AN INVESTIGATION OF THE DEMAND FACTORS FOR ONLINE ACCOUNTING COURSES

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1 AN INVESTIGATION OF THE DEMAND FACTORS FOR ONLINE ACCOUNTING COURSES Otto Chang, Department of Accounting and Finance, California State University at San Bernardino 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, CA ABSTRACT In this study, we designed a survey instrument based on previous literature. Consisting of thirteen statements, our survey was designed to elicit students responses in order to investigate factors affecting their decisions in choosing online accounting courses. Using orthogonal factor analysis, we extracted four variables explaining 66% of the total variance. These four were treated as independent variables. Each independent variable was analyzed to determine its individual impact on the dependant variable, our students willingness and likelihood to choose online accounting courses. First, we found that the factor representing convenience was the primary determinant in the online choice. Second, conversely, a factor deterring students from opting for online accounting was the need for in-class, face-to-face interaction and participation. Third, computer skill was found to be a significant positive determinant. Fourth, perceived self-discipline was statistically insignificant to the course selection decision. Surprisingly, among an array of background variables, our investigation revealed one variable - class standing of students - to be strongly negatively correlated with the willingness to take an online accounting course. Specifically, juniors and seniors were more reticent to take accounting on line than were freshman and sophomores; graduate students expressed more reluctance than undergraduates. Keyword: Accounting Education, Online Course INTRODUCTION Distance learning is not new. Correspondence courses and satellite television classes have long been offered. In the past decade the use of and CD-ROMs have proliferated. Now, web-based virtual classrooms are growing in popularity. Face-to-face sessions are replaced with online lectures, reading assignments and online discussion groups. Webbased courses may be self-paced (asynchronous) or students may proceed through assignments on roughly the same schedule allowing for online real-time discussion. The University of Phoenix, a pioneer of distance learning, caters to about 30,000 students in virtual classroom settings. Students are also taking courses online at many of the nation s traditional institutions of higher learning. California State University s newest campus in Monterey plans to engage a majority of its projected 25,000 students in online courses [Burdman, 1998]. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute offers 75 to 80 graduate-level courses per year on the Internet [Wechsler, 2002]. A recent report by International Data Corporation estimated that some 2.2-million college students are currently enrolled in distance learning courses, up from about 710,000 in The report estimates more than

2 80 percent of the nations two-year and four-year colleges currently offer web-based courses, up from 58% in 1998 [Johnson, 2000]. The popularity of online courses and virtual classrooms prompts the following questions: What makes online courses and virtual classrooms popular? Why do students prefer them? What kinds of students are likely to select this option for their education? While previous studies tried to answer these questions, most were completed without rigorous analysis. There is a compelling need to investigate these questions in a more comprehensive manner. More, online courses may be particularly suitable for the study of some disciplines but unsuitable for others. Do results of generalized studies investigating students motives for online education apply specifically to the accounting student? In this study we designed a survey instrument based on previous literature. The instrument elicits students responses to determine and weigh factors that affect their decisions to choose online accounting courses. The instrument contains 13 statements regarding the reasons why students would consider taking an online accounting course. All statements are adapted from previous research. Through orthogonal factor analysis, we are able to extract four variables that explain 66% of the total variance. These four are used as independent variables; together, they are tested to determine students willingness and likelihood to enroll in an online accounting course. We find that the factor representing convenience is the primary reason for taking an online course. The factor deterring a student from taking an online class is the lack of face-to-face interaction and participation. This investigation reveals that computer skill is a significant determinant of online course selection. The factor representing perceived self-discipline is not highly relevant to the online course selection decision. An array of background factors proved statistically insignificant with one exception: class standing. We find that class standing is negatively correlated with willingness to take online accounting courses. Specifically, our survey concludes that freshmen and sophomores are more willing to take online accounting courses than are juniors, seniors and graduate students. LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES Whether creating an online course or an entire online program, educators must seriously analyze students backgrounds. Many students hold part-time or full-time jobs. Levels of experience and learning styles differ. Contrary to the results of this study, Souder [1993] found that many distance education students were older, presumably more mature, more motivated, and had a sense of responsibility that allowed them to flourish in a distancelearning environment. He also noted a definite need for students to communicate regularly with the instructor to ensure timely feedback. In accordance with this study, Collins and Grunke [1998] reported that convenience was the primary reason that students took online courses. Moreover, those students with online experience indicated that personal motivation is the most important factor in selecting an online course. Their students indicated that online courses required either the same or more self-discipline than traditional live courses. Nearly three-quarters of student respondents indicated that they spent more time fulfilling course requirements in their online classes than traditional classes.

