|This study has been conducted during the implementation of the EU Leonardo da Vinci Transfer of Innovation project “Re-integration into Labour Market through Entrepreneurship” (2010-2012) in 5 countries. The project deals with the development of adult learners’ entrepreneurship skills in a blended-learning course. The conceptual framework of the study is based on theoretical aspects of systemic-constructivist learning implemented in an interactive online learning environment in a blended-learning course. The paper presents findings of the study conducted during the first two stages of the project – needs analysis and the created blended-learning entrepreneurship course. The formative evaluation research was conducted implementing mixed methods of the research (quantitative and qualitative) and it comprised a survey of potential course attendants and informant interviewing with entrepreneurs. An intentional sampling of 60 unemployed people attending the courses at Turiba University and six entrepreneurs was composed. Theoretical analysis of literature provides features necessary for creating interactive online learning environments to be used in blended learning courses. Findings of the study show that potential learners not always objectively evaluate their capacities. Special attention has to be paid to the development of learners’ computer literacy as well as to the activities that would bring online learning to practical training. Needs analysis shows that Business English module is the additional module to be included in the RELESE course.|
Key words: online learning, blended learning, interactive learning environment, entrepreneurship skills, development.
A characteristic feature of the twenty-first century is the use of modern information and communication technologies (ICT) that influence many spheres, including adult learning. Adult education is experiencing an increasing demand for online learning possibilities that provide everyone an opportunity to study at any time and any place. Under these conditions the role of ICT increases. The problem lies in the fact how to create a learning environment suitable to adult learners’ needs.
Wang (2008) offers a generic model of integrating ICT into teaching and learning. This model consists of three components: pedagogy, social interaction and technology. Pedagogy implies teaching strategies and approaches. Social interaction means that “a learning environment must provide a safe and comfortable space, in which learners are willing to share information” (Wang 2008:412) and learn. Technological component includes an easy access to the online platform and user friendly, interactive interface that would motivate learners to learn. Thus pedagogy provides interaction with the content of the studies, social interaction provides interaction with people and technology provides interaction with interface. However, it has to be emphasised that the primary factor which influences effective learning is the pedagogical design (Wang 2009).
This model corresponds to constructivist learning that implies that learners actively construct their knowledge and the educator provides consultancy and support. According to constructivist learning theories (Wang 2008; 2009) the learning environment must offer tools for learners’ communication and collaboration. In online learning an emphasis should be laid not only on learners’ own learning but also on interactions between peers and educators to attain the learning outcomes (Huang and Nakazawa 2010). Constructivist learning environments are defined as technology-based spaces in which learners construct knowledge by exploring and experimenting and reflect learning from their experiences (Wang 2009; Jonassen et al 1998).
This paper introduces the EU Leonardo da Vinci Transfer of Innovation project “Re-integration into Labour Market through Entrepreneurship” conducted from 2010 to 2012 in 5 EU countries which deals with the development of adult learners’ entrepreneurship skills in a blended learning course.
The conceptual framework of the present study is based on theoretical aspects of systemic-constructivist learning (Reich 2005) implemented in an interactive online learning environment (Calongne 2002; Stephens and Collins 2007; Wang 2008; Wang 2009; Chu, Hwang, Tsai et al 2009; Harrington and Enochs, 2009; Durán and Amandi, 2011) in a blended learning course (Bersin 2004; Heinze and Procter, 2004; Jones 2006; Thorne 2003).
Since Internet and multimedia boomed in the nineties, intellectual practice has evolved in various forms and places. Some examples are: learning alone in online courses or from CD-Roms; alternating face-to-face contacts and interacting online with an educator; reading online tutorials and practicing alone; searching for the answer to their questions in Google; participating in different online training sessions, etc. (De Praetere 2008).
Although online learning has become increasingly popular during the last decade, it has to be marked that introduction of online learning was not easily accepted by the academic and training communities. The major concern about online programs was connected with its quality: 1) learners’ attitude and satisfaction; 2) interactions of learners and educators; 3) learners’ learning outcomes; 4) educators’ satisfaction (Shachar and Neumann, 2010). The studies (Capra 2011; Ritter and Lemke 2000) show that online learning has proved its quality as it embraces the seven principles of quality education worked out for traditional learning and nowadays applied to online learning as well: 1) encouraging learner – educator contact; 2) encouraging cooperation among learners; 3) encouraging active learning; 4) giving prompt feedback; 5) emphasizing time on-task; 6) communicating high expectations; 7) respecting diversity.
