The Impact of Distance Learning in Accounting Higher Education
This paper is intended as an Introduction to a research study in to the impact of distance learning on the teaching of accounting in higher education. The context of the research will first be introduced i.e., the background to the research. The research to be undertaken will then be introduced, as will the specific questions and sub-questions to be addressed. The significance of this study will then be analyzed, and the people who are expected to benefit from this research will also be outlined. The research methodology and the practical design of this research methodology will be discussed, and the primary and secondary sources to be used will be introduced, and a list of preliminary resources will be given in the Bibliography.
Distance learning has grown in popularity amongst students over recent years, for many reasons, one of which has to be the rise of the internet and its application to distance-learning implementation.
In addition, people who wish to study, but who are unable to study full-time for various reasons (for example, needing to work, needing to look after a family etc.) have discovered the flexibility of distance learning, and have begun to take advantage of the potential of distance-learning. In addition, distance learning courses are also usually a great deal cheaper then full-time courses, and for this reason, they also offer an excellent opportunity for a great number of people, who had considered study in the past, but who were put off by time constraints, and also the high cost of education.
For course providers, distance-learning also offers a great opportunity, in that students are not physically present in their buildings, and so the administration and other associated costs (i.e., cleaning etc.) are less than for traditional full- or part-time courses. Distance learning courses can also be offered to a wider audience than more traditional courses, due to their flexibility and value-for-money, and in these times of government-directed 'open access' schemes (i.e., schemes designed to encourage a greater level of diversity - racial, for example - in the student community), this helps course-providing organizations meet targets for open access, and in turn, helps bring in funding that is specifically geared towards the meeting of these targets.
In terms of the provision of courses for accounting (which are based on providing financial support, checks and balance systems in business, government and non-profit sectors), distance-learning has been said to be an ideal medium for such a course of study, and distance-learning has been used for the successful teaching of accounting for many years. However, whilst the advantages of using distance-learning options for teaching these skills, such as those mentioned above for students and providers, are many, there are concerns that the complex concepts, ideas and procedures that need to be taught, are more easily taught well via a more personal mode of teaching, for instance, lectures and tutorials.
This paper intends to analyze whether, in the field of accounting, distance-learning represents the best method of teaching, as compared to more conventional modes of teaching of accounting, such a full-time study with more regular contact with teachers.
This issue has come into focus as the field of accounting is a particularly complex field to study, under any mode of teaching: the field of accounting is highly specialized, and may present many problems for the novice. The teaching, and learning of, accounting is also complex, as it incorporates many different sub-disciplines, such as mathematics, social responsibility, human resource management and other areas, all of which the student needs to master, in order to be able to provide the necessary financial advice in a fully professional manner.
Another problem is that for students to be able to learn effectively within the framework of a distance-learning accounting course, one which is based, for example, on exercises provided over the internet, the student needs to have many other associated skills, such as computer skills, time management...
If the student lacks any of these basic skills, the course will become increasingly more difficult to cope with, and without the support of a tutor who can guide the student through these difficulties, the student eventually become so disheartened that they may drop out of the course altogether. Recently, this lack of direct support has come under criticism in general, but more specifically for distance-learning accounting courses, due to the particularly demanding level of understanding and 'linking together' of concepts from many different disciplines that is required.
In addition, distance-learning accounting courses have also come under investigation as the complexity of the questions addressed in accountancy courses requires a greater level of understanding on behalf of the tutor, when marking papers, for example. A student could give the correct answer, but not show their reasoning in sufficient detail, or could give a wrong answer, and the tutor may not be able to see where the student went wrong from the answers sent in: in these cases, direct interaction between student and teacher is the only way in which the tutor can be sure the student is truly understanding the work, and truly developing a sense that the student has a 'feel' for the skills necessary to practice accountancy.
The current literature provides this balanced picture of distance learning, and of distance-learning for accounting in particular, that distance-learning is a good idea in principle, as it widens the scope for attracting people to begin studying, and helps learning-providers minimize costs in these increasingly difficult financial times, but that for a student to be successful following a distance-learning route, the student must be extremely self-disciplined and must seek help whenever and wherever possible from the tutors that are available, in order to prevent them from falling behind with work, and from then on becoming demoralized, eventually leading to them dropping out of the course (which was supposed to offer them a way in to higher education).
The study will therefore build upon this picture of the current state of thinking about distance-learning and accounting, and through research, will attempt to pin down exactly how students feel when taking distance-learning accounting courses, and what things could be done to improve the provision of accounting teaching to these students. This study will benefit students of distance-learning accountancy courses, as the research findings will be used to make recommendations regarding the improvement of such courses.
The research will be conducted via surveys with students from a variety of distance-learning organizations, those who use solely hard-copy teaching packs, those who use solely internet-based teaching packs, and also those who use a mixture of media.
This spread of students from courses utilizing different media for the presentation of the teaching will allow an analysis of the 'best' way to teach accounting via distance learning, which will allow recommendations to be developed according to the findings. The primary sources for the research are thus the detailed information on the structure of the courses offered by the institutions of interest; the secondary sources, upon which the research will be conducted, are the students that are picked from each of the institutions of interest.
It is recommended that five of each type of organization are chosen, and that ten students are chosen for interview from each organization: this gives a sample size of fifty students, which is viable for statistical analyses. Liason with tutors from the institutions will allow students from a variety of different levels of understanding to be chosen: as ideally, students with a mixture of abilities should be chosen for the research.
The format for interviewing students should be via questionnaire, either sent via email or via mail. Some small reward should be offered to the students for completing the questionnaire (for example, a book voucher etc.), in order that the students feel that completing the questionnaire is worthwhile for them, so they take time to complete the questionnaire honestly…
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