By Denise Probert, CPA, CGMA
Denise is Director of Curriculum for Accounting Exam Prep at Wiley.


The Complex Accounting Environment

Practicing in the field of accounting requires nearly constant learning. New pronouncements, regulations, laws change the landscape of our practice at what seems like a pace faster than is manageable at times. And, much of the time, we are working with and in very complicated scenarios which require the application of very complicated authoritative literature.

The Complex Learning Environment

The cognitive process of moving knowledge/ideas/skills into the working memory where words and objects are then selected into the long-term memory is a complicated process. Transfer of the knowledge and skills stored in our working or long-term memories demonstrates “learning and knowing” or a mastery of that content.

The Use of Learning Science in the Studies of Accounting Content

Understanding how we can manage both the complexities of the study of accounting and the complexities of learning can result in a rich learning and practicing environment that makes it worthy of discussing. In this blog, I will present three techniques that I have found very effective in learning and teaching accounting rules, regulations, laws, and pronouncements – both the first time and for changes in that authoritative literature. The science and research of learning has resulted in the naming of those three techniques.

1. Spacing

The ingestion of new content or skills at intervals rather than all at once results in greater retention and retrieval. Think back to the first time you learned about accrual accounting. For most of us, that concept was mind-blowing. But, every time we had to apply the principle, we understood the need, process, and implications of accrual accounting. Spacing allows the brain to pull from prior knowledge on a topic and that increases retention and retrieval as well as understanding.

2. Chunking

Because of capacity limitations, the brain can better manage the ingestion of content and/or skills if you ingest information in manageable doses or chunks. Chunking content, or breaking the content into smaller pieces, allows the working memory to process the content more effectively. The 7 +/- 2 principle commonly cited in learning science literature is a great principle to follow as you consider teaching and/or learning content. This principle states that the capacity of our brain is limited to processing 7 +/- 2 items at a time.

3. Interleaving

Like a beautiful weave, our brains are asked to process and store great amounts of knowledge and skills. Cognitive research has shown that retention and retrieval, as well as comprehension and understanding, are greatly improved if we practice that content with other types of content. For example, as you apply a new accounting standard to various situations, your understanding of that standard, its application, and its implications to the entity become easier. That is because, in applying it to different situations, you ask your brain to work harder and that results in greater learning. The same result occurs when we interleave content with unrelated brain and physical activity.

These three learning techniques, especially when combined, will result in greater learning as evidenced by the ability to apply that learning to new and different situations.

Here’s my challenge: going forward, please notice your own learning process and the learning process of those you are influencing. Notice the impact of spacing, chunking, and interleaving on the level of knowledge and the ability to transfer that learning to a new situation. These are three very magical, scientifically-proven learning techniques that can change how you approach teaching and learning. Finally, I challenge you to implement these three techniques in your own learning and in those you influence.

About the Author

Denise Probert, CPA, CGMA

Denise Probert, CPA, CGMA, is Director of Curriculum for Accounting Exam Prep at Wiley. She is responsible for all curriculum development and academic instruction for Wiley’s accounting exam prep products. Denise previously served as Vice President of Kaplan CPA Review and has over 20 years’ experience teaching accounting at the university level.