Company visits as an opportunity for entrepreneurial learning
Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT)
Sepetlahdentie 7 A 15, 02230 Espoo, Finland
Lappeenranta University of Technology
PL 20, 53851 Lappeenranta, Finland
Lappeenranta University of Technology
Saimaankatu 11, 15140 Lahti, Finland
The research field of entrepreneurship education has emerged rapidly. However, there is a lack of
knowledge regarding the organisation of company visits. Especially, the utilisation of companies to
expand the learning environment has been largely dismissed. This study examines company visits as
an opportunity for entrepreneurial learning in compulsory education. The empirical part of this study
considers five cases. The informants are teachers in compulsory education.
The findings show that company visits are a broader concept than previous literature suggests, and
depending on the way the visits are organised, they create very different learning possibilities. The
cases indicate that teachers willingly cooperate with companies, although organising company visits
remains a challenge. The findings highlight the positive effects of school-company cooperation, and
especially the cases where students implement the process create significant potential for
Keywords Company visits, compulsory education, entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial
learning environment, entrepreneurship education, school-enterprise cooperation
Entrepreneurship education persists as a subject of broad and current interest for research. The rapidly
progressing research targets issues such as entrepreneurial learning objectives, entrepreneurial
pedagogy, evaluation and assessment of entrepreneurial learning, and factors guiding the use of
different tools in entrepreneurship education (Mwasalwiba, 2010; Ruskovaara, 2014; van Dijk and
Mensch, 2015; Leffler and Svedberg, 2005; Neck and Greene, 2011). At the EU level, many
documents highlight the importance and growing role of entrepreneurship education in primary and
secondary education (European Commission, 2011; 2013). Based on the recent Eurydice (2016)
report, roughly a dozen European countries have a national curriculum which includes
entrepreneurship or enterprise education as a theme, and more than half of the member states allocate
funding for the development of entrepreneurship education.
The literature emphasises important directions of development in school work, such as integrating
entrepreneurship education across different subjects, adding entrepreneurial learning in the
pedagogical toolbox for teachers, school-industry cooperation, and learning by doing. In their article,
Jones and Iredale (2010) emphasise school-enterprise cooperation and propose that enterprises as
employers could be more involved in school-enterprise cooperation. As a pedagogical solution,
company visits have been recognised as a way to introduce business to students (Solomon, 2007;
Hytti and O’Gorman, 2004; Kickul et al., 2010). Markom et al. (2010) argue the importance of
industrial visits for upper secondary school students in order to relate their theoretical knowledge to
practical aspects. On the other hand, van Dijk and Mensch (2015) mention company visits as possible
real-life projects in entrepreneurial learning activities in compulsory education.
Surprisingly, some of the literature suggests that company visits provide only limited possibilities for
learning. For example, Gibb suggests that company visits are based more on curiosity than
pedagogical objectives (Gibb, 1993). In this study, we focus on the company visit as an important
opportunity for entrepreneurial learning. With the concept of entrepreneurial learning we refer to a
student-centred approach to entrepreneurship, where students play an active role, are engaged in
learning, perform tasks with close connections to the world beyond the school, encounter real-life
cases and entrepreneurial role models, and operate in as authentic a learning environment as possible.
(Cope and Watts, 2000; Cope, 2005; Matlay and Carey, 2007; Powell, 2013; Draycott and Rae, 2011)
From this perspective, the concept of the company visit has the potential to promote entrepreneurial
learning in students. We suggest that company visits have been largely overlooked and more thorough
analysis of the company visit practices in schools is warranted.
The purpose of this study is to focus on the concept of “company visit” from the perspective of
entrepreneurial learning, and through an analysis of small cases, to discuss company visits as
opportunities for entrepreneurial learning. The research question of the study is: What learning
opportunities do company visits create? The contribution of the study is twofold: First, we focus on
the concept of “company visit” from the perspective of entrepreneurial learning. Second, we present
small empirical cases that illustrate the different aspects associated with the organisation and
implementation of company visits.
This study is divided into six sections: in the first section, we present the objectives of the study, the
second section presents the theoretical understanding of company visits as a pedagogical tool and
route to entrepreneurial learning. The third section presents the methodological approach of the study,
data collection and analysis methods. In the fourth section, we present five cases from compulsory
education. Then in the fifth section we will analyse them and compare them in terms of
entrepreneurial learning, the entrepreneurial learning environment and pedagogical approaches
applied. Finally, in the sixth section we conclude the study by highlighting the contributions of the
study and presenting ideas for further research.
