Research on the effectiveness of interactive learning can be applied effectively. Using the Internet causes the responsibility for learning to shift from the teacher to the student, and has other effects, although there are certain inhibitors to learning on the web. This interactive article allows discussion among readers about the future of learning or any other topic in the article.

Using the Internet and
CD-ROM for Classroom Support
A Successful Experiment in Accounting Education
Thomas J. Donahue

A few years ago Congress allocated over a million dollars for research into the effectiveness of interactive media. The Institute of Defense Analysis produced a lengthy metastudy that analyzed over 600 research studies on the effectiveness of interactive media. The study concluded that:  Students using interactive media learn the same amount of material in half the time or less with equal or better understanding and equal or longer retention than when using traditional means of instruction. 

A good example of a student exchange on the Interactive Web Site: 

Assets vs. Owners Equity  

Laurie - 02:38pm Sep 18, 1999 (#1 of 5) 
I'm having difficulty understanding the difference between assets and owners equity in a business.  

Amy - 07:28pm Sep 18, 1999 (#2 of 5) 
It helps if you change the equation around such as Assets - Liabilities = Owners Equity. I don't know if this is 'legal' but it helps me to understand what Owners Equity is. It is the retained earnings from the previous year and information regarding stocks (how much in stocks, what they are worth and how much was paid in dividends). 

Tom - 3:16pm Sep 19, 1999 (#3 of  5) 
What's the technical definition of assets?

Applying Research to Practice
For the past six years at the Graduate School of Business ofthe University of St. Thomas, we have been developing an interactive financial accounting course with the support of a number of corporations in Minneapolis. In addition, New College, the University's outreach to adult learners, has developed a weekend college format in which adults capable of independent learning spend only half the number of classroom contact hours as traditional students during the regular program. For weekend students, class participation is supplemented by independent study.

In the Fall of 1996, an introductory financial accounting course was taught in the weekend college format every other Friday night from 5:00 to 9:30. Students used a CD-ROM and an interactive Web site in addition to a textbook. A regular section of the same course was taught by the same professor during the day using the same textbook and class outline. Both classes took the same quizzes and tests. The students in the traditional class knew nothing about the interactive Web site or the CD-ROM, although they spent twice as many class contact hours with the instructor.

This was by no means a scientific study. No variables were controlled, and there were obviously demographic variables (what kind of student would choose to take a class on a Friday night?) and other intervening variables. However, the results of this practical experiment were very consistent with results of the scientifically controlled studies.

The students in the weekend format section using the Web site and CD-ROM did substantially better on all tests and quizzes than the traditional section. There was also a nearly perfect correlation between frequency of contributing to the Web site and their final grade based on the tests and quizzes. The more the student contributed to the Web discussion (which was available twenty-four hours a day seven days a week), the higher the student's grade.

 Responsibility for Learning
We observed that the responsibility for learning shifted from the teacher to the learner for the students in the weekend format. Students came to the orientation session and first class or two with the traditional attitude, "OK, I'm here; teach me." By the third class (about midterm), they came to class with questions. "How does ... work?" "In the company I work for, thus and such happened ... how does that fit in with this new concept we're learning?" "I don't understand ..." The rapid fire lectures grew into discussions with specific learning objectives set in the syllabus and specific objectives each student wanted to achieve. By the end of the course, the lecture format was almost entirely abandoned, although discussions were sometimes interrupted by short didactic explanations of specific complex concepts.

Ever since John Dewey espoused progressive education, many teachers have attempted to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. However, the combination of less class time and the structure of the Internet caused this to happen naturally. Students realized that if they were going to learn the subject, they had to do it themselves - a very empowering motivator. The freedom actually seemed to generate responsibility.

Some Observations about 
Web Based Interactive Learning
  1. Responsibility for learning shifted from the teacher to the learner.
  2. Emphasis shifted from teaching to learning.
  3. The level of classroom discussion became much more sophisticated.
  4. The Socratic method of asking worked better than telling or explaining.
  5. Students prefered to answer questions, rather than ask questions.
  6. The role of the instructor changed from one of lecturer to one of mentor and coach.
  7. Instructors' office hours and time in class were optimized.
  8. Objective test scores have a high correlation with the number of times students post comments on the Web site.
  9. Visiting and reading on the Web site does not result in as much learning as contributing to the discussion.
  10. Ancillary use of the Web site that was not integrated into the core of the class was ineffective. 