Despite its popularity, online learning has also drawbacks. “One of the main disadvantages is the lack of social interaction” (Heinze and Procter 2004). The need for a compromise between the conventional face-to-face sessions and online learning has led towards a new teaching-learning approach – hybrid or blended learning (Rogers 2001) called also as integrative learning and multi-method learning (The Node Learning Technologies Network 2001).
Blended learning combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods with more modern computer-mediated activities. Blended learning offers learners the opportunity to learn on their own and interact with peers. This is an integrated approach for educators and learners.
Heinze and Procter (2004) have developed the following definition for blended learning in higher education: “Blended learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and is based on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course”. The same definition may be applied to formal and non-formal adult education, including the course under the investigation.
The advantages of blended learning are: 1) it is a learner-centred approach providing learners’ active participation from the start of the course to its completion; 2) interaction between learner – learner, learner – educator, learner – content, learner – learning environment; 3) learners’ self-evaluation and self-assessment and evaluation and assessment done by peers and educators ensure constant monitoring of learners’ success.
A special role in a blended learning course is given to the interactive online learning environment in which the studies are organised. The main principles and components of an interactive online learning environment are conversation, participation, a sense of experiences, and sharing in the community (Stephens and Collins 2007). These principles are in line with systemic-constructivist learning (Reich 2005) which also emphasises participation, experience and collaboration. According to Chu, Hwang, Tsai et al (2009) conversation means discussion and feedback, participation is collaboration in acquiring new information, experience means networking with peers, and sharing is experience exchange. These principles outline the necessity of team working and cooperative and collaborative learning to succeed in attaining learning outcomes. Cooperation and collaboration is one of the advantages of online learning environments. A computer supported learning environment provides learners “the opportunity to work together and to practice critical reflection, conflict, negotiation and consensus building” (Durán and Amandi 2011:143) thus developing skills necessary for their future entrepreneurship activity.
Another advantage of online learning environments is the fact that learners are provided open and equal discussion opportunities (Calongne 2002) which means that even less active and shy learners are given an opportunity to discuss the problem, participate in its solution thus enriching their experience and satisfaction. According to Savery (2009) learners practise articulating and synthesising the acquired skills. The created possibilities for discussions and experience exchange (chats, forums) ensure a high degree of interaction which is essential in any kind of learning, including online learning (Chandra and Fisher 2009). “Discussions stimulate learners to make sense of their learning and reconstruct knowledge in new ways” (Romanov and Nevgi 2008:154).
However, educators have to be aware that not all learners, especially adult learners, are ready to accept the basic idea of constructivist learning in which the educator is a facilitator of knowledge and learners are directing their own learning thus being responsible for their learning outcomes (Waterhouse 2005, Olaniran 2009).
When analysing constructivist learning environments Harrington and Enochs (2009) based on Cannon (1995) point to the fact that constructivist learning environment has to provide learners an opportunity to construct their own knowledge, understand the course content through exposure and share their learning experiences. In their further analysis Harrington and Enochs (2009) add that Taylor, Dawson, Fraser (1995) identified five components of a critically constructivist learning environment: personal relevance, learner negotiation, shared control, critical voice and uncertainty. These components coincide with Reich’s systemic-constructivist learning (Reich 2005) that emphasises three dimensions – learners’ experience, a sense of well-being and social recognition. Personal relevance, learner negotiation and critical voice are related with well-being, shared control is connected both with social experience and well-being, and uncertainty is connected with experience.
The goal of the RELESE project (www.relese.eu) is to contribute to the re-integration of socially vulnerable group of unemployed people into the labour market by enhancing their entrepreneurship skills. The objective of the project is transfer of the innovative online learning platform and blended course contents and activities focused upon entrepreneurship enhancement. The aim of the project is to implement a realistic, competitive and sustainable Virtual Learning Community, which promotes a specific entrepreneurial training/mentoring programme offering integrated guidance to entrepreneurs from the early stage of motivation and idea generation through a personalized support in implementing business projects.
RELESE project focuses on the needs of those who dropped out of labour market and want to return to it by starting their own business but do not have necessary skills and know-how.