2. Literature review: Company visit as a pedagogical tool and route to entrepreneurial
Typically, a wide variety of methods have been identified as useful in entrepreneurship education,
such as project work for actual clients, cooperation with companies, business simulations, workshops,
study visits or field trips to business enterprises, enterprise education games, mini-company exercises,
role-playing, case studies, inviting guest speakers, business plans, and stories about entrepreneurs
(Solomon, 2007; Jones and Matlay, 2011; Hytti and O’Gorman, 2004; Birdthistle et al., 2007; Jones,
2007b; Shepherd, 2004; Kuratko, 2005). Nevertheless, the use of these methods is only partly based
on objectives related to entrepreneurial learning. Based on Ruskovaara’s (2014) study, Finnish
teachers most frequently initiated different discussions concerning entrepreneurship and business. In
line, entrepreneurship-related games and competitions were arranged only rarely. Thus, it seems that
teachers are more likely to use methods that are fairly easy to implement in the classroom setting,
while ones that need more preparation and take place outside of the school are used less. (Ruskovaara,
At the decision-makers’ level, entrepreneurship education has been given a very important role.
Therefore, Gibb (2000) points out that, to fulfil the high expectations, sometimes “all teaching” is
considered to be entrepreneurship education or to enhance students’ enterprising behaviour. Thus, he
underlines that the manner in which learning and teaching are carried out is crucial, as it can make or
break the connection to entrepreneurship or enterprise education. Cheng et al. (2009) note that
entrepreneurship education literature stresses the importance of methods that assume the student take
an active role as a learner. Although the variety of methods is wide, educators seem to rely on fairly
passive methods instead of bringing real-life experiences into the classroom (Cheng et al., 2009; also
Ruskovaara and Pihkala, 2014).
2.1. Entrepreneurial learning and entrepreneurial learning environment
The concept of entrepreneurial learning originates from the analysis of how entrepreneurs learn and
how they learn best (Cope and Watts, 2000; Cope, 2005; Pittaway and Cope, 2007; Higgins and
Elliott, 2011; Breslin and Jones, 2012). Later on, entrepreneurial learning has been used and
understood more widely. Especially in Europe, entrepreneurial learning has changed from the
learning of an entrepreneur to understanding the student’s perspective. For example, Cooper et al.
(2004) present that entrepreneurial learning is about seeing, touching and feeling entrepreneurship,
focusing on the exploration and exploitation of real-world assignments and in-company projects. In
line, Pittaway and Thorpe (2012) summarise the essence of entrepreneurial learning as any pedagogy
that draws students closer to the world of an entrepreneur.
An entrepreneurial learning environment is an environment in which students are encouraged to
engage actively in entrepreneurial processes rather than reading about them (Jones and English,
2004). Garnett (2012) describes that a learning environment is to enhance the conditions for students
to develop attributes of an enterprising individual. Pittaway and Cope (2007) argue that the learning
environment needs to be developed into something where students are able to experience how to put
theory and knowledge into practice. Also Honig (2004) claims that the more real business
environment connections students have, the more effective learning in entrepreneurship education is.
The teachers face a set of tasks to meet the requirements of entrepreneurial learning. Hynes and
Richardson (2007) describe that teachers need to create a teaching and learning environment that
fosters students’ self-confidence, decision-making and risk-taking skills. These skills prepare them
for the working world. Hynes (1996) also argues for a larger external learning environment which
provides students necessary skills for the future, where the economic, social, and technological
environments all play their important role. Jones (2007a) adds that in a student-centred approach
students are active in shaping the learning environment: they are asked what to add to, remove from
or modify in the learning environment. Jones (2006) continues by saying that an entrepreneurship
educator is challenged to have strong faith in his/her students, even more faith than the students may
have themselves. Therefore, the learning environment should be created into something where
students feel comfortable to fail, are challenged by uncertainty but also engaged in learning activities.
Therefore, the teacher’s role is to force students out of their comfort zone or to significantly challenge
them. (Jones, 2006; 2007b) During the learning process, the focus is not on what the teacher does,
but what the students do.
