The Internet, social media and being online constitute an integral part of everyday life. There is a common expectation that these new sources of communication will be used in the process of education. Universities are looking for ways to use the opportunities provided by this new approach and incorporate it effectively, making this way of learning more engaging and efficient and enhancing the higher education system. E-learning means adopting electronic educational technology in learning and teaching. It can be implemented in various shapes and forms. It can be performed either as blended learning (where only part of the course is offered online), or as entire courses delivered online. It comprises webinars, lectures/videos on-demand, multi-media components (3D presentations, animations, hypertext, hypermedia); various other online activities [1
]. The use of technology transformed course delivery to be partly or fully independent of time and place [1
]. The European Commission [3
] emphasizes that the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet increases learning quality. It allows easier and wider access to educational facilities and provides opportunities for distant exchanges and collaboration.
In our study, we focus on accounting education. The accounting discipline is perceived as very practical but also rather difficult. It requires methodical work and systematic studies. So, moving from the traditional delivery in the classroom to online learning will require thinking outside the box. There is a very limited amount of research in the area of e-learning in accounting education. A lot of Polish educators can see the changing trends in higher education and growing needs to adopt new methods. However, many institutions still prefer the traditional face-to-face approach. There is a lot of anxiety with online teaching, as to the amount of time it requires, and the training it needs. Polish academics are very often uncertain as to how efficient the process will be and whether the benefits will be greater than the cost involved. This paper will look at the attitudes of Polish accounting educators to this relatively new teaching method.
The paper aims to investigate the benefits and drawbacks, resulting from the implementation of e-learning in accounting modules among educators. To achieve this goal, the literature review has been undertaken and a survey has been developed. This survey has been conducted among accounting educators employed by the leading Polish Economic Universities, such as the Cracow University of Economics, Wroclaw University of Economics, Poznan University of Economics and Business, University of Lodz, Kozminski University, the University of Economics in Katowice, University of Szczecin, University of Gdansk, Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, and Warsaw School of Economics.
Basically, our survey has exploratory character and is intended to investigate how the advantages and disadvantages of the e-learning in accounting modules are perceived by lecturers. We want to compare and confront visions and ideas concerning e-learning of two very different groups and profiles of lecturers. Finally, we intend to identify the reasons, for which academics are not inclined to engage in e-learning education. We conjecture that among academics in Poland, and probably in other Central and Eastern Europe countries (CEE), there is an unjustified misperception about the drawbacks of e-learning, which we are trying to reveal.
Main findings suggest that within the group of academics, who decided to use e-learning in accounting modules, the perceived most important advantages are: the easiness of e-learning delivery in comparison with traditional methods, more regular learning process during, a greater degree of development of students’ social competences, and finally a more effective process of verification of students’ progress. Most notably, these advantages were not indicated by the other group—lecturers, who have not yet used e-learning. The results also show that e-learning techniques are undertaken by academics who are dedicated to education and are not avoiding the effort to deliver a high quality of teaching. The most important determinant motivating lecturers to invest in e-learning is better communication with students, understood as more frequent, and more direct. The most significant impediments of e-learning applications are technical problems and a sense of excessive mechanization. The results also suggest that academics using only traditional methods of teaching very often misperceive the real benefits and difficulties of e-learning.
Our study contributes to the literature on accounting education, as it provides new insights into the use of e-learning as an education supporting tool from the educators’ perspective. To the best of our knowledge, most of the studies regarding factors that affect satisfaction with e-learning courses analyzed this problem from the student’s point of view. The results are also relevant for practice. They might be useful for university authorities, which may introduce procedures facilitating such classes and, therefore, contribute to greater acceptability of them among lecturers. Lecturers may be more aware of the real benefits and disadvantages of conducting e-learning classes. The research findings can also be useful for other scientists and policymakers. We also believe that the results of our analysis might be extended to other Eastern European countries, due to cultural similarities existing in this geographical area. The effectiveness of e-learning courses is also conditioned by cultural factors [4
]. In Eastern European countries, there are also similar systems, problems and challenges in the field of academic education, and the problem with access to high-speed internet [6
The paper is organized as follows. The next section presents a review of literature on e-learning benefits and challenges, as well as the concept of e-learning effectiveness. Subsequently, the educators’ approach to e-learning is discussed. This is followed by the empirical section, which provides information on the purpose and methods of research and offers a discussion of the study findings. The last section presents the conclusions and limitations of the study, together with indications for possible future research.