The entrepreneurship online learning course was developed during Leonardo da Vinci Development of Innovation project “Enter” (www.enter-project.eu) by the Portuguese partner "TECMAIA” and was implemented in Portugal, Romania, Greece and France. During that project an innovative model of training and mentoring for the promotion and adoption of a culture of entrepreneurship in Europe was created andtested(Entrepreneurship Enhancement and Reinforcement).During RELESE project the course is transferred to Lithuania, Finland, Latvia and Poland. The project coordinator is Vilnius Business College from Lithuania, whereas the partners are Labour Market Training Centre (Utena, Lithuania), TECMAIA – Parque de Ciência e Tecnologia da Maia (Portugal), Laurea - University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Turiba University (Riga, Latvia), University of Information Technology and Management (Rzeszow, Poland) and Siaures Northtown Technology Park (NTP) (Vilnius, Lithuania).
The course contents, tools and activities are adapted to the partner countries' contexts according to needs analysis carried out in each partner country. The original course containing the following modules: Company, Marketing, Financing, Business Plan, Intellectual Property, Communication, Internationalization, Project Management, Innovation Management, is supplemented by Business English module which was selected in accordance with the needs analysis results in the partner countries.
The course consists of a two phase process: 1) a blended learning course combining workshops with a set of collaborative and participative activities; 2) a mentoring phase to support the launch of business projects.
The course content is converted into multimedia and interactive contents. The course requires 250 hours of learners’ work, divided in modules of 25 hours each. Each module lasts for a period of two weeks approximately. Online content is organized in lessons, including activities and intermediate online assessments designed to deepen the understanding on the subjects at hand and evaluation of knowledge uptake progression. The course also comprises specially arranged sessions for presentation and discussion of learners’ business projects with peers and experts, as well as institutional representatives expressly invited for this purpose.
Purpose of the Research
The purpose of the study is to explore opportunities of the development of adult learners’ entrepreneurship skills in a blended learning course implemented in an interactive online learning environment and face-to-face studies.
The research questions are as follows:
Research Design and Methods
A formative evaluation research (O’Leary 2010; Scriven 2007) was conducted at Turiba University (Riga, Latvia) in 2010-2011. The reason for selecting formative evaluation research lies in the premise that “evaluation is now a key strategy for supplying decision makers with the data they need for rational, informed, evidence-based decision making” (O’Leary 2010:138).
The study consisted of 4 stages:
Mixed methods design (qualitative and quantitative) was applied for the study to increase its reliability and validity (Hunter and Brewer 2003; Kelle and Erzberger 2004). The following research methods were applied: an analysis of theoretical literature and sources, empirical methods – data collection (surveys containing structured and open questions, and informant interviewing), data processing and analysis methods (primary and secondary quantitative data analysis by applying SPSS 16.0 software – frequencies, ranking, Pearson Correlation Test (Raščevska and Kristapsone 2000) and discourse analysis (Lynch 2007) for the analysis of qualitative data). Informant interviewing was selected as it is of a more in-depth character than semi-structured or unstructured interviews and informant interviewing is applied “with a small selected set of informants most often in a field setting” (Johnson 2004:493), as well as the sample is selected on the basis of their knowledge and experience (ibid).
Sample of the Study
An intentional sampling based on Geske and Grīnfelds (2006) was composed and it comprised 60 unemployed people attending the courses at Turiba University and 6 entrepreneurs.
The age group of respondents for the survey ranged from less than 25 to over 51: 11 respondents being younger than 25, 16 people stated to be from 25 to 35, 19 people were from age of 36 to 50 and 14 claimed to be from 51 and over. 38 respondents were female, and 22 – male. The educational background ranged from secondary education to Master’s degree, where the majority was with secondary education (17 respondents), 14 people stated to have professional or vocational education, 12 respondents had Bachelor’s degree, and 4 people had Master’s degree. 13 respondents had connection with Business Management or Economics, 6 people were in Medicine, 6 respondents stated to have previous employment or education in Science or Education, 6 in Industry, 5 in Construction, 4 respondents were in Service area, 3 were involved in Social work. 20 respondents claimed to have had status of unemployment for over a year, 17 people for 7 months to a year, 15 people from 1 month to half a year.