Several studies (Bull et al., 2008; Colardyn and Bjornavold, 2004; Eaton, 2010; Eshach, 2007; Falk
et al., 2007) suggest that activities outside of the school environment enhance learning on the whole.
Companies can play a role as an entrepreneurial learning environment, encouraging students’ active
forms of learning, challenging them to exploit their full potential and serving as a place to test and
create skills for the future. In line, companies are a place to test and put theory into practice. Therefore,
it should mirror real-world challenges and be connected to real life as much as possible. Companies
should be a place to foster students’ self-confidence, decision-making and risk-taking skills and to
prepare them to apply these skills later on in the world of work. (Hynes, 1996; Honig, 2004; Hynes
and Richardson, 2007; Pittaway and Cope, 2007; Higgins and Elliott, 2011; Garnett, 2012) However,
organising the conditions for entrepreneurial learning involves different challenges. According to
Pittaway and Cope (2007), the challenges lie in group dynamics and how students take responsibility.
They report that a lack of rules may create problems, as some students want to work and others do
not. Powell (2013), however, argues that a less structured environment is challenging for the educator,
but also students with higher grades may prefer a more structured approach.
2.2. The learning opportunities of a company visit
Building on the earlier literature of entrepreneurial learning and the entrepreneurial learning
environment, we suggest that company visits could be analysed from aspects related to the
organisation and implementation of the company visit. These aspects are the teacher’s role (Haase
and Lautenschläger, 2011), the level of formality (Powell, 2013), the learning objective (Pittaway and
Cope, 2007), and the time horizon (Fayolle and Gailly, 2008; Ruskovaara and Pihkala, 2014). These
aspects together define the students’ learning opportunities (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Entrepreneurial learning opportunities in a company visit.
The learning objective
The learning objective set for the company visit represents the strategic level of the framework. The
learning objective largely determines how long the activity can take (time horizon), whether the
activity is teacher- or student-led (teacher’s role), and how much flexibility can be included in the
Level of formality
activity (formality). Lackéus (2016) emphasises the significance of objectives in entrepreneurial
learning. He suggests that entrepreneurial projects should always aim for value creation. Without
value creation, the project would lose its meaning and would not be different from regular education.
Some objectives for entrepreneurial learning are rather simple to deduce. For example, the aims are
that students learn to be creative and persistent, take responsibility and initiative, and put new ideas
into practice. Moreover, students should see and grasp opportunities, act despite uncertainty, take an
active role in society, be able to solve problems in teams and analyse and take risks of suitable sizes.
(E.g. Pittaway and Cope, 2007; Draycott and Rae, 2011; Jones and English, 2004; Neck and Greene,
2011). Pittaway and Cope (2007) highlight the importance of real-life problems and problem-based
approaches where external stakeholders are utilised. In line, Cooper et al. (2004) conclude that
cooperation projects provide students the opportunity to learn valuable skills and knowledge with
entrepreneurs, and participating entrepreneurs have a chance to learn accordingly.
The time horizon
Company visits differ largely in terms of their length – some may be stand-alone visits while some
may be part of years-long learning processes. The length of the company visit is largely dependent
on the learning objectives of the activity, the level of planning of the entrepreneurship education, and
the availability of resources (see Figure 1). The learners may simply look around and listen to a
company presentation, complete exercises or play games (Eshach, 2007). In the most successful
cases, the themes of the visits are also dealt with in the classroom just before or soon after the visit.
Hence, the students could connect the experiences with the issues learned in school. Schools and
companies are two different environments with their respective practices. If the content of the visit is
fairly unfamiliar to the learners, they may find it difficult to understand. (Pittaway and Cope, 2007;
It seems that for teachers engaging in longer learning processes, including cooperation between the
school and businesses, is a matter of knowledge, skills and resources. Bjornavold (2000) implies that
learning is contextual. That is, understanding issues that are difficult to verbalise and delimiting the
single steps or rules intrinsic to a certain competence require time and familiarity with the context
(Bjornavold, 2000). Ruskovaara and Pihkala (2014) point out that fairly easily organised, low-
threshold practices are the ones that teachers utilise the most. Therefore, they claim that teachers
should be encouraged to develop their knowledge about the “world out there”. Similarly, they claim
that more in-depth cooperation with companies would bring novel approaches to teaching, and for
example, joint projects or assignments from companies could enlarge the authentic learning
The level of formality
The level of formality of the company visit refers to the need to control and organise the activity, and
to stick with the pre-made plans (see Figure 1). Overall, earlier studies (e.g. Powell, 2013; Pittaway
and Cope, 2007; Hytti and O’Gorman, 2004) suggest that entrepreneurial leaning would benefit from
low levels of formality. Powell (2013) presents a challenge between entrepreneurial learning and
traditional teaching. He points out the contradiction between structuring the course, doing all of the
planning, and preparing materials, but still being capable of providing freedom for students to learn
not only the topic of the course but also more generally skills needed in the working world, for
example withstanding uncertainty and ambiguity. He also highlights the importance of experience
and encourages educators to utilise real-life settings as much as possible.
