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Learning to Start Starting by Learning

Serie Gestión
Learning to Start Starting by Learning
Carlos Vignolo, Sergio Celis
Learning to Start Starting by Learning
(Aprendiendo a Emprender Emprendiendo en el Aprender)
Carlos Vignolo and Sergio Celis
Faculty of Physical Science and Mathematics, University of Chile
August 2007, Version 2.0
"Paper aceptado para ser presentado en el congreso Active Learning in Egineering
Education (ALE), Bogotá, Colombia, 9 al 11 de Junio de 2008"
“Love, work and knowledge are the
sources of life
They should also govern it”
Wilhelm Reich
(In the 50th anniversary of his death)
The paper introduces an entrepreneurship teaching approach aimed at transforming the
learning process in itself in a start up designed, managed and led by the student. This
method has been developed and used in the School of Engineering and Science at the
University of Chile over the last 5 years as a key element in the undergraduate courses
“Introduction to Industrial Engineering”, “Development of Entrepreneurship Skills” and
“Development of Leadership Abilities”. This method, based on a radical constructivist
approach, emphasizes also the synergetic relationship between meaning and passion.
1. Brief History and Context: The School of Engineering at the University of Chile accepts
around 600 new students annually, all of who belong to the top 1 percent with the best
results from Chile’s national university entrance examination. Around 30 percent of them
choose to specialize in industrial engineering, a professional career that ranks among the
best paid in the Chilean labor market. Each graduate from this specialty at the University
receives, on average, four job offers, normally well before they have completed their
degree. However, only a small percentage of graduates (less than 10 percent) proceed with
their own initiatives after graduation.
The restoration of democracy in 1990 brought with it the revision and transformation, led
by the Industrial Engineering Department in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation,
of the pedagogical model and the curriculum. In 1990 the Department created the course IN
505, “Development of Entrepreneurship Skills,” as an elective course for students from all
engineering specializations. In 1997, the course “Introduction to Industrial Engineering”,
with a focus on the development of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit, became an
obligatory first year course for students of this specialty.
Both courses were designed by a group of researchers and teachers that, based on the
pioneering works of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in the field of the biology of
knowledge, saw the possibility of simultaneously increasing the efficacy, efficiency and
satisfaction of engineering students’ learning process by means of linking the development
of entrepreneurship capabilities to improvements in learning skills and the general process
of learning to learn .
A key contextual factor to understand this option to teach entrepreneurship is the fact that
the Engineering School is part of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mathematics at the
University of Chile, probably the academic unit closest and most loyal to the model of the
‘Research University’ in Chile. This implies that the majority of the academic staff has a
clear orientation toward publishable research in internationally accredited media. Neither
teaching quality nor entrepreneurship formation are, therefore, priorities for academic
evaluation and for academics work.
To approach the development of the students’ capacities in this area by attempting to
change the motivation and orientation of academic staff would, in this context, be to
condemn the project to failure. On the other hand, a high percentage of students achieve
neither good results nor reasonable levels of satisfaction from the traditional pedagogical
II. The Pedagogical Model:
A pedagogical model, taking these contextual antecedents into account, was designed so
that the student is invited very early on to understand:
The crucial importance of entrepreneurship skills in the work of industrial
engineers. A sample of 10 percent of graduates, undertaken in 1999, showed that this
capacity was considered to be the most relevant for their work performance. (4.7 on a scale
from 1 to 5) 1
The fact that entrepreneurship is a generic skill, relevant in all labor situations and
not only for those that opt for business starts-up.
The relations between entrepreneurship spirit and skills and the levels of autonomy,
design and management of a person’s own life in its fullest sense.
The possibility of the student to take a proactive role in the process of learning,
transforming it in a significant and transcendent start-up.
The synergetic relationship between the mission assumed by an entrepreneur and
the passion that the chosen mission is capable of generating.
The basic practices of entrepreneurship behavior and the way to learn them.
1 Hetz, Rodrigo, “La vinculación de los exalumnos de la carrera de Ingeniería Civil Industrial de la Universidad de
Chile” (The relationships of Industrial Civil Engineering graduates of the University of Chile) Professional Thesis,
III. The Epistemological Model:
The invitation to students to strengthen their entrepreneurship capacities by means of
transforming their studies in a start-up is supported by a radical constructivist
epistemological model which emphasizes the following elements:
The observer’s participation in the construction of the reality he or she lives in.
The role of paradigms, moods and focus in the process of building up reality and
inventing oneself.
The power to invent and change reality derived from the level of consciousness
achieved and the capacity to modify paradigms, harmonize moods and control the
process of focusing attention.
IV. The Operational Model
Some of the specific activities at present in use in two of the courses based on this
approach are:
a) Course: “Introduction to Industrial Engineering”.
An obligatory curriculum course that acts as the gateway to the discipline of industrial
engineering, with the main objective of “expanding awareness of him(her)self and to the
world and local environment, as a first step to appropriate of the process of learning and
becoming and Industrial Engineer’. The course has around 90 students on average.
