learning theory is boring? now that’s debatable.


‘It’s a theoretical subject – it’s boring!’ is a regular comment I often hear from my students in their first class of ACC518 – Current Developments in Accounting Thought. My typical response is, ‘No, trust me; it’s going to be fun!’

The traditional lecture, with a heavy reliance on PowerPoint slides and non-collaborative teaching methods, does contribute to student boredom in my experience, particularly in a theoretical subject. Instead, I’ve taken advantage of the philosophical underpinnings of this subject to present a variety of contemporary issues in politics, economics and the social arena to generate constructive debates and make them ‘feel at ease’ while they learn.

What’s the context?

ACC518, a final year capstone subject in the Master of Professional Accounting (MPA), critically reviews developments in accounting theories. This includes evaluating and comparing various accounting models, and discussing contemporary issues.

My students are all international, with a range of socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds. Being in their final year, they are expected to have solid practical accounting skills; however, they often lack analytical skills. This restricts their ability to present arguments and opinions on a broad range of accounting issues in a coherent manner.

What strategies do I use?

To promote student engagement I blend a range of teaching strategies, and alter them depending on the nature of the topic. These generally include:

  • concept introduction via a brief teaching session,
  • individual tasks,
  • facilitated group discussion,
  • debates on philosophical issues, and
  • Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs).

How do I use them in class?

I generally begin a class with a 15-minute overview of the topic, explaining critical concepts and linking them to the key learning outcomes, followed by an individual task for about 25 minutes to identify the major conceptual underpinnings of the topic. In this activity, each student is asked to identify various issues related to the topic and then share their findings with two other members of their group. This is followed by a brief presentation to the wider class accompanied by feedback from me. This group work runs for about 35 minutes.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

At the end of the group work, after students have captured the key points, I organise a lecturer v student debate focusing on the philosophical rationale of the topic and its underlying critical perspective. The debate enables students to compare and contrast both the diverse perspectives and the rationale behind them. To stimulate the debate, I display an argument on the Smartboard. Students are then asked to prepare a response and present it, leaving me to find a counter to that argument.  This debate continues for about 40 minutes.

Finally 10 MCQs, designed to encourage critical appraisal, are displayed on the Smartboard. Students work in groups to find consensus on the best answer; however, I always welcome alternative views as long as they can justify their position. Upon receipt of responses from students, I give them the necessary feedback.

Why do I use these strategies?

I believe one of the characteristics of effective learning environments is promoting metacognitive control through active learning and reflective practice. I include these learning activities in my teaching plan to provide opportunities for active learning, essential given the entire cohort has English as their second language. These activities can facilitate learner-to-learner and teacher-to-learner engagement as well as opportunities for formative feedback.

I understand that meeting learners’ needs in a theory subject is probably one of the most challenging tasks.

I endeavour to provide students with an encouraging, ‘have fun and learn’ environment to relate what they are learning in a broader context.  I believe this approach can take the boredom of learning theory away.

How can I improve it further?

I have learned through this process to view teaching as a means of meeting learners’ needs rather than just delivering content. Creating a collaborative learning environment and promoting metacognitive control through reflective practices can significantly address this challenge.

To further improve my teaching practice, I am exploring the following questions:

  • How do I give more emphasis on developing students’ philosophical rationale for the construction of theories leading towards the stimulation of critical thinking?
  • Given the time I have in the class, how do I provide more specific and detailed feedback to students? Is flipping the classroom a viable option?