Seizing opportunities during the company visit enables entrepreneurial learning. Some studies
(Powell, 2013; Pittaway and Cope, 2007; Hytti and O’Gorman, 2004) suggest that the educator should
push the students outside of their comfort zone into a less planned or a novel learning environment
and encourage them to act in an ambiguous setting. The studies indicate that students may give
negative feedback on such an approach, but entrepreneurial learning may still take place.
Furthermore, Bull et al. (2008) argue that teachers and learners should find a way to capture the
excitement of out-of-school events and bring it into the classroom.
The teacher’s role
The teacher’s role is largely defined by the availability of resources for the activity, the level and
nature in which the implementation is organised, and the level of teacher-centricity of the company
visit. The teacher’s need to adopt new roles arises from the social constructivist view of teaching and
learning (Higgins and Elliott, 2011; Garnett, 2012). From that perspective, students play an active
role in the centre of learning, whereas teachers merely guide and facilitate. Garnett (2012) defines
students as agents of learning.
Many studies suggest various new roles for the teacher and teaching. For example, Draycott et al.
(2011) propose that teachers take the role of an encouraging, questioning coach. Also roles such as
promoter, mentor, adviser, and manager have been used to highlight the changing tasks of a traditional
stand-and-deliver teacher (Haase and Lautenschläger, 2011; Powell, 2013). The role choice is
important for the entrepreneurial learning opportunities that company visits may incur. Depending on
the role choice, the teacher can take very different approaches to available resources and may even
let the students organise the visits.
This study is part of a larger ongoing research project focusing on school-company relationships. So
far, the data of the entire research consists of 41 interviews from head teachers and teachers operating
in the schools. All of the schools in the research project provide compulsory education in Finland. In
Finland, entrepreneurship education has been one of the cross-curricular themes in compulsory
schools since 1994 (Finnish National Board of Education, 2003; 2004). As a cross-curricular theme,
entrepreneurship education should be embedded in all subjects, the school’s operational culture, and
organised events, but entrepreneurship may also be an optional subject. The Finnish national
curriculum does not force, but rather recommends teachers to cooperate with real-world actors. No
guidelines have been given regarding the realisation of activities beyond the school, which means
that the teachers must find their own preferred methods if they are interested in offering the students
company experiences. As Ruskovaara and Pihkala (2014) point out, teachers find the practices
somewhat unclear. Teachers step out of their formal education role to engage in experiential cases
with companies where the learners are in the centre, the teacher in the background, and the
information flows between the company personnel, the learners and the teacher.
In this article, we focus on five teachers and their schools. The cases were selected based on the
following criteria: 1) all cases are subject teachers that are involved in company visits; 2) as the
geographical issues may play a role in teachers’ company visit practices, the schools are located in
different parts of Finland and represent both urban and rural environments; 3) each case is unique and
adds to the variety and richness of the company visits; and 4) the students participating in company
visits are seventh to ninth graders – in other words, between the ages of 14 and 16 years.
