Experiential Learning and Entrepreneurship

How does experiential learning link with entrepreneurship?

Learning involves the transformation of experience into potential knowledge, cognition, behaviors, and/or actions (Kolb, 1984). Experiential learning can be differentiated from rationalist (e.g., cognitive theories). Rather than emphasize the role of acquiring, manipulating, and recalling, experiential learning theory embraces subjective experience. 

The concept of subjective experience is often used to describe personal and individual experiences that cannot be fully captured or understood through objective observation or measurement. While there are many different types of subjective experiences, one useful way to think about them is through the lens of "know-how."

Unlike knowledge, which can be learned through language and formal education, know-how is often acquired through hands-on experience and practice. This type of experiential learning is particularly important in areas like entrepreneurship, where success often depends on a deep understanding of the practical skills and techniques needed to bring an idea to market.

For example, an entrepreneur who wants to launch a new product or service may have a deep knowledge of their market and their customers, but may lack the practical know-how needed to bring their idea to fruition. In this case, the entrepreneur may need to gain experience through trial and error, learning from their mistakes and refining their approach over time.

This type of experiential learning can be challenging, as it often involves taking risks and making mistakes. However, it is also a critical part of the entrepreneurial process, as it allows entrepreneurs to develop the practical skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace.

Overall, the concept of subjective experience is closely linked to the idea of know-how, which is often acquired through practical experience and hands-on learning. For entrepreneurs, this type of experiential learning can be critical to success, as it allows them to develop the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the challenges of launching a new venture.

Building on Kolb’s experiential learning model, Corbett (2005) argues that entrepreneurship requires several different types of learning (convergent, assimilative, divergent, accommodative) at different stages of the entrepreneurial process (preparation, incubation, evaluation, elaboration, respectively).

The theory perhaps helps to explain spinouts. Experiential learning within parent organizations may enable employees to learn skills and knowledge, identify opportunities, absorb values and beliefs, and develop social capital (Sørensen and Fassiotto,2011). They can then use some of these resources or capabilities in their spinout ventures.

Experiential learning also helps to explain why serial entrepreneurs are so successful. Each entrepreneurial experience produces a learning outcome that affects the odds of success in the next round.


Corbett, A. C. (2005). Experiential learning within the process of opportunity identification and exploitation. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(4),473–491.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experienceas the source of learning and development (Vol.1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

Sørensen, J. B. and Fassiotto, M. A. (2011). Organizations as fonts of entrepreneurship. Organization Science, 22(5), 1322-1331.


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