6 entrepreneurs were interviewed within the framework of the project. Respondents held top management positions and were either owners of enterprises or top-level managers. They were representatives of different sectors. The age of respondents ranged from 20 to 60 years.
Findings from the Survey. The conducted survey comprised 3 parts: 1) learners’ experience in entrepreneurship, 2) course expectations and 3) workload and learning habits. Further analysis of findings gained in these 3 parts of the survey is provided.
Learners Experience in Entrepreneurship. Reasons to become an entrepreneur varied among the respondents. The majority of respondents – 20 people answered that they did not want to start their own business, 18 people explained their motivation to start business by fresh challenges they could get through it, 9 people were motivated by their current status of unemployed, as well as 9 people wanted to be independent of any employer (self-employed). 49 respondents did not have any previous entrepreneurial experience, 10 people had some previous experience in various aspects of business. The areas included fruit and vegetable processing; fruit and flowers trade during winter season; shop opened with a friend several years ago that had been closed due to economic difficulties; car service; production and individual entrepreneurship. 14 respondents answered to have had strong motivational power to start their own business, 23 could not assess it, and 17 people had weak motivation.
Pearson Correlation analysis showed a small correlation between respondents’ age and the wish to start their own business (r=0.234), respondents’ sex and the wish to start their own business (r=-0.204), respondents’ level of education and the wish to start their own business (r=0.019). This means that people are ready to start their own business irrespective of their age, sex and the level of education, which might be regarded as positive because people have initiative, which has to be supported. There is a moderate correlation between respondents’ professional background and the wish to start their own business (r=0.048), which means that respondents’ previous work experience influences their readiness to start their own business. There is also a moderate correlation between the fact how long a person has been unemployed and the wish to start their own business (r=-0.061).
Regarding business ideas it is evident that 44 respondents did not have any business ideas at the moment of being questioned, 14 people replied positively, 2 did not give any answer. The ideas included a café, an Internet shop, confectionary, a research centre of physical and psychological health and culture, a floristic business. 18 respondents mentioned that if they had a chance they would start medium-sized business, 15 were for small business, and 24 could not decide on a company size, 1 wanted to have a large- sized business.
Pearson Correlation analysis showed a moderate correlation between respondents’ experience in entrepreneurship and the size of the company they would like to run (r=0.462). 50% of those with previous experience wanted to start a medium size company, whereas only 13 people (26.5%) of those without entrepreneurship experience wanted to start up a medium company, 11 people (22.4%) – a small company and only 1 – a large company. The greatest majority of those without entrepreneurship experience (24 respondents or 49.0%) did not have any plans as to the size of the company. All the respondents with previous entrepreneurship experience were aware of what size of company they would like to start.
A moderate correlation between respondents’ entrepreneurship experience and the kind of the company they would like to start up (r=0.295) was discovered. 5 respondents (50%) of those having entrepreneurship experience wanted to start up a Limited Liability company, whereas only 11 respondents (22.4%) of those with no previous entrepreneurship experience wanted to start up a Limited Liability company. Similar results were obtained regarding individual merchants: only one respondent (10%) with entrepreneurship experience and 11 respondents with no experience in entrepreneurship wanted to be individual merchants. The majority of those who had no experience in entrepreneurship (26 respondents or 53.1%) did not have any ideas regarding the kind of the company they would like to establish.
A moderate correlation between respondents’ professional background and the kind of the company they would like to start up (r=-0.343) was discovered. The findings showed that the respondents with construction background were those who had not thought of the kind of the company they want to start up (4 respondents or 66.7%). In turn, those with industry background had thought of it: 2 respondents (40%) wanted to have a Limited Liability company one – wanted to be an individual merchant, and one – to start up a Joint Stock company. Those with the background in catering industry, social sciences and IT also had not chosen the kind of the company they want to start up. The respondents with business and economics background wanted mostly to start up a Limited Liability company (5 respondents or 38.5%), a Joint Stock company (2 respondents or 15.4%) or be individual merchants (3 respondents or 23.1%).
Respondents were asked what kind of customer base or clientele they could hypothetically have. The following feedback was provided by 12 people: 1) visitors of a café; 2) mothers and babies; 3) Internet users (2 respondents); 4) young people, employed people and pensioners; 5) foreigners; 6) native people and tourists; 7) acquaintances; 8) customers with middle and high income; 9) Latvian residents in the age from 30 to 35, who care about their health; 10) foreigners, for example, people from the Russian Federation; 11) Latvian residents and foreigners.