The data was collected through semi-structured thematic interviews. The teacher interviews took
place in the teachers’ working environment. The data was collected between autumn 2014 and spring
2015. The interviews were generally started by asking how many visits were carried out during the
past year and the targets of the visits. In the interviews, the informants described the implementation
of the visits. Additionally, informants told about the cooperation with actors outside of the school,
including visits, projects, guest speakers or any other cooperation. The themes are depicted in Table
1. The duration of the interviews varied from 40 to 75 minutes depending on the extent of the
cooperation and how detailed the informant’s responses were. The interviews were recorded and
Table 1. Interview themes
In this study, we present the data as illustrations of small representative cases (Patton, 1990). The
data was analysed using the manual content analysis technique. The interview data was used to
illustrate the company visit practices of the respondents to provide a wider perspective on the focal
points of the analysis. From the theory, the analytical perspectives of the company visits were
identified and the characteristics of these elements were drawn from the data. Finally, we applied
comparative analysis to determine the similarities or differences of the cases. In this regard, we
emphasise that the cases were selected to provide variety, and therefore, the analysis does not focus
1. How many company visits do you make per school year? How many other visits to, for
instance, museums, science centres or other destinations?
2. What other kind of cooperation takes place with outside actors?
3. How do you get in touch with companies? Who takes an active role in arranging
cooperation or visits?
4. What are the practical arrangements for the visits?
5. What is the purpose of the visits? How interested is the teacher in that kind of teaching?
6. How is the school work connected to the visits?
7. Which companies are located in the vicinity?
8. How do the classes plan the visits in advance?
9. How do the classes process the visits afterwards?
10. What are the teacher’s attitudes to and thoughts about the visits in general?
on the mere fact that there are differences, but on the ways in which company visits are carried out
and how these pedagogical tools enable entrepreneurial learning. The illustrative examples in this
study are translated into English and abbreviated.
As with any methodological tool, the qualitative content analysis of small illustrative cases has its
limitations. The cases we applied do not enable statistical generalisations on the issues studied, and
are therefore best applicable in exploratory or pilot studies. Furthermore, the case study as an in-depth
approach strongly reflects the researcher’s personal preferences, which is likely to cause researcher-
based bias in the data collection, analysis and interpretations. To minimise this bias, the research
group continually discussed the entrepreneurship education, the participants, and the data and its
4. Empirical cases
In this section, we present five different cases to illustrate company visits and their organisation from
the perspective of the teachers.
4.1. Case 1
Teacher A teaches an elective subject related to natural sciences. She takes her students to places that
are somehow linked to the subject. She argues that the students are more motivated for the visits since
they have signed up for the subject voluntarily. The destinations of the visits include places such as
observatories or the university. One local company in the energy business has earlier been favourable
to company visits and has even served coffee and sweets. Lately, the company has lost interest in
inviting the school. The teacher explains that motivating a company to partner with the school or
arrange visits is such a demanding task for one teacher that she is not even going to try. She has
decided to maintain her role as a traditional teacher, stay within the school and take students to places
that are easily accessible. The teacher says she has understood that companies do not have time for
or interest in inviting young, about 14-15-year-old students in compulsory education for visits.
Another class from the same school visited a nature reserve, but the visit failed because the guide
addressed the students as if they were from lower grades. The teacher thinks that teachers should get
together to discuss their experiences for inspiration and new ideas. The actual visits and their
implementation are, however, left to individual teachers. The meetings will not create organised
synergy, but can generate new ideas.
4.2. Case 2
Teacher B is not acquainted with business and says he knows nothing about companies or
bookkeeping. However, his class visits different companies during his course. The teacher actively
networks and attempts to arrange visits, and uses his leisure time to call companies and ask whether
his class could visit them. This takes a great deal of time and energy. The teacher needs to convince
the companies in many ways to secure an invitation for his students. The teacher also asks relatives
and friends for help in setting up company visits. He is not selective; instead, he accepts all companies
that are willing to meet with his group. The teacher organises seven to eight visits each year to go and
see how companies work and operate. He always accompanies the students for the visits. Before the
visit, the class learns about the concepts used in companies, such as R&D, marketing, customers,
logo, personnel and salary. The teacher follows up on the visit merely by discussing it with the
students afterwards. He schedules the visits during classes so that other teachers would not need to
reschedule anything or make special arrangements. The teacher thinks it is more difficult to convince
companies to host students in cities than in rural areas. For some reason, industrial companies are not
interested, but banks agree to meet with students more easily. The teacher thinks this is because banks
consider the students possible future customers, attempt to create a pleasant experience for them and
familiarise the students with their logo. The teacher says ready-made models would be useful to
facilitate the visits.