  11. Internet access was a problem for some students who didn't want to come to the college. Student access has increased at stunning rate during the past two years.

Inhibitors to Learning on the Web
In some cases the student's self-concept inhibited learning on the Internet. During the first few weeks it may be difficult to get students to post their questions on the Internet for "everybody" to read. No learner wants to appear stupid. Asking questions on the net is a risk that most students find hard to take. In a typical class many students are unwilling even to verbalize a question in front of their classmates. Asking them to post a question on the Internet for everyone to read is exponentially more difficulty. The potential for embarrassment is a significant inhibitor to learning.

On the other hand, the risk of embarrassment can be a motivator. Students reported that before they put a question up on the Internet, they were careful that their grammar and spelling were correct. Frequently they would check in the book or several books and often found the answer to their question. Or, in the process of framing their question, a better question occurred to them, which they posted on the Internet.

The greatest motivator for those who preferred not to participate or post questions or comments on the Internet seemed to be their grade. If a substantial percent of their grade depended on their participation in Internet discussions, the amount of participation (and their understanding of the material) increased substantially.

Interactive Contributions to this Article
Many other discoveries and observations were made as these learning technologies have proliferated throughout the university during the past few years. A published example of an Interactive Virtual Classroom can be found in Paradigm Interactive Accounting. An unpublished example of a course in Communication Technology taught in the Spring of 2000 can be visited.
This interactive article lets you discuss its concepts online. Simply click here to add your comments to the general Distance Learning Discussion regarding all aspects of distance learning. You can just browse or contribute to the discussion about distance learning with the author and other teachers who are using this and other distance learning technologies. To register as an active participant, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the register button so you can actively contribute your ideas and knowledge. Distance learning technologies are so new, and they are developing so quickly, that the only way we can learn effectively is to share what we know with one another. Please add your comments.

The Future of Learning
EMC/Paradigm Publishing has adopted and published the materials used at the University of St. Thomas. Instructors can visit the Paradigm Accounting Interactive Web site at http://www.emcp.com Instructors can also obtain a free CD-ROM demonstration disc for Paradigm Interactive Accounting by calling
(800) 535-6865.
The Internet and World Wide Web is the most recent popular media for interactive learning and communication. Technology will change our educational system dramatically. Our grandchildren are likely to learn accounting by sitting in their rooms, putting on helmets and gloves, and flipping a switch to activate the system. Instantly they will enter a virtual world designed to help them learn accounting. For example, they might be "hired" in an entry level job and given a task, such as recording accounts receivable and sending out invoices. As the student sets about the task, they can ask their "supervisor" or "coworkers" how to do the task(s), why the task needs to be done, and how it fits in with the rest of accounting department and company. Everyone in this 3D virtual community responds as a patient teacher and gives the theoretical as well as practical knowledge that helps the student develop skills needed to do the job. The next job (i.e., unit) might be in the accounts receivable department, or inventory control department, or another accounting department, until the student eventually gets promoted to be manager and is asked to analyze the financial statements. The classroom teacher will act as a mentor, guide, advisor, evaluator, and tutor throughout this learning process. The student/teacher relationship is likely to revert to the Mentor/Telemachus model described by Homer, and is likely to be a closer personal relationship than the current relationship allows.

Sound incredible? Most of the pieces of this model are already available. When IBM assembled its PC, it obtained the CPU from Intel, the operating system (DOS) from what is now Microsoft, the monitor from Perceptronics, the disk drives from Syquest, the Keyboard from Keytronics, and parts from many other manufacturers. Henry Ford, like many individuals and companies that "invent" revolutionary complex products, used a similar approach. The CD-ROM and interactive Web site are just two components of the future system. They may well be just a step along the way toward more effective learning based instruction that will replace teaching based instruction.