The question concerning expectations on financing needed to start up the company was answered in the following way: 15 people would be interested to attract outside investors, 12 respondents would start business using their own savings, 11 would apply to a bank, 4 people would involve friends or a family, whereas 27 could not answer. The most popular business sectors mentioned by 27 respondents was services, 8 people would be interested in local trade, 6 people would start production, 4 people would like to deal with foreign trade (import or export), 6 mentioned that they would be interested in starting business in some other area, such as construction. 9 respondents did not give any feedback.
Course Expectations. Respondents were asked to mark which areas they felt they needed education to start their own business. The respondents were allowed to choose several answers and the fields they mentioned included finance (20 respondents), work organisation (20), law (17), quality management (17), sales and marketing (16) and others (refer to Figure 1).
|Figure 1: The respondents’ topics of priority|
The main difficulties respondents see in a possibility to start up business in Latvia is government (licences, taxation, permits) (30), 26 people consider financing as the main obstacle, 10 people mentioned legal issues to be the biggest problem, 9 consider competition to be the main difficulty, 8 mentioned technical knowledge of the area, 1 person mentioned economic collapse to be the main problem in starting a new business.
The feedback on a question concerning a 5 year vision was quite optimistic, where 12 would want to start medium-sized business, 12 would like to start small business, 8 people would like to have the same job as they used to have in past, 6 people see themselves running large-sized business, only 5 see themselves as unemployed. 10 people could not provide any answer, 1 person would like to work abroad.
Next, respondents were asked to rate the modules offered in the RELESE course according to their importance on the 5 point scale and as can be seen from Figure 2 almost all the modules offered were rated with 4 or 5 points and business plan was considered to be the most important.
|Figure 2: The respondents’ opinion on the importance of the modules|
The additional modules that respondents would like to have in their study course included E-commerce; modules focused on practical application, for example accounting, business control, legislation; market studies, including demand, supply, niche market study; office work organization, foreign partnership. Several people mentioned accounting as a crucial integral part of a future course.
Respondents have also marked the fields in which they would like to improve their knowledge. At the top were practice, courses and practical training. 32 respondents mentioned the necessity to improve their foreign language skills in order to start their own business, 26 people considered that they needed to learn accounting, 20 would like to improve skills in writing work documentation. IT skills and Social and organizational psychology were mentioned by 12 in each category.
Thus from the above-mentioned fields it is clear that the learners in Latvia lack the foreign language skills and this could be an additional module to be included in RELESE course. As the first and most popular foreign language in Latvia is English, Business English has been included as the additional module in the course.
Workload and learning habits. In general it is noticeable from the questionnaires that the majority of respondents (22 people) are not willing to spend more than 4 hours a week on studies, 19 people would be ready to spend 4-8 hours weekly, 15 people could study longer than 8 hours a week and 4 people were unable to answer.
The majority of respondents (29) would like to study with the use of printed materials, 19 of them would like to study individually (on their own), 11 would prefer online / e-learning, and 3 mentioned that they would prefer to study in a group and to have real life simulations (situation modelling). This shows that blended learning course might be a possible form of learning for the target group since it combines online learning with face-to-face learning providing interaction and individual learning on their own.
32 respondents used websites as e-learning tools before, 27 were aware of CDs/DVDs for studies. Other e-learning tools mentioned were e-books and use of materials sent by e-mail.
Pearson Correlation analysis showed a moderate correlation between the number of hours the respondents would like to study and their ICT skills (r=0.030). The respondents with very good and good digital competence were more ready to learn than those having a low digital competence. 5 respondents (41.7%) of those having a very good digital competence and 5 respondents (25 %) with a good digital competence were ready to study more than 8 hours a week. However, a negative trend was observed – the lower level of digital competence respondents had, the fewer hours they were ready to study. Thus 13 respondents (61.9%) of those with only satisfactory ICT competence were ready to study less than 4 hours a week. This might cause certain problems regarding successful course completion as those people would need more time to cope with the online materials. This means that there should be provided consulting possibilities for those learners.
Findings from the Interviews. The interviewees had to answer three questions: personal information (age, education and position), information about the enterprise and finally requirements for potential employees if the enterprise were recruiting.
