Wharton’s Looking Glass platform enables a radical new approach to management education, complementing classroom learning with the practical experience of running a startup.
It’s been said that teaching entrepreneurship is part science and part art; the former relates to the cross-functional knowledge needed to launch a new enterprise, while the latter refers to the creativity and dexterity required to do it successfully. Traditionally, the emphasis of most entrepreneurial courses has been on the “scientific” aspects of the field — after all, creative ingenuity cannot be taught through literature and lectures.
But, it can be learned. And when it comes to running a startup, it is best learned through practice. For Wharton professor Ethan Mollick, this ideology stems from his own experience as an entrepreneur as well as observations in the classroom. Moreover, as a leading proponent of higher ed’s burgeoning paradigm shift toward active learning environments, his interest in immersive gamification led to the development of one of the School’s most popular business simulations, The Startup Game. His latest endeavor, however, takes that innovative educational approach to a whole new level: Alternate Reality Courseware (ARC).
Simulating an experience is one thing, but creating the conditions for students to truly experience a simulation is quite another. Pulling off such a feat required building a unique platform for interactive engagement, which is where the Learning Lab team came into play. After nearly a full year of working together on a one-of-a-kind project, this close-knit partnership resulted in the Looking Glass (LG) — a gamified journey through the startup world like no other. Leveraging the personal empowerment, inclusivity, and exploratory nature of a roleplaying game with the collaborative problem-solving and focused social interactions of competitive, team-based game mechanics, ARC through the LG is already earning accolades and winning awards as a highly effective conduit for teaching entrepreneurship while facilitating its practice.
Designed to evolve over the course of a month, the adventure unfolds as small groups of students become founders of a fledgling tech startup. Tasked with learning the terrain while self-organizing, they are quickly launched on a rollicking ride through the trials, tribulations and triumphs of forming a company, finding a market, and funding their enterprise. Lawyers, investors, beta customers, manufacturers, a patent troll, and a diabolical competitor are among the colorful array of characters ushering (and at times impeding) the competing teams of players through their respective missions by way of reactionary real-time communications.
The game’s intricate craftsmanship blurs the line between virtual and reality, incentivizing deeper engagement with hidden discoveries, unexpected twists, and intense emotional rewards both individually and collectively. Effort is rewarded, feedback is delivered, actions have consequences, and choices affect outcomes — allowing students to take risks and learn crucial lessons through experimentation, critical assessment, and creative play. Cooperation is also key, as players must coordinate their responses and continuously strategize in order to meet the challenges woven throughout each successive business scenario.
ARC is radical, it’s fun, and it’s a captivating new methodology for management education that complements classroom learning with practical experience. By spending just a few hours a week logged into the LG platform, messaging with teammates or in-game characters and harnessing the tools they would use as executives (email, financial reports, market data, etc.), students are compelled to run their fictional companies by directly applying and testing out knowledge from the class curriculum.
Inspired by the notion that students learn best by doing — and the fact that theory without application is of little use in the startup world — ARC is not only a novel pedagogical technique for teaching entrepreneurship, it’s a revolutionary way to deliver higher education to those aspiring to create their mark in business and beyond.