Why cognitive apprenticeship: The analysis phase of the auditing course redesign

Posted on: January 30, 2008

The traditional approaches to the learning and teaching of courses within the accounting discipline have long been criticized as lacking rigours to adequately prepare graduates for the profession (Accounting Education Change Commission, 1991; Albrech & Sach, 2001; Carr & Mathews, 2002). Because of the limitations of approaches commonly found in traditional lectures and tutorials many graduate accountants cannot “integrate rule based knowledge with real world problems” (Catanach, Croll & Grinaker, 2000, p. 583) and, as Sundem (1994, p.39) points out, “the average graduate accumulates a storehouse of knowledge, but has difficulty applying it to real situations”. According to Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989), this untenable situation is a product of a didactic education system which assumes a separation between knowing (learning – “know what”) and doing (use – “know how”).
Such problems resonate with issues we have identified in the auditing course. Feedback from students’ course evaluation for instance describes some underlying course design problems, an example of which is shown below verbatim:

“If our school provide some career is better, it helpful to us. In addition, you can employ some experience auditor to come to discuss in real world. Sometime, we just got theory. Actually, we do not [in] reality know all things in real world. If you employ them, i believe it is helpful to us to understand more. And then we prepare some material and obtain more knowledge to help us in our future job.”

Deeper analysis of the whole course confirmed that one of the key pedagogic design problems was the lack of opportunities for students to apply knowledge and skills in professional problem solving situations which, given such opportunities, should raise students’ competency level. Consequently, we have also identified that our goal for the course redesign is to enable students to behave and think like professional auditors by allowing them to collaborate and identify problems through observation, have access to authentic business artifacts, and make decisions through evidence-based conclusions. If we were to “enculturate” students to think and act like auditors, the culture of the accounting profession and, in particular, auditing practice must be central to this redesign.

We have found a direct alignment between our design problem and the seminal work of Collins, Brown and Newman (1989) on cognitive apprenticeship. The idea behind cognitive apprenticeship approaches is that it attempts to enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction, similar to craft apprenticeship. The central tenet is to promote learning within the nexus of activity, tool and culture in which students are

“exposed to the use of a domain’s conceptual tools in authentic activity — to teachers acting as practitioners and using these tools in wrestling with problems of the world. Such activity can tease out the way a mathematician or historian looks at the world and solves emergent problems. The process may appear informal, but it is nonetheless full-blooded, authentic activity that can be deeply informative — in a way that textbook examples and declarative explanations are not” (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989).

Guided by the principles of cognitive apprenticeship, the first phase of the course redesign for the auditing course is underway and the necessary approval process for this redesign has taken place, which will be implemented in Term 1 2008.


Accounting Education Change Commission (1992). The First Course in Accounting: Position Statement No. Two. Issues in Accounting Education, 7(2), pp. 249-251

Albrecht, W.S. & Sach, R.J. (2001). The perilous future of accounting education. The CPA Journal, 71(3), 16-23

Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning, Educational Researcher, 18(1), pp.32-42Carr, S. and Mathews, M.R. (2002). Accounting curriculum change: Is it a rational, academic exercise. Working Paper, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW.

Catanach, A.H., Croll, D.B. & Grinaker, R.L. (2000). Teaching intermediate financial accounting using a business activity model. Issues in Accounting Education, 15(4), pp. 583-603.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S. & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing and matematics. In L.B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sundem, G.L. (1994). Scholarship in four dimensions. CA Magazine, 127(3), pp. 39-44.


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