2. Benefits, Challenges, and Effectiveness of E-Learning
There are some possible benefits of e-learning for students, educators, and higher education institutions. However, each of these participants in the educational process will face many challenges. For students, the most difficult ones include good time management skills, self-reliance, regular engagement and communication with the lecturer. Additionally, students could suffer from the absence of vital personal interactions, not only with lecturers, but also with colleagues that participate in the module [7
]. On the other hand, students are offered a more flexible learning process, that is especially convenient when they study several subjects simultaneously and if they are required to combine studying with professional work. The e-learning system can improve communication between lecturers and students [9
]. As many corporations move towards online activities, future graduates should be able to develop skills that will help them in their future jobs. Skills such as conscientiousness, independence, and creativity are the key ones. Moreover, graduates will be required to continue education and self-education in order to maintain their competences at a high level [10
For higher education institutions, embedding e-learning into the curriculum means investing in IT infrastructure and up-to-date teaching tools. It is also necessary to develop training programs for the staff. However, at the same time, the institution can reduce the cost of premises and increase the number of students enrolled in courses and programs, as there is no limit on the number of people who can join online classes [11
Lecturers who use the e-learning method will have to increase their online availability, but they will also be required to re-design, develop and implement appropriate online materials. Another problem is that, although some lecturers have an excellent knowledge of academic subjects, they may not have the relevant skills to deliver e-learning modules. Many researchers emphasize that there are great benefits if e-learning is properly applied [9
], as this type of delivery allows the lecturer to have more flexible teaching hours and to work from home on many occasions [17
Some disciplines may require face to face clarifications and explanations [11
]. Very often, the lecturers involved in those courses believe that face to face interaction with the student makes the learning process much easier and more efficient. In these cases, the e-learning method might be less effective than the traditional method of learning. Some research studies have argued that e-learning is more appropriate in social science and humanities, than in fields such as medical science, mathematics, chemistry, and pharmacy, where there is the need to develop practical skills [18
]. Purely scientific fields, which use more practical approaches, may need to modify the e-learning method to suit their courses.
The effectiveness of learning is understood as achieving learning outcomes set out in the course outline, according to the National Qualifications Framework or the course syllabus, which, in reality, means student test score. For academic teachers, learning effectiveness means perceived learner satisfaction. This approach is consistent with Zhang et al. [16
3. Educators’ Approach to E-Learning
There is a lot of research that looks at e-learning in higher education. However, most of it concerns the use of e-learning from the students’ perspective [19
]. Klimczak highlights the various benefits of blended learning [23
]. E-learning tools can prove to be especially beneficial when dealing with large cohorts of students, as they simplify the assessment process and make it more efficient and less time-consuming. Students that participate in online course delivery are forced to engage in online activities on a regular basis, which is sometimes difficult with courses offered on campus. However, it is important to consider how e-learning modules are perceived by lecturers. It is necessary to establish which factors play a significant role for the educators, which elements help them to run efficient online modules and which obstacles need to be overcome.
Numerous factors determine the adaptability of the e-learning approach by lecturers [24
]. Some lecturers are reluctant to introduce this form of education, due to lack of experience in using information technology and lack of adequate support from the IT department. This new teaching approach also requires different forms of communication with students, which for many lecturers may cause discomfort and enforce changes in their existing habits. Often lecturers’ attitudes, as well as psychological considerations, influence the form of teaching and how courses are delivered. Researchers very often stress the impact of lecturers’ experience with information technology, modern methods of communication and awareness of the impact of technology on the efficiency of the teaching process. Those who apply e-learning in one of their modules are more likely to apply this approach in the subsequent courses they teach.
A substantial number of academics do not apply e-learning in their teaching, because they do not fully understand what it involves and very often overestimate the difficulties and risks associated with this form of teaching.
The strong factor that affects the use of the e-learning teaching approach is the simplicity of delivering e-modules, but the most important determinants of the impacts on the adoption process are the awareness and knowledge of information technology and previous experience of delivering online courses [24
]. These two major factors make the development and implementation of e-learning much easier. Nevertheless, lecturers who have never been involved in e-learning very often perceive its development and delivery as more difficult and complicated than it is in practice.
