Kelly Schmutte uses the metaphor of the learning journey as navigating an ocean. Here’s what that looks like for a student taking an experiential venture creation course. There are three levels:

Level 1: Splash zone (swimming, snorkeling)

What the learner is feeling: the relatively effortless, comfortable part of the journey.

The beginning of an entrepreneurship course starts with idea generation, team formation, and articulating the problem to be solved. At this stage, you believe that you’ve narrowed down on a real need. You are ready to go out and find evidence that supports this claim.

Level 2: Discomfort zone (free diving, scuba)

What the learner is feeling: confusion, the feeling that you’re lost, lack of clarity on whether you’re headed in the right direction.

Something unexpected arises. You’re at a loss for what to do next. Maybe you’ve found competitors with a similar solution and significant traction. Or you ran an experiment with the market, and the results weren’t exactly what you hoped. You wonder whether it’s worth staying with the idea, or giving up altogether.

Level 3: Discovery zone (deep sea exploration)

What the learner is feeling: the AH-HA moments in their learning journey. They see and experience the unexpected, and grow as a result.

For a student entrepreneur, this could be when you have new insight into your customer’s behavior. Or a new channel opportunity or business model you hadn’t considered. There’s a feeling of progress and accomplishment. You’ve gone further than you could have imagined.

No two students will have the same journey. It will depend on their idea, their existing skills, and the support structures in place.

Spending time in the discovery zone makes you comfortable with productive struggle. Student entrepreneurs need to build the muscle to be resilient, creative, and persistent in moving forward. We should design our courses so students have the opportunity to experience discomfort and discovery. That’s where the breakthrough moments occur.