Co-Authors: Rhea Alexander, Darcy Keester
COVID-19 left little time for educational institutions to adapt their curriculum to online learning environments. Our team at Parsons Entrepreneurs Lab (Elab), was ramping up for our first intensive accelerator program. The pandemic required us to rethink how we can give our fellows the best possible experience given current circumstances. To transition our program to be virtual, we developed a human-centered design framework centered on experience. We believe this framework can help other educators with planning to ensure that their students have a full and positive learning experience.
Founded over six years ago, Parsons Entrepreneurs Lab (Elab) is a design led business lab dedicated to entrepreneurial research and practice at the New School University. Many alumni build businesses upon graduation that are often founded out of academic projects. Prof. Alexander sought to fill the gap between their academic experience and applied practice in entrepreneurship. The lab hosts extra-curricular workshops, tests distributed models of incubator and accelerator programs and acts as a community bridge to the greater startup ecosystem. The lab also conducts research around best practices, modes of delivery, and program design. It champions development of more equitable, inclusive, socially impactful and environmentally just business formation. Many of the fellows are female identifying founders whose business missions include these values and ethe.
Common start-up programs, like at the Elab, whether incubators or accelerators, often meet in person and can be as short as a one month intensive up to as long as a one year. Elab’s Accelerator was designed to meet in person for an intensive month-long program that included typical curricula covering topics such as creating a business model, scaling, pitching to investors, and connecting founders with stakeholders, mentors, and investors. Learning tools and methods encompass the usual host of classroom learning styles: facilitator instruction on a specific topic, followed by homework and individual support. At the end of the program a showcase where entrepreneurs pitch their business.
Remote start-up programs are often advertised as being beneficial for the entrepreneur who cannot afford to pick up and move to the city where an accelerator is held. (NYC Innovation Collective Virtual Panel 2020) The tools and methods typically implemented in a virtual program are things like pre-recorded videos, phone or video calls for personal feedback and meetings with mentors, and discussion boards for founders to share thoughts with one another. These programs can sometimes be done at a founder’s own pace. The pain points of this type of experience include difficulty aligning with teachers and mentors due to time-zone differences, and a lack of social connection with peers in the program leading to isolation.
Both in-person and remote learning have their benefits and their challenges (Figure 1: Benefits and Challenges of Remote vs In-Person Learning).