Learning Through Play: A New Model to Teach Entrepreneurship

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2018

Stetson University
Miami, Florida


The use of play in education is nothing new. Serious gaming is gaining importance in education. The last 10 years has seen the rise of digital games in entertainment and academia. Gamification is the new term used to define the integration of game mechanics into traditionally nongame environments (Muntean, 2011). Any subject matter or context can be gamified. Gamification’s main goal is to engage students (2011, p. 323). Game-based learning is not just about creating games to play, but also about designing learning activities that can incrementally introduce concepts and guide users towards an end goal (Trybus, 2015). Game-Based Learning (GBL) can be effectively used to improve learning and provide real world experiences. In this pilot study, we conducted a workshop using a simulation game and videos for 18 teens (12-17 years old) who aspired to be entrepreneurs. We observed the workshop as it proceeded, surveyed participants, and interviewed five workshop participants. The goal was to learn the teens’ opinions on the learning process and their motivation when we use simulations.

Theoretical Framework

Game-Based Learning

Games have been used as a learning tool for centuries. Definitions of game-based learning emphasize that it is a type of game play with defined learning outcomes (Shaffer, Halverson, Squire, & Gee, 2005). Game-based learning uses certain gaming principles and applies them to real-life settings to engage users (Trybus, 2015). Game-based learning simply means incorporating subject matter into games. Games offer a unique structure to complement traditional teaching strategies and provide diversity in teaching methods (Chow, Kelly, & Maes, 2011). Games make learning concepts enjoyable for students and supply learners with a platform for their creative thoughts to develop. Games encourage creative behavior and divergent thought (Fuszard, 2001). Gaming creates a dynamic that can inspire learners to develop skills and build an emotional connection to learning. One of the key aspects of game-based learning is that each student receives feedback on their performance with suggestions on how they might improve. Game-based learning has shifted focus from learning with lectures and written tasks to learning with games, and it has become an indispensable part of modern education (Kaya, 2010).


Gamification only uses a few game elements. Learners participate in activities that include video or mobile game elements, such as earning points, overcoming challenges, and receiving badges for accomplishing tasks. Bohyun Kim (2013) suggests that “gamification can add an extra level of motivation and incentive to many higher education activities.” Gamification is used to describe those features of an interactive system that aim to motivate and engage end users through the use of game elements and mechanics (Deterding, 2012).

Entrepreneurship Education and Serious Games

Research on entrepreneurial learning has advanced considerably since Low et al. (1994) and Hindle (2002) first considered serious games in entrepreneurship education. Current research in entrepreneurial learning provides a valid framework through which to evaluate the current gaming landscape. Games, as a pedagogic approach, seem to align well with the socioconstructivist educational paradigm (Gibb, 1987 & 2002).

Entrepreneurship is the most powerful economic force across the globe (Keat et al., 2011). Entrepreneurship education has been defined in various ways by scholars; however, these definitions share a level of similarity among them. According to Pittaway and Uzueghunam (2018), entrepreneurship education aims to help students acquire skills and knowledge that are crucial for the development of an entrepreneurial mindset. Isaacs et al. (2007) defined entrepreneurship education as the purposeful intervention that is made by an educator in the life of the learner through entrepreneurial qualities and skills teaching, which will enable the learner to survive the dynamics of the business world. Mwangi (2011) believed that entrepreneurship education is designed to specifically support students in the setting up/operation of their own entrepreneurial ventures, rather than directing them to seek paid employment from someone else.

In this study, we are interested in serious games within the framework of educational practice in entrepreneurship. Serious games can be defined as computer-based learning simulations that engage players in realistic activities designed to increase knowledge, improve skills, and enable positive learning outcomes (Prensky, 2001). While such simulations are not always “games,” the main focus here is the use of digital games to support “serious” outcomes. Serious simulation games are designed to promote learning, primarily by leveraging a narrative or story centered in an entrepreneurial setting. Serious games also differ from entertainment games as they focus on problem-solving tasks and incorporate real world interaction (Susi, Johannesson, & Backlund, 2007), a useful concept in entrepreneurial education.

Previous research on the use of serious games in entrepreneurship education suggests that students perceive serious gameplay as a useful education exercise that extends their knowledge about entrepreneurial decision variables (Huebscher & Lendner, 2010). Serious games have some definable characteristics as highlighted by Prensky (2001), including fun, play, rules, goals, outcomes, conflict, and problem solving.

The Workshop


In this pilot study, we focused on the four-hour workshop that was held at the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center (LIEOC) for 18 teens (12-17 years old) from a nonprofit organization called Youth Entrepreneurs in Action Association.

In addition to the 18 teens, four parents and three siblings (6-8 years old) were present at the workshop. As they became interested, the instructor allowed them to participate in the simulation game. We called them “unexpected participants.”

The workshop instructor introduced a new model to learn entrepreneurship using computer simulation games.

Motivational Video

In the workshop, students watched a 10-15-minute video showing histories of teen entrepreneurs. This served as a motivational resource as they watched role models of people their age of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds who are currently entrepreneurs.

Simulation 1: Saving and Investing

After the video, the instructor provided information about money management through a simulation. The instructor selected a simulation game that required participants to set financial goals and figure out how to achieve them. She used GoVenture software (http://goventure.net).