4.3. Case 3
Teacher C is experienced in entrepreneurship and runs a voluntary course on entrepreneurship. The
entrepreneurship courses are popular in the school. Earlier, enterprising activities were only organised
in an extra-curricular club after school, but now entrepreneurship is an elective subject. The teacher
is in charge of the entrepreneurship education for several groups in the eighth and ninth grades. The
eighth graders’ course includes games, bookkeeping, marketing and advertising. In the ninth grade,
the students start a company following the Junior Achievement (JA) model. The idea is that running
their businesses, the groups are supported by companies. Some of the groups visit companies and
many of the students receive business support from home. In the spring semester, they organise a
panel that comprises four companies, and the ninth graders can study them during the panel. The
teacher is also involved in a business forum with companies, and they meet a few times a year. The
task of the forum is to match schools with companies. Through the forum, it is easy to create contacts
with different companies and be invited to visit them. In addition to the entrepreneurship course, the
school cooperates with local businesses in its own, innovative way. For example, the students can
perform in music events beyond the school, or the company can order a service from the school.
Reciprocally, a company may offer the school a service. The school and the companies have been
developing these activities on their own and are very pleased with the results.
4.4. Case 4
Teacher D is well acquainted with entrepreneurship, as he operates as a part-time business owner. In
the school, the classes have a cooperating company that is assigned when the students are in the
seventh grade. The cooperating company could be anything, e.g. a voluntary organisation or a shop.
The school is not interested in organising traditional company visits. Instead, they arrange two to
three visits to the same company. In the seventh grade, the students learn about different professions,
careers and enterprises. They interview the selected companies, transcribe the interviews, prepare a
report and carry out a short internship. In the eighth grade, the students may take an elective
entrepreneurship course and learn about companies and conduct projects for companies. These
projects could include research and surveys, or even work as mystery shoppers. In the ninth grade,
the students may take an elective course on entrepreneurship and learn about job applications. In these
processes, the companies are involved in the simulation of job interviews and the recruiting process.
The teacher says all subjects taught can be integrated into the projects. The point of company visits
is to branch out and learn about other ways of working, and to take a break from the daily routines.
The process provides a deeper understanding of businesses and work. The school is well connected
with companies in the area. The head teacher is in a key role and is active in negotiating deals with
companies. The teacher operates as a guide for the students in the business world. The company
cooperation is so established that companies themselves contact the school and offer to be cooperating
companies. Sometimes the contact may be formed through a student’s parents. Most of the companies
operate in the vicinity, but the school has also collaborated with more remote businesses.
4.5. Case 5
Teacher E has a very distinct approach to company visits. Entrepreneurship is an elective subject in
the ninth grade. The students’ interest in entrepreneurship varies significantly, but mostly the students
are excited about it. The content of the course is determined completely on the basis of students’
wishes, and the course focuses on visits to different companies. The students themselves choose the
companies to visit. Having selected the destinations, they contact the companies, present their ideas
and schedule a visit. Before the visit, the students collect information about the companies and
practice calling the company. Roughly half of the time during the visit is reserved for a company
presentation, and the rest for a tour. The teacher is always present during the visits. After the company
visit, the students prepare a brochure or an essay about the company. The companies are selected on
the basis of student interest. The region is very entrepreneurial and companies are willing to meet
with students almost without exception. During the past few years, catering businesses have been
popular, but students have also been interested in industrial enterprises. The teacher thinks that
entrepreneurship is a good subject for students. It means that the students have a possibility to see
and experience new things. Planned and implemented by the students themselves, the course means
a great deal to the students and gives them a feeling of accomplishment. The teacher has taught the
entrepreneurship course for years now, and he thinks that the students’ role is central in designing
and implementing the course. The teacher, on the other hand, should remain in the background,
coaching and supporting.
5. Analysis and comparisons
The cases are very different in how they execute company visits. For Case A, the learning objectives
are based on the subject taught. In this case, the teacher is not acquainted with entrepreneurship or
entrepreneurial learning. To compensate, Teacher A takes the safe route of maintaining the traditional
teacher’s role. As it is, the process seems highly teacher-centred and the company visits are practically
unrelated to learning. Teacher A plans and selects the targets carefully and prepares the students for
the visits. As the focus is on the subject taught, the teachers seem uninterested in exploiting
opportunities that present themselves during the visit.
Table 2. Similarities and differences between the cases.