Activity 1: Mood setting practices: “Tuning in” and “Stretching”
Description: Each class begins with a five minutes individual exercise intended to
investigate the moods, the preoccupations and the questions that students bring along to
each class. In the last five minutes of the class, each student answers the “stretching”
exercise, to identify the ending mood, the most significant learning points and an
evaluation of the class and of his(her) involvement in the class.
Objectives and Results: The main goals of these two activities are to increase student´s
capacity to observe and change their moods and the relationship between this skill and the
quality of the “learning reality” that each student is capable of producing. Most students
end up the course with a much higher consciousness of the role of moods and their capacity
to actively participate in the building up of each class. These exercises are weekly used also
to asses and redesign the activities of the course.
Activity 2: The generation, design and development of an action-learning project.
Description: Each student should select a “breakdown”2 and present it in one minute in
front of the class (for this activity the course is divided in two), and then using the Web
support from U-cursos, each student votes for the three most significant “breakdowns”. On
this basis the students are formed into different work groups throughout the semester to
generate, design and develop an idea, product or process to transform the “breakdown”
into an innovation. The first classes are oriented to stimulate initiatives and skills to work
in teams in order to develop projects. A one day workshop entitled “Learning to Learn and
to Start”, usually run on a weekend, has been designed to support this activity.
Objectives and Results: Every semester they achieve important initiatives including some
that students continue beyond the regular academic course time. Examples of these have
been: the “expendepecil”, a machine that issues pencils/pens and other articles for school
and universities and “juntas on line”, a training and web system to strengthen participation
in neighborhoods councils (juntas vecinales) in Santiago.
b) Course: “Development of Entrepreneurship Skills”
This is an elective course opened to students in the last two (of six) years of the
curriculum plan. Its main goal is to immerse them in a real experience of designing and
attempting a start-up project. On average there are around 20 students per semester.
Activity 1: “Individual design of the course as a start-up”
Description: As a way of producing an initial shock that allows them to quickly abandon the
classic cognitive way of learning, students are asked to design the objectives, methods and
evaluation system for the specific course each one of them is going to go through. They are
invited to generate the program of the course based on the following main questions: What
do I think it is to be an entrepreneur?, What specific skills do I want to strengthen?, What
are my passions?, What sort of entrepreneur I would like to become? What do I think are
the practices I should go through in order to achieve my goals?
Results: Usually, around a third of the students abandon the course at this stage, absolutely
incapable of understanding the preparation of the program of the course as a means to train
themselves as entrepreneurs. For the surviving students this very confusing initial phase is
very useful for assuming the objective and the method of the course.
Activity 2: “Group generation of a start-up”
Based on a search of breakdowns that they can take care off in the horizon of a semester,
students are invited to design and run a project in groups of three to six people. They are
asked to relate this projects to the previous investigation on passions and desired skills.
2 A distinction used to distinguish an opportunity to start something new. Most engineering students are trained
to solve problems but not to think of starts-up or innovate based on them.
Results: Students begin their initiatives from things that make them enthusiastic or resume
projects that they once had; as examples, the firm nocancela which produces rock music
events in Chile with a level of professionalism greater than the national standard; or the
most popular (most visited) educational web site in Chile, Some
student comments about the course are, “A different course, that allows our skills to
develop and which is not possible in other regular curriculum courses”. “It allowed me to
look at my decisions from another point of view. It allowed students to develop in other
professional areas that were not simply technical;” and “Really this course has been one of
the most important to me as an engineering student. It is practical, destroys paradigms and
opens up possibilities for our students to the point that initiatives become a lifestyle”.
V. Conclusions
Linking entrepreneurship teaching to learning to learn has been a very successful way to
generate interest and skills related to entrepreneurship among students, especially in those
that had not previously develop interest nor good habits with traditional teaching methods.
But it also helps to validate entrepreneurship teaching among academics that benefit from
more autonomous, active and participative students. We suggest that this approach is
particularly adequate for research oriented universities.
Centro de Gestión (CEGES)
Departamento de Ingeniería Industrial
Universidad de Chile
Serie Gestión
Nota : Copias individuales pueden pedirse a
Note : Working papers are available to be request with
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Síntesis Integradora y Dilemas Abiertos Teodoro Wigodski 92
  • Gestión Estratégica
Gestión Estratégica: Síntesis Integradora y Dilemas Abiertos Teodoro Wigodski 92. Evaluación Multicriterio para Programas y Proyectos Públicos Eduardo Contreras, Juan Francisco Pacheco
Una empresa chilena globalizada Teodoro Wigodski, Juan Rius, Eduardo Arcos 103 Active learning as source of continuous innovation in courses Carlos Vignolo
  • Compañía Sudamericana
  • De Vapores
Compañía Sudamericana de Vapores (CSAV): Una empresa chilena globalizada Teodoro Wigodski, Juan Rius, Eduardo Arcos 103. Active learning as source of continuous innovation in courses Carlos Vignolo, Sergio Celis, Indira Guggisberg 104. Learning to Start Starting by Learning Carlos Vignolo, Sergio Celis