Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Teresa Carter


In this qualitative case study, self-directed learning theory was used as the lens to explore experiences of nine women entrepreneurs during the first four years of business ownership as they sought to acquire skills necessary to run their businesses. Data were collected over six months through in-person 90-minute interviews and follow-up questions posed by telephone and email. Qualitative data software was used for coding and thematic analysis, resulting in five broad conclusions related to learning, with additional unanticipated findings. Study participants engaged in a variety of self-directed learning activities, mostly through trial and error experimentation, and possessed varying motivations for learning. Educational level and reliance on past industry experience limited openness to new experiences and commitment to learning for some, particularly those with high school degrees or limited college experience. The majority of learning was pursued “just-in-time” as the need mandated when a challenge presented itself rather than in a pre-planned manner. Learning was heavily reliant on other people: most sought the advice of paid professionals, former co-workers, or friends and family. The use of a mentor for learning was identified by one participant, while three employed business coaches for professional guidance. Much of their learning was highly instrumental in nature, focused on here-and-now problem solving related to managing employees, handling legal issues in establishing the business, and learning to market themselves. While extremely self-confident in their abilities, most of the women struggled with issues of family and work-life balance, and several described guilt over neglecting one aspect of their lives for the other. Study conclusions emphasize the importance of knowing how to learn in the entrepreneurial context and suggest ways entrepreneurs can access knowledge and new experiences for learning, with implications for entrepreneurship programs, government agencies, and educators.


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Date of Submission

May 2009

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