3 In a study conducted by ecollege.com, more than half of the students reported choosing online courses because of convenience [Simba Information Inc., 2000]. This study also found that a majority of students were 25 years of age or older. Sixty-eight percent of those students work in full-time positions; the average workweek exceeded 30 hours. Many of the institutions offering online courses provide guidelines for potential online students. For example, the guidelines provided by Tacoma College * describes that the people who benefit from online learning programs are employed and lack time to attend a traditional learning institution. Those who want to be on campus and participate in a traditional program are discouraged from taking online courses. Tacoma College also advises students to develop good basic computer skills before enrolling in online courses. Students are referred to online tutorials that teach them how to participate in a virtual classroom. Based on the factors discussed from previous research, we derive the following hypotheses: First, we believe the most significant explanatory variable in the selection of online courses is the convenience factor. Specifically, this concerns a combination of ease in class scheduling, reduction in travel time and cost, and flexibility provided by self-paced learning. Students valuing the convenience variable tend to take online accounting courses. Hypothesis 1: The likelihood of taking an online accounting course is positively correlated with the factor of convenience. Second, the perceived level of self-discipline is reported to be an important factor in performing well in online courses. Self-starters tend to succeed in web-based courses; procrastinators troubles quickly accrue. Hypothesis 2: The likelihood of taking an online accounting course is positively correlated with the factor of self-discipline. Third, computer skill is an important factor in the successful completion of an online class. Those uncomfortable with computers and the Internet tend to shy away from enrolling in online courses. Hypothesis 3: The likelihood of taking an online accounting course is positively correlated with good computer skills. The last independent variable, preference for face-to-face interaction and participation in an on campus setting, inhibits students from enrolling in web-based courses. These students place greater value in face-to-face interaction, feel more comfortable with in-class oral communication, and believe that classroom discussion is more critical to the learning process. Hypothesis 4: The likelihood of taking an online accounting course is negatively correlated with the individual s perceived need for social interaction. *

4 METHOD The Survey Instrument To answer our research questions and test our hypotheses, we designed a survey questionnaire based on knowledge derived from previous research. A copy of the instrument is attached as an appendix. The dependent variable, the likelihood of taking an accounting course online, is measured on a four-point scale ranging from a definite yes answer to a definite no answer. We then presented the respondents with thirteen statements. Respondents rated each statement on a four-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. These thirteen statements were adapted from several selfdiagnosis tests developed by various institutions offering online courses. Statements were designed to elicit respondents perception of 1) the convenience of online courses; 2) their computer skills and experience, 3) their degree of self-discipline, and 4) their need for social interaction in a live, campus-based setting. We also asked the respondents to provide us with some background information (background variables), such as whether they had previously taken an online course, their employment status, their class standing (e.g. freshmen, sophomore, etc.), their area of concentration (accounting, marketing, etc.), and their GPAs. Subjects The respondents were 204 business students enrolled in a four-year state university in the Los Angeles area. The profile of respondents is presented in Table 1. Only 18.6 percent had prior experience with an online course. Approximately 53 percent held fulltime jobs. Most were juniors and seniors. The average GPA of the respondents was Respondents majored in a variety of disciplines within the School of Business. Table 1: Profile of Subjects Background Variables Observatio n 1. Have you ever taken an online course? Yes No 2. Do you have a fulltime job? Yes No 3. What is your class standing? Freshmen Sophomore Junior Senior Graduate 4. What is your area of concentration? Accounting Finance Percentage 81.4% 18.6% 52.5% 47.5% 7.8% 12.3% 45.6% 28.9% 5.4% 16.5% 12.3%

5 Management Marketing MIS Other 5. What is your GPA? Under % 8.8% 8.3% 17.6% 2.0% 12.7% 29.4% 38.7% 17.2% ANALYSES AND RESULTS Likelihood to Take an Online Accounting Course Respondents inclination to enroll in an online accounting course is presented in Table 2. This table shows that 22.5 percent of the respondents indicated that they would not enroll in an accounting course on the Internet. Approximately 22 percent of the students would definitely enroll in an online accounting course. About 56 percent of the respondents were tentatively willing to try online accounting courses. Table 2: Likelihood of Taking an Accounting Online Course Would you have enrolled an accounting course on the Frequency Percentage Internet? Yes % Probably % Maybe % No % Factor Analysis We performed a principal component analysis based on responses to the thirteen statements. Results are summarized in Tables 3 and 4. Four identified principal components explain 66 percent of total variance, with the first component, convenience, explaining more than half of that variance. From the components matrix table, it can be inferred that the first component is related to the factor of convenience. The second component is related to the need for social interaction in live classes. The third component is related to computer skills and experience. And the fourth component relates to the perceived degree of self-discipline. Table 3: Total Variance Explained in Factor Analysis Extraction Sums of Squared Loadings Component Eigen-values Percentage of Variance Cumulative Percentage