Jebeile surveyed Australian lecturers that adopted web-based technology in their teaching, where they looked at the evaluation of online learning through the use of Internet communication [27
]. As important factors determining the use of e-learning, among other things, lecturers pointed out the higher quality, efficiency and effectiveness of online activities. When using the online learning platform, students can make a clear, objective and measurable evaluation of learning activities. It is clear, that the courses that can train academic staff in designing and delivering online classes can reduce the barriers and negative attitudes of lecturers in the field of teaching online. There is the possibility of learning a valuable lesson from experienced users as well. Due to the key importance of e-learning training, they should be conducted in individual schools, or they should be organized by the Ministry of Education for all teachers [28
Finally, a very important factor that impacts the adoption of online learning is the ease of its use. However, for many lecturers, who are not familiar with this new teaching approach, several concerns can increase resistance to the process. For example, the complexity of the software can aggravate anxiety [26
]. This can be minimized by creating e-learning centers, that could help better prepare students and lecturers to adapt to the e-learning process. The implementation of user-friendly software and platforms also has a significant impact on the success of the whole process [7
]. The ease of using IT solutions in e-learning classes and the perceived usefulness of e-learning classes are key factors determining the acceptance of this form of teaching by lecturers [32
Embedding e-learning does not always result in students being more engaged, knowledgeable and developing better skills, and tutors’ beliefs strongly impact the undertaking and design of blended learning modules [35
The most important factors determining the usefulness of e-learning are the learning environment, the way in which course content is delivered and lecturers’ attitude to e-learning [36
]. These factors are important for lecturers, students, and faculties, and can be used as evaluation criteria for this form of module delivery. The learning environment includes learning spaces (lecture theatres, classrooms), teaching materials, appropriate computer software, etc. A friendly learning environment increases course effectiveness for both students and lecturers. The way in which course content is delivered also impacts on module efficiency. It should be considered whether e-learning classes should be implemented interchangeably with traditional delivery. What is more, it is worth discussing whether the degree of difficulty of the specific content should be evenly distributed between traditional classes and e-learning ones.
Great significance has been linked to lecturers’ role, which has changed, as they are no longer only experts who deliver a certain type of knowledge, but also individuals who help solve problems related to e-learning facilities, as well as course guides [37
]. The lecturer in this process is considered a problem-solver, or the person who causes problems. One of the factors that can help facilitate the e-learning process is the possibility of obtaining professional and technical assistance and support during the implementation of the e-learning process, for both lecturers and students. Diverse technical problems can cause lecturers additional work and instead of focusing on the teaching process, they become more administrators and facilitators of the learning process.
The financial constraint has been mentioned as one of the most essential barriers for academics when using online technology. The unavailability of appropriate hardware and software necessary for the efficient delivery of online modules is due to the fact that some software can be rather expensive and, therefore, inaccessible to some institutions [38
It must be stressed that the new generation of students demands the use of innovative forms of teaching, hence some lecturers try to meet these demands and embed various forms of e-learning in their course delivery. Lecturers who offer e-learning classes are aware of the added value of this form of teaching. By engaging in online courses, students can gain the opportunity to develop many additional skills needed for their future professional career [39
]. These include additional cognitive skills, such as the ability to organize a variety of information, to obtain information on their own, to develop methods of creative thinking, formulate different points of view, discuss, analyze and solve a variety of problems. The opportunity to develop further skills can also be a reason for selecting a particular form of teaching by the lecturer. Mahdizadeh et al. show that 2/3 of academics based their decision to use e-learning in their teaching process on their belief that they provided their students with added value [40
]. They also emphasized some essential elements determining the e-learning adoption process, which included practical use of the system, the easiness or difficulty of its use, as well as the amount of time the whole process takes. It is not without significance that if lecturers had previous experience of creating e-learning classes, they were keener to use this type of approach for other forms of teaching.