The first interviewee was one of the owners of Ltd „Saules parks” and a manager as well (aged 27). He graduated the Faculty of Economics and Management of the University of Latvia and also studied in a college in Washington. Ltd “Saules parks” is a small hotel offering 6 rooms (5 double rooms and 1 family suite – studio) as well as a room for conferences and seminars. There is a nightclub that belongs to the same owners in the hotel premises. Asked about the necessity for new employees the interviewee answered that it was not possible to develop the hotel as planned and therefore there are only 3 permanent staff members including a receptionist, chambermaid and a part time accountant. However, it is planned to increase the number of staff to 14 – 3 receptionists, a chambermaid/gardener, 6 cafeteria workers and 5 SPA complex employees. Higher education was not mentioned as priority while recruiting new employees. Good communication skills with guests would be an advantage for candidates for the posts of receptionists.
The second respondent was one of the founders of the online Internet shop www.linzmarket.lv for contact lenses (aged 22), who is currently responsible for customer service. The respondent has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and hospitality management. The abovementioned enterprise works with e-commerce and specialises in sales of contact lenses and lens care products. Regarding requirements for potential employees, the interviewee immediately pointed out specific issues: “Higher education or uncompleted higher education is desirable but the candidate may be a fourth year student. He/She should definitely know Latvian and Russian (English is also desirable), must be proficient in computer software and have knowledge of the field and solutions.” Moreover, the candidate’s personality also plays a role and the respondent would prefer that the candidate is “a communicable, positive and creative personality with a sense of responsibility for the tasks designated as well as ability to organise one’s work and work in a team.”
The third respondent is the owner and manager of Ltd „Piespēle” (aged 47) and has specialised secondary education. Ltd “Piespēle” has been operating in the field of car spare parts and accessories sales since 1992. Answering the question on how he sees his potential employee, he replied briefly saying: “Education in fact is not very important. The desire to work is important. All that is necessary for work can be learnt.”
The fourth respondent is the chairman of the board of Ltd „Vendoks” (aged 42) and has specialised secondary education. The enterprise deals with a wide range of activities but basically deals with cargo forwarding by road and construction of water supply systems. While recruiting candidates the respondent usually reviews the candidate’s CV, which school and courses he/she has completed although greater emphasis is paid to the practical knowledge and skills shown by the candidate.
The fifth respondent, the chairman of the board of Ltd „AK celtniecība” (aged 50), has higher education in engineering. Ltd “AK celtniecība” operates in the field of construction, projection and electrical installations. The respondent was very concise regarding the requirements for potential employees: “Education is not very important; the most important thing is skills.”
The sixth respondent, the owner of guest house „Bērziņi” (aged 58), has a master’s degree in philology. Regarding the personality of the potential employee she answered that: „Creative and able to work independently. Personality features: polite, accurate, and able to come up with new ideas and opportunities. Prepared to work as if it was his/her own enterprise, professional in one’s field. The degree is not important but he/she should have an understanding of his/her job.”
Analysing the information gathered during the interviews it can be concluded that most of respondents seek employees who have a strong personality with practical skills rather than education in a specialised field. Only one of respondents was looking for employees with higher education.
Findings reveal that from 60 respondents majority belonged to the age group from 36 to 50, mostly women with compulsory education. The majority of the questioned have been unemployed for more than a year. Most of them do not have experience in entrepreneurship but they have thought of starting their own business at least once. However, most of them have not evaluated their wish to become entrepreneurs, but those who have done it admit that they have low motivation for it. Moreover, majority of the questioned have neither their own business idea, nor marketing or finance plan. They are not aware of what kind, size and type of company they would like to establish. Although they have no idea regarding the possible financial means for starting their own business, they mention that their company could operate in the field of services. The respondents also point out that when establishing their own company they expect to have the greatest obstacles with regards to bureaucracy. Most of the respondents also admit that in five years’ time they see themselves in a medium or small company.