6 Table 4: Components Matrix for Factor Analysis Component Statement Regression Analysis To test the four main hypotheses and to determine if other variables affect the student s inclination to take an online accounting course, we performed a regression analysis. The dependent variable is the student s propensity to take an online accounting course. The independent variables include the four factors extracted from the factor analysis and all other background variables such as whether the student had previously taken an online course, was engaged in fulltime or part-time employment, the student s class standing, academic major, and grade point average. The results, presented in Table 5, find four variables of significance. They are the factor related to convenience, the factor related social interaction, the factor related to computer skills and experience, and classification of the students. The significance levels for these four variables are.000,.004,.055, and.004 respectively. The analysis confirms that the primary reason for taking an online accounting course is convenience. Students expressing less dependence on campus-based social interaction, and better computer skills, are much more likely to take accounting online. Thus, Hypotheses 1, 3, and 4 are confirmed while Hypothesis 2 (discipline) is rejected. Interestingly, lower-division students are less reluctant to take an online accounting course than upper-division students, and undergraduates less reluctant than graduate students. Perhaps, generally, younger students are more familiar and comfortable with computers and the Internet. Or, perhaps introductory accounting courses are perceived as more suitable as online course offerings. All other background variables were found to exert little force in the online decision.

7 Table 5: Regression Results Independent Standardized Significance Variables Coefficients T- Level statistics Constant Factor Factor Factor Factor Prior experience Full-time job Part-time job Classification Academic major GPA Note: Dependent variable is the propensity to take an online course. CONCLUSIONS In this study we employed formal statistical analysis to test several hypotheses suggested by prior research regarding the demand factors for online accounting courses. Our study was motivated by two considerations: First, most of the prior research did not employ rigorous statistical methods for analysis. Second, most of the prior research was unrelated to accounting students. Specifically, our study asked subjects to indicate their willingness to take an online accounting course. Then we employed data reduction methods and formal hypothesis testing. Our results confirm that the foremost reason for taking an online accounting course is convenience. Also, students who are not dependent upon social interaction for their learning, and/or feel comfortable with computers are much more likely to take accounting on line. When we compared our results to prior research we found that demand factors for online accounting courses do not differ significantly from those reported in other disciplines. But one factor, perceived self-discipline, had little impact in the online decision. Also, class standing was negatively correlated with the propensity to take an online accounting course, a factor not mentioned in prior research. If this manifests younger students greater comfort level with online educational activities, the demand for online course offerings should continue to escalate. APPENDIX The Department of Accounting and Finance wants to know what you think about taking courses on the Internet.

8 Would you have enrolled an accounting course on the Internet? (Please circle one) YES PROBABLY MAYBE NO Tell us what you think about the following statements. Rate each statement as follows: 1. You strongly agree with the statement. 2. You agree with the statement. 3. You disagree with the statement. 4. You strongly disagree with the statement. Rating Why would you consider taking an online course? Statement 1. An online course would be very convenient. 2. An online course would fit my class schedule. 3. I would save travel time and cost. 4. I would like to learn at my own pace. 5. It would be easier to manage work and school. 6. I am comfortable on the Internet 7. I have extensive computer experience. 8. I believe physical classes are always better than online classes. 9. I perform tasks better when I am closely supervised. 10. I frequently communicate with professors face-to-face. 11. I am disciplined and self-motivated. 12. Feeling that I am part of a class is important. 13. Classroom discussion is very important. Please tell us about yourself: Have you ever taken an online course? Do you have a full-time job? Do you have a part-time job? What is your class standing? Please circle one. Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Graduate What is your area of concentration? (Your major) What is your GPA? Please circle one. Less than REFERENCES: Burdman, Pamela Cyber University. Orange County Register, Santa Ana, September 13, k07. Collins, S. & Grunke, M Anywhere, Anytime, Online An Assessment of Online Courses at Kansas City Kansa Community College, available at Johnson, Mark The University of the Web Providence Journal; Providence, RI; May 14, b-01.

9 Simba Information Inc Study: Students Learn Effectively through Use of Online Courses, Electronic Education Report, January 1. Souder W. The Effectiveness of Traditional Vs. Satellite Deliver in Three Management of Technology Master s Degree Programs. The American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp Wechsler, Alam Online Learning Casts an Ever-widening Net. Times Union; Albany, NY; March 3, s3.

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