Level of formality
before a visit, short
The learning objective is
related to the subject, no
depends on the
Short visit, minimum
need for resources
To see how companies
work, curiosity, low
Emphasis on learning
entrepreneurship by doing,
strong support from
The school is
committed to long-
term cooperation for
Deepening understanding of
companies and work in
businesses, possible to
students make the
plans, the students’
interests guide the
dependent on the
means students can learn
about managing and
implementing their own
For Case 2, the objective was ‘to see how companies work’. In that sense, it approaches what Gibb
(1993) describes as curiosity-led company visits. Such cases are more likely simply to be breaks in
the daily routines of school work instead of a possibility for entrepreneurial learning. Teacher B has
adopted the role of a promoter – seeking to ‘sell’ the students to companies. Teacher B takes the
process casually, targeting a certain number of visits without being selective. The operation is solely
dependent of the teacher and the level of planning and evaluation seems low. The visits seem more
stand-alone, and they are dependent on the individual teacher’s level of motivation, personal contacts
However, in Case 3 the entrepreneurial learning is taken seriously and the company visits play an
important role in deepening students’ understanding of entrepreneurship and business. The case
presents an established model of cooperation, the partners seem to know the model and the business
context. Teacher C operates as a manager, engaging in several simultaneous cooperation processes in
which the company visits play just a small role. For example, the companies support the students’
companies created with the JA model. However, the orientation is still very much teacher-led – the
processes are planned, selected and run for the students.
In Case 4, the company visits are rigorously organised. While the learning process seems very formal,
the cooperation is longer-term, enabling deepening entrepreneurial learning. The students become
familiar with the targets and the context and receive feedback on their learning process. Teacher D
takes the students by the hand and guides them into the business world. In terms of resources, the
teacher seems to have strong support from the organization. The cooperation with companies is
managed at the institutional level and the teacher can focus on the actual learning processes.
For Case 5, the learning objective reaches yet the next level, aiming at students gaining experience
of running a successful entrepreneurial project while learning about the business. Teacher E operates
as a coach in the background and assists students while they establish contacts and plan the form and
guidelines of cooperation. The teacher allows the students to work independently, and learning is
student-centred. Case 5 leans towards informal learning, where the students are active and learn by
carrying out their own projects. In terms of resources, the students’ interest in engaging different
resources and their ability to do so seem to be ways to learn about entrepreneurship
6. Discussion and conclusions
This study has focused on company visits as an opportunity for entrepreneurial learning. The research
question was: What learning opportunities do company visits create? The results indicate that
depending on the way company visits are organised, the learning possibilities are vast. Having noticed
that, we emphasise that grasping opportunities is largely dependent on the teacher and the school. In
the case analysis, we identified a case that fails to meet any level of entrepreneurial learning, and on
the other hand, a case where the entire company visit is planned, designed and implemented by the
students, consequently creating significant potential for entrepreneurial learning.
6.1. Contributions to theory
In general, all company visits should enable entrepreneurial learning (Pittaway and Thorpe, 2012).
Our study illustrates some of the problems associated with the implementation of company visits that
prevent or limit learning. On the other hand, it seems that developing company visits to exploit
opportunities for entrepreneurial learning is a multifaceted task.
This article contributes to theory in deepening the understanding of the teacher’s role, the time
horizon, the level of formality and the objectives set for entrepreneurial learning in company visits.
It seems evident that without focused entrepreneurial learning objectives, the learning effects are
likely to remain minimal (Lackeús, 2016). Earlier literature (e.g. Ruskovaara and Pihkala, 2014) has
suggested that processual, long-lasting learning experiences are more useful in establishing lasting
learning in students. In such cases, entrepreneurship education would be more a matter of cooperation
than individual company visits. The cases analysed in the study indicate that company visits are often
a part of a larger process of entrepreneurship education. In these cases, company visits are likely to
yield the best possible result.
Different cases provide us with information that company visits can create very different learning
opportunities. Where objectives connected to subjects and entrepreneurship where mentioned, we
could not find many examples of objectives related to entrepreneurial skills. Teacher 5 required the
students to take an active role in the learning process, starting from planning the company visit.