Comparing the findings to those from partner countries it is evident that the age of Latvian respondents was similar to the people questioned in Finland, whereas in Lithuania and Poland most of the unemployed people were young adults. Regarding educational background similarities were traced between Latvian and Finnish respondents. Regarding the length of unemployment, the average period was more than a year, which is the case of Latvia as well. Another similarity is the low number of people who have had some entrepreneurship experience (14-17% of responds in all the partner countries). The findings of needs analysis in Latvia regarding respondents’ reasons to become an entrepreneur coincided with the findings of other partner countries. The two most frequently mentioned reasons in all the partner countries are: want to be my own boss and want a new challenge. Regarding business ideas, only 22% of Latvian respondents have any kind of business idea, whereas in other partner countries the number ranges from 41% (in Poland) to 52-53% (in Lithuania and Finland). This shows that Latvian course attendants will need more detailed explanations regarding the possible businesses.
The findings of the needs analysis conducted in Latvia indicate that the respondents would like to study the following themes in the course: business plan, intellectual property, marketing and project management. They consider that foreign language skills are of the utmost importance to succeed. Comparing the findings with the ones gained in other partner countries a conclusion can be made that the top areas for the course are surprisingly similar: law, sales and marketing, finances, general management, operations. Differences were found in ranking the modules. Analysing the first four top modules, only Marketing was selected by all the partner countries. Finances and Business plan were selected by Latvia, Poland and Lithuania. All the other modules were evaluated differently. This indicates that during studies an emphasis in different countries should be laid on different module, considering the actual needs of the target audience.
The findings of the survey show that even respondents with entrepreneurial background do not exactly understand the question of clients of their enterprise. Just some of them have heard that it is necessary to make clients’ segmentation. The respondents mention the following target groups as their clients: foreigners, acquaintances, tourists, Internet users, etc. The respondents do not understand the basics and necessity of clients’ segmentation. In reality it is vital to know the sex, approximate age, education level, interests of one’s prospective clients. For example, if the respondent has mentioned that his/her clients will be Internet users, it does not mean anything as it is not clear in which websites to advertise, nor what the advertisement should look like. This aspect deserves attention in the study course.
Latvian respondents, similarly to respondents from other partner countries, consider practical training (on the job training and internship) as the most important for success in entrepreneurship. That is a challenge for course developers as it shows that what the course participants expect most is a practical know-how of how to run business rather than theoretical knowledge about business in general. Therefore, the suggestion is made that all the course modules rather than presenting stiff theoretical overview of the topics should involve activities and tasks that would bring online learning to practical training as close as possible. Therefore, the activities should include practical tasks, case studies and business simulation as e.g. developing marketing plans, budgeting company activities. The topic presentation should include real life examples so that the participants could get real hands-on experience in various areas of business (Raczkowski, 2011).
The methodological/didactic approach implemented for the development of adult learners’ entrepreneurship skills in the RELESE course comprises blended learning approach, which incorporates learners’ independent studies using the materials uploaded on the created interactive online learning platform, mentoring (educator’s support and guidance), networking (interacting with peers and educators in chats and forums of the online platform), and face-to-face learning. The training methodology merges the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom, with technologically enhanced active learning possibilities for online environment, including collaborative learning among learners, knowledge sharing and consistent delivery of information, as each learner is given exactly the same content as their colleagues. The learning methodology is based on active experience, strong interpersonal interactions, and an ability to interconnect with others, which corresponds to systemic-constructivist learning. The applied methodology increases communication and negotiation skills, enhances team working, consequently developing learners’ entrepreneurship skills.
The survey showed that the majority of respondents did not show strong motivation in setting up their own business, however, those who did were motivated by challenges a new company establishment could bring to their lives.
The conducted interviews with entrepreneurs show that the majority of the employers interviewed look for employees not taking into account their diplomas but personalities with definite skills and experience. Only one employer admitted that it is important to have higher education. This points to the necessity of enhancing learners’ generic competences.
Both the findings of the survey and the conducted interviews show that in Latvia the additional module for inclusion in the RELESE course is Business English which has been created by Turiba University and introduced as an additional module for RELESE course.
Special attention has to be paid to the development of learners’ computer literacy. The findings reveal that part of respondents does not have appropriate digital competence. A solution could be found providing the support of tutors or consultants whom the learners could contact in case of problems arisen because of the lack of appropriate computer skills. This is the aspect that urged designing the learning platform as simple and user friendly as it is possible. Since the respondents stress the importance of practical training to succeed in entrepreneurship, special attention has to be paid to the activities that would bring online learning to practical training as close as possible including case studies, simulations, problem solving tasks, etc.
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