Willingness to use e-learning also depends on the already mentioned lecturers’ “attitudes” and their personal experience in this matter. Hence, they should be encouraged by the university to use this new form of delivery in their teaching. Academics may not necessarily be keen to change their habits and often have a negative attitude to a particular method of delivering activities (e-learning). Raman et al. also draw attention to the importance of the right attitudes of lecturers when they decide on the use of e-learning classes. Lecturers can use their habits while implementing e-learning.; whether they are more or less open to changes, they can introduce them with greater or lesser efficiency, and their preferred teaching style is also important [41
]. Acceptance by e-learning by lecturers may also have cultural reasons [4
Lecturers’ characteristics and their involvement in the online teaching process have very strong impacts on the effectiveness of e-learning [43
]. At the same time, it is important for lecturers to take a more positive attitude. They should be more open to using technology in their teaching, including online classes. The factors that determine the level of acceptance of this form of teaching among lecturers ought to be considered. Therefore, more effort should be put into improving the awareness of the learning environment, in particular, various platforms and software that can facilitate the learning process. Teo indicated that lecturers should complete the necessary training prior to getting involved in e-learning [26
]. They should be familiar with the relevant tools, which will then be used regularly during the online classes with the students.
One of the reasons why lecturers may be discouraged from delivering classes in the e-learning form can also be a lack of acceptance of commonly used teaching methods for online classes [44
]. The course design needs to be closely linked with interactive tools that can be embedded within the course and the response to students’ needs. Lecturers must be open to the evaluation of their courses, especially to avoid the emotional and cognitive disconnection between them and the students. Lecturers should, therefore, verify whether the information provided to students is clear and precise, and if feedback from the tutors is transmitted regularly and without delay.
One of the factors affecting the perception of online activities is the potential time saving for lecturers [45
]. The online delivery allows classes to be taught more efficiently and enables better time management and often time savings, which is a great benefit for lecturers. Some of the lecturers indicate that one of the real benefits of e-delivery is the increasing ability to manage their own time efficiently. Teaching online is the most desirable in situations where teaching space such as in lecture theatres, laboratories, IT rooms, and tutorial rooms is limited.
On the other hand, delivering classes online involves a greater investment of time than conducting classes on campus and often results in the need for the lecturer to be available for several hours a day, seven days a week [46
]. Moreover, the flexible, open virtual character of online classes can increase the number of questions that need to be answered during e-sessions. Hence, the frequency of interaction between the lecturer and course participants grows and the duration of the e-class is prolonged. It should also be stressed that lecturers need extra time to get to understand information technology and its proficient use for creating and administering e-learning sessions. They need to allocate time for online communication and other activities related to the e-course [47
]. As lots of lecturers very often don’t use other people’s experience in delivering e-courses, they require additional time to design and launch the e-learning course.
There is a lack of awareness of the importance of e-learning form of teaching among the lecturers themselves and many academics highlight the fundamental problems when designing and implementing the e-learning approach [48
]. This calls for greater support provided by universities in the field of knowledge transfer and new ways of effective course delivery via the Internet. Sadik’s results confirm that a significant part of faculty members have limited competence in the pedagogy for online design and delivery [48
]. Lecturers believe that this form of teaching is useful and can be beneficial and efficient if designed and executed properly. However, they raise concerns about additional knowledge, skills and training that are required, and extra time that needs to be invested. Furthermore, not all institutions can afford the sophisticated software that is needed to deliver good quality and interactive sessions.
Therefore, it seems necessary to provide proper support for lecturers who want to be involved in e-learning courses and to supply adequate and reliable infrastructure, in order to increase the number of courses offered in an e-learning module. There is a need for systemic support for lecturers engaged in the implementation of online courses, as without relevant administrative and technical support a large amount of academics are skeptical about using e-learning for their courses [49
]. Universities can increase the number of e-learning courses if the academic staff do not have to face a variety of problems related to the implementation and administration of online modules [24
]. An adequate IT infrastructure needs to be provided, to reduce concerns about the essential change in the form of teaching, and a smooth transition process should be offered.
5. Conclusions and Further Research
Recent years have brought major changes in higher education. One of the most significant indicators of those changes is the use of e-learning by the most prestigious universities in the US. The Open CourseWare initiative started in 2001, is a free and open publication of material from thousands of MIT courses, covering the entire MIT curriculum and used by millions of learners and educators around the world. The site offers materials from 2340 courses and has 200 million visitors. Another one is Coursera, which was founded in 2012 by two Stanford Computer Science professors, who wanted to share their knowledge and skills with the world. The platform offers complete on-line lectures from the world’s top universities and education providers. At the moment, it comprises 1600 courses and has 22 million learners. Although the Polish setting is far distant from the US environment, e-learning has been developing in Poland for several years. Many universities have just started introducing e-learning on a larger scale, but there is still much to be done in this regard. Challenges are faced by all actors involved in this process: educators, universities, and students. This research focuses on the first group of participants—educators.