Students learned how to use cash flow and calculate net worth over the course of 10 virtual years. The goals of the game included earning and managing money for family, housing, and transportation. Students learned how to navigate a life, get a job, pay for a car, use credit cards, and apply for loans. Students learned how credit ratings are derived and why it is important to understand in pursuing their financial goals. The simulation also showed the importance of paying taxes, and recognizing the possibility of unforeseen changes in economic conditions (unemployment and inflation can occur during the simulation).

Figure 1 Teens engaged in simulation games.
Figure 1 Teens engaged in simulation games.

After students completed the first simulation, they began a second one: Entrepreneur, also from GoVenture. In this simulation, students pretended to initiate a business in a specific area and learned how to maximize its profits. They learned how to make detailed start-up decisions about location and finances. Students learned how to monitor sales, profits, employee morale, and customer satisfaction.

Alternative Simulation Game: Lemonade Stand

This was for the unexpected participants. The students’ siblings could not fully understand the other simulations, so the instructor selected one especially for their age: Lemonade Stand. This game showed players how to set up a lemonade stand business. It had features similar to the entrepreneurship simulation, but was more basic. Two eight-year-old children played alone. One parent decided to play Lemonade Stand with her daughter (6 years old) and guide the child through the game. The other three parents decided to participate as students and follow the instructions provided to the teens (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Unexpected Learners: Siblings and Parents
Figure 2 Unexpected Learners: Siblings and Parents

Data Collection and Analysis Procedures

One of the researchers performed observations during the workshop and took notes of the students’ reactions to the videos and simulation games. The observer informally talked with the parents and organizers to learn about their impressions of the simulations. The observer kept field notes.

In addition, a student satisfaction survey was distributed via email three months after the workshop.

Interviews were also conducted. One of the researchers contacted the parents of the teens and requested parental consent. Of the 18 students, the researcher was able to get 12 parental consents, and three students were randomly selected to be interviewed. She then invited the parents, who were present during the interviews. Two of them agreed to be formally interviewed as well. One of them had participated as a student, and the other had played the Lemonade Stand simulation with her daughter during the simulation.

The researcher conducted phone interviews with five people in total—three teen students and two parents—to learn the effects of the simulation games and video interviews.

Teen 1: 13 year-old girl

Teen 2: 13 year-old boy

Teen 3: 15 year-old girl

Parent A: Parent who played by herself

Parent B: Parent who played with her 6 year-old daughter

The researcher asked two questions:

  • How did you feel about watching video interviews of former entrepreneurs your age? Do you feel the videos motivate you to become an entrepreneur in the future?
  • How did you feel about using simulation games to learn financial literacy? How do you feel learning by yourself?


This pilot study investigates and clarifies effects of gaming technology on attitudes related to autonomous learning, curiosity, and motivation. This study was based on student interviews, surveys, and observations on game-based learning outcomes. Student

interviews have been thematically analyzed to answer the two questions.

Interviews were 20 to 30 min long by phone. Interviews were conducted three months after the workshop (the researcher needed to contact parents to get parental consent for the interviews). We found three major themes in the interviews: motivation, learning, and curiosity.


In the surveys, participants expressed how much they liked the workshop and how they felt motivated to learn or to become an entrepreneur: Student and parent comments during the interviews included:

“The instructor showed us videos of kids my child’s age who are entrepreneurs. My 6-year-old child commented, ‘I don’t have to wait until I am an adult to be an entrepreneur!’” (Parent B)

The child of parent B realized that anyone can be an entrepreneur, and the video gave them a role model to follow.

One teen participant expressed motivation to find ways to save:

“The game motivated me to find ways to save money, but more importantly I am looking forward to a summer job to get that money.” (Teen 2)

Another developed curiosity about money management:

“I wanted to learn more, and more…How can I invest with the money I save? How can I get money in the first place? I got some ideas.” (Teen 3)


Participants learned new concepts and grasped financial concepts faster than usual. The game also promoted autonomous learning. Students felt good learning by themselves.

Parent A learned about investments:

“Sometimes we save money to buy things like clothes or shoes, but I never thought to save and invest money! Simulations were real cases! The game made me realize that there are options to do that.” (Parent A)

Teen 1 was able to discuss mortgages with the observer and explained it in a clear way: “I never heard about mortgages, now I understand what it is…” (Teen 1)

In addition, students expressed that they were not tired with the simulations and felt engaged while learning new concepts.


A third theme was curiosity. Teen 2 developed an interest in developing games, as she commented to the observer:

“It seems fun to develop games…I am thinking of becoming a computer game designer…!” (Teen 2)

The unexpected participants showed high interest in participating in the game, as they saw how much fun the rest of the group was having. They were engaged with and curious about the simulations, as well as the outcome of the game.


The results show that gaming technology is an effective learning tool, it has a positive impact on learners’ attitudes, and it enhances autonomous learning, curiosity, and motivation (Deterding, 2012). Serious games can be engaging by providing real world experiences that students can enjoy. Students feel good learning by themselves. Simulation games build a connection to inspire students to develop entrepreneurship skills. The motivating approach of these games makes the learning process fun and experiential (Kim, 2013). One of the strengths of game-based learning is its capability to capture the attention and engagement of students. The simulation games encourage creativity by posing problems that students must solve using their imagination, which builds their entrepreneurial competencies in a safe and risk-free environment. Serious games are an important instrument in teaching entrepreneurship (Pittaway & Uzueghunam, 2018). Simulation games do add value to the educational experience of students. The gaming industry, however, is becoming more complex, and educational institutions need to make careful choices before incorporating simulation games in the classroom.


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Spring 2019: Transforming Teaching Through Active Learning