The Impact of Virtual Learning on Business Education
With technology changing the way we learn and bringing education to online spaces, tertiary educators have begun to reevaluate their strategies.
Accounting and business education is no exception, and a recent publication released by the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and the University of South Australia’s Centre for Accounting, Governance and Sustainability explores how the rise of the virtual university could impact the future of business and accounting education.
The publication is made up of a collection of articles and research by contributors in industries like IT, publishing and the higher education sector, and focuses on the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Specifically, the authors seek to identify the major challenges, as well as possibilities, of the ‘virtual university’ in order to provide an academic foundation for open discussions on possible strategies, issues and changing skills sets for accounting graduates, accounting academics and higher education providers.
The publication, titled The Virtual University: Impact on Australian Accounting and Business Education, highlights some of the specific challenges of MOOCs for business and accounting education. Some of these include:
- Lack of an on-campus experience for students who want to enter a profession that requires soft skills such as communication skills
- Alternate offerings to large group lectures, commonly found in undergraduate accounting education courses
- Anticipated demise of postgraduate courses, which are associated with full-fee-paying international students
- Maintaining the link between the accounting profession and accounting education and educators in universities when there may be many other providers in an online environment.
James Guthrie, Head of Academic Relations at the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and one of the editors for the publication, points out that some of the concerns with MOOCs relate to attrition rates, assessment and accreditation, and the fact it’s not yet widely possible to gain a degree by MOOCs study.
“For business education, the quality of learning outcomes is key to the success or failure of MOOCs. It’s important that employable skill sets required of business students, including teamwork, collaboration and oral presentation, are nurtured through MOOC study,” says Guthrie.
On the other hand, MOOCs also bring significant benefits to higher education providers, including new revenue opportunities through fees for certificates, courses, degrees, licensing or advertisement and heightened brand recognition.
“The virtual university provides many opportunities for professions to work with educators on the quality of both the online and on-campus experience for students,” comments Guthrie. “This will include issues such as opening up professions to a more diverse range of students and candidates and anywhere/anytime continuous professional development.”
Guthrie believes that there is a place for business education in an online world, and gives an example of how traditional practices and MOOCs could be used together to enhance on-campus teaching.
“MOOCs may be utilized to teach rules-based knowledge,” he says. “If these skills are removed from on-campus teaching then face-to-face teaching time can be better spent learning and resolving difficulties and learning other skills required of business students, like critical thinking, creativity and judgment.
This blended approach is one advantage of MOOCs and one possible direction for MOOCs learning. Deciding the most appropriate models of innovation to adopt – and there is no one-size-fits-all model for business education – is key to taking advantage of the opportunities.”
Institute Chief Executive Officer Lee White also believes that the accounting profession could benefit from the opportunities that online courses present, as long as the quality of content is ensured.
“If the accounting profession is to remain relevant and sustainable, we need to embrace this digital age of education,” said White in a recent news release by the University of South Australia.
“That means capitalizing on this new pathway for the benefit of business education. But it’s important to remember that technology is principally a means to an end. Developing the optimum learning experience for students and delivering the best quality content is the overriding objective,” he said.
The full publication, The Virtual University: Impact on Australian Accounting and Business Education, can be found here.