The aim of the study was to investigate the accounting educators’ opinions on the benefits and limitations associated with the e-courses and to find out their views on how e-courses differ from traditional classes. A questionnaire was distributed among the accounting lecturers employed by the leading Polish Economic Universities. Out of 79 respondents, only 19 had experience with e-learning courses. Enhancement of the efficiency of the teaching process was perceived by the Polish lecturers as the main benefit, while a large amount of work associated with designing and updating course materials was regarded as the main difficulty associated with the e-courses. A more thorough comparison of the respondents’ answers regarding the use of traditional and distance learning allows the following conclusion to be drawn: Although respondents are familiar with the benefits of e-learning, the time and effort which needs to be put into preparation and delivery of e-courses, as well as the risk of students’ dishonest behaviour, seem to be major obstacles to use it as a teaching method on a larger scale.
The performed statistical analysis (MANOVA) supports the first hypothesis, stating that the perception of the effectiveness of e-learning techniques differs between the group of academics, who already use it and the group, which have not decided to use it. The analysis also provides evidence for the second hypothesis, conjecturing that the effectiveness of e-learning, in comparison with traditional teaching, depends on the perceived advantages and disadvantages of e-learning. The results of the study suggest that the factors which influence the effectiveness of e-learning in teaching accounting include: easiness of e-learning delivery, more regular learning process, a greater degree of development of students’ social competences during e-learning classes and the more effective process of verification of students’ progress in comparison with traditional classes.
The study also investigates the reasons behind the decision to move from the traditional approach to e-learning in teaching accounting subjects. The results suggest that lecturers who decided to use e-learning recognize this way of didactics as more efficient and, at the same time, more demanding in comparison to traditional classes. The third hypothesis states that the most important factor influencing the decision to use e-learning is the better efficiency of the teaching process. Based on the logit regression analysis, the most important aspects of the e-learning process behind the decision to use e-learning are more efficient communication and, unexpectedly, the necessity to invest a large amount of work within designing and updating course materials. The study also reveals the main obstacles which discourage academics from e-learning: technical problems during course preparation and course delivery and a sense of excessive mechanization of the learning process. The results provide evidence supporting the second hypothesis.
Like in every study, there are a few limitations that need to be considered. The first limitation relates to the size of this research sample. With 79 usable respondents, this is rather limited in size. However, this number does not seem to be very low, considering that the respondents were accounting lecturers employed by the leading Polish higher education institution. Secondly, the survey was conducted among Polish educators, which makes it impossible to draw any conclusions on a larger, international scale. Thirdly, in our analysis, we are comparing the perception of two groups of lecturers; the one, who already engaged in e-learning techniques and has personal experience with regard to the advantages and disadvantages encountered in the education process, and the second group, which has not decided yet for different reasons to use e-learning techniques, with no personal experience. Therefore, the results for these two groups may have different meanings and should be interpreted accordingly. The aim of our study was also to find out how personal experience influences the perception of the advantages and disadvantages of e-learning. Finally, we wanted to reveal the misperception about disadvantages and difficulties, which are shared by academics, who so far haven’t decided to use e-learning techniques and have no experience in this matter.
Despite the above limitations, the findings of the research have important implications for policymakers and practitioners. It seems that a stronger commitment to e-learning from the institutions, e.g., with e-learning being fully integrated into the students’ curriculum, could encourage educators to implement this method. It appears that guidelines on a national level could also support the development of this form of teaching. The research clearly shows that educators need to develop and improve their skills regarding course design, development and delivery of e-learning, and IT. They should feel supported on each and every step of this process by the university’s technical and administrative staff.
It is believed that the presented research could help one to better understand the rationale behind the educators’ decision to use e-learning while delivering accounting classes, and the factors that influence the effectiveness of this process. Given the growing interest in e-learning from both lecturers and students, as well as the dynamic development of e-learning tools and techniques, also in Poland, there arise ample opportunities to develop further research in this field. Additional and more detailed analyses could shed more light on e-learning as an educational tool, from both the educators’ and students’ perspectives. It seems that the approach of higher education institutions to this issue, including their motives, benefits, and difficulties, also poses an interesting research problem. A comparison of the e-learning use in the accounting field between various countries could provide some insights into institutional and cultural factors, influencing the decision to move towards the e-learning approach.