Real-World Instruction via Online Learning
During the pandemic, it seemed the best way forward was to blur the line that once existed between “the real world” and “the virtual world.”
From schooling to working, shopping, banking, and socializing, functions were moved to an online platform. This transition was recently exemplified in the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at Kent State University, Twinsburg Academic Center… a virtual COVID classroom that has optimized the silver linings inherent in the adaptation from in-person to online learning.
Traditionally, Judith C. Allen, MBA, adjunct instructor of the entrepreneurship class, would ask Thomas Sangrik from Cleveland’s Small Business Administration (SBA) to speak to her class at the close of the Spring semester. A Lender Relations Specialist, Sangrik reinforces the course principles while providing students with valuable SBA resources for entrepreneurs. This past April, Allen asked him to speak to her class again, but this time, via Zoom video technology.
“Exposing my students — budding entrepreneurs — to the taxpayer-funded resources of the SBA is imperative to helping them obtain their full tuition dollar from the entrepreneurship course,” Allen says.
Over the semester, this class of six female students learned about the functional elements of starting a small business, applying theories of the course to real-life entrepreneurial decisions. Sangrik’s virtual presentation underscored this approach, featuring practical SBA resources available to small businesses, especially those struggling from the pandemic.
Most of her students are at the starting gate of entrepreneurship, Allen says. “Some of them are from entrepreneurial families and want to extend the impact of their families’ businesses — take it to the next level. Many of them have a deep passion for their business venture, and possess truly creative ideas for businesses they would like to own, grow and prosper.”
This year’s class represents business ventures including an innovative hair salon, a children’s sports club, a cafe featuring an allergy-aware menu, a sustainable community farm, and a non-profit organization supporting women recovering from substance abuse.
Sangrik reminded the class that the SBA provides several supports to local small business owners, including counseling (help with business planning, financial analysis, financial literacy, budgeting, marketing, etc.), contracting (linking small businesses with federal procurement opportunities), credit (access to capital programs) and disaster relief (financial loans).
One student, Heather Richardson, is planning to launch the Kids Sports Club. A non-traditional student, Heather is a 38-year-old single mother of two teenagers who also works full-time at Kent State University at the Kent Campus. A sophomore, she is pursuing an associate’s degree in business management. Her youth sports program will offer sports activities to students (pre-K to 6th grade) after school and over the summer, with a focus on positive coaching and the love of movement. The business plan is in the start-up phase now but could be operational within a year or so.
Richardson says, “I had never known how to go about the steps to start my own business. It seemed overwhelming. But Judy broke it down into bite-sized pieces to make it not seem so out of reach.”
Sangrik’s presentation also provided Richardson with several practical resources to pursue. “Marketing research and competitive analysis is a large task. Having someone help walk me through it would be greatly beneficial. I think the resource I would focus on first for my business would be the learning platform; more specifically the Ascent for Women.”
An entrepreneur herself, Allen is president of Excellence Zone Marketing Strategies, Inc., a marketing, editing, communications, marketing research, training, PR and social media firm. As such, she can “share the fine points of my own entrepreneurial journey with my students, and not just the textbook content.”
Allen says that Sangrik’s presentation is “just one example of the kinds of real-world experiences our business students are getting, even as they learn remotely.”
Richardson discovered that online learning helped her to keep pace with her educational goals despite the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. While the adjustment forced her outside her ‘hands-on’ comfort zone, she recognizes the value of adapting to stressful situations and communicating better, especially as a future entrepreneur.
Allen is confident that she is able to communicate with the same enthusiasm and passion online as with in-person classes, providing guest speakers, games, surveys and fun activities that reinforce course content effectively. She also reaches out to her students individually with ‘pulse checks’ to ensure their engagement with the course and successful mastery of the material.
She predicts that online learning is here to stay as an attractive option for “busy, working students who prefer remote instruction due to the efficiencies it provides: no commute, no gas expense, no parking fees, and the convenience of in-home educational delivery during our Northeast Ohio winters.”
In other words, while everyone is eager for COVID to go, its silver linings are welcome to stay.