During the process, his students have most likely stepped outside of their comfort zone, solved
problems and acted in uncertainty; however, we cannot find such descriptions in other cases (Powell,
2013; Pittaway and Cope, 2007). Furthermore, the informants seem not to have set very clear
objectives for what skills students should learn during a company visit. Moreover, the aspect that
company visits present an opportunity to apply theory to practice seems to be neglected. (Pittaway
and Cope, 2007)
Company visits require resources. However, our study suggests that schools and teachers take very
different approaches to dealing with resourcing the task. One teacher reported that he is in charge of
entrepreneurship education in his school. Other respondents did not recognise such a resource in their
schools. Furthermore, as teachers still seem to need encouragement and ideas on how to put
entrepreneurship education into practice and how to organise company visits, a person specifically in
charge of entrepreneurship education would be of high value. Moreover, teachers would benefit from
training sessions dedicated to networking and exchanging ideas and experiences. (Ruskovaara and
Pihkala, 2014; Ruskovaara, 2014)
It seems evident that learning benefits from broadening of the learning environment through e.g. visits
outside of the school. However, organising company visits remains a challenge for teachers. Visits to
companies require planning, timetables and understanding between both partners. Managing these
complexities, the teacher’s own interest in and knowledge about entrepreneurship play a crucial role
in visit arrangements. Nevertheless, companies may too often be excessively difficult to contact,
while places such as museums, science centres, zoos and libraries are easier, as they have been
designed for public visits. In this perspective, it seems that the teacher’s approach to the concept of
entrepreneurship education is decisive.
6.2. Practical implications
The analysis revealed important findings about the training needs, support and resources of the
teacher. Company visits require special skills and knowledge from the teacher and benefit largely
from the involvement of the school. While cooperation seemed relatively easy for some teachers,
there are also teachers who seem unmotivated to work alone on the task. The work load for the teacher
is, however, largely dependent on the cooperating organisation. If the teacher is left alone with the
task, he or she may lack the motivation or the skills to manage the cooperation with the companies,
and as a result, company visits may not take place or may fail to meet their objectives. (Ememe et al.,
The cases in the study suggest that teachers are not equally aware of the possibilities for arranging
company visits, cooperation, or entrepreneurship education in general. The difficulty is to identify
these possibilities and decide which ones are right for the school. Instead, some teachers have created
their own specific approaches that fit the school and its partners. More general models could assist
teachers in planning, designing and implementing company visits more effectively. Teacher training
related to entrepreneurship education should also support traditional models of cooperation between
schools and businesses. It seems that should the teacher be familiar with and capable of business
cooperation, his or her traditional role may shift towards that of a coach. (Birdhistle et al., 2007)
Our study intentionally builds on cases that have been collected from both urban and rural contexts.
Interestingly, the location of the school – together with teacher’s attitude towards company visits –
may affect the teacher’s decision whether or not to arrange student visits to companies. Teacher B
suspects that organising company visits would be easier in rural areas than in cities. Although this
might be true, one could also think that the variety of companies in cities would make it easier for a
teacher. On the basis of this analysis, the distinction between urban and rural contexts is not decisive
in organising company visits. Instead, the choices made by the schools and teachers are decisive in
creating cooperation between the schools and companies. More understanding and case illustrations
are needed to shed light on this issue.
Our study implies a need for further research. It is clear that teachers implement entrepreneurship
education in varying ways. It would be worth investigating the view of the students – how they
experience learning by means of visits. Organising a company visit means striking a balance between
formal and informal learning, and therefore, the students’ perspective may provide important insights
into entrepreneurial learning. Furthermore, the different combinations of theory and practice have
been suggested to be fruitful for learning. However, company visits have been analysed from that
perspective only marginally. For many schools, company visits are a part of more extensive learning
processes, and the mixture of theory and practice increases in importance. More research on the
building and design of the entrepreneurial learning processes is warranted.
This study is a part of a larger research project, and thereby, only five cases are included in the present
study. The informants are all teachers of compulsory subjects, but one also teaches an elective course
on entrepreneurship. The results of the study do not represent the population of company visits or the
population of schools, but rather highlight some aspects of company visits as a method for
entrepreneurial learning. However, we maintain that our results are important for future studies of
company visits. Furthermore, the data for the study has been gathered in Finland, which obviously
raises questions of the transferability of the research results. However, as Finland is the first European
country to implement entrepreneurship education at all education levels, the results may be of interest
to a wider audience. The findings can also be largely utilised at higher education levels where
institutions and even universities attempt to connect their students with the world out there.
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