of teaching; and ultimately provide cost savings especially with large scale teaching. 

As an on-line resource, Evolution allows people to work anywhere (either solo or in teams) where an internet connection exists. We currently have teams of students studying for MBAs, Masters Degrees and Undergraduate modules working in different global locations. Bespoke distance learning programs are also being developed.

Meanwhile, tutors are able to set up groups, assign tasks, monitor progress and assess work both in class and/or remotely. At the same time they can use the growing suite of ready-made, free on-line resources, all designed and developed by our team of senior academics.

As a result, the technology and materials save valuable time because teaching staff don’t waste unnecessary days at their desks creating lengthy slide-decks and/or assessing student work.

Academics First

Looking back, our development teams recognise that the SimVenture Classic focus was more about student learning and engagement.

Whilst SimVenture Evolution addresses digital student learning needs, years of work have been invested so that the simulation is an effective teaching resource for the modern era.

Partnering with Universities through the R&D phase was critical. However, recruiting a team of senior lecturers means we have a far deeper understanding of how to support academics in almost any country (many of whom start-out tech wary) in these turbulent, changing times. 

We are also completing large-scale university research studies that allow us to measure the impact of Evolution as a learning and teaching resource.  

Since watching Sir Ken Robinson’s 2010 TED presentation ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ I’ve held the belief that our work with simulations does advance learning and teaching in the small business and entrepreneurship space.

If you sense any synergy, please get in touch. After all, curiosity is the engine of achievement. 

Peter Harrington also posts monthly topical articles on his Hitchhiker’s Guide to Entrepreneurship Blog


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