Teaching Accounting: The LEPP Methodology
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The LEPP approach to teaching is all based upon the repetition and growth of a skillset. In theory, this is a top-down approach to teaching where a core theoretical idea is built upon through multiple layers of instruction to bring the student to the requisite level of knowledge and practical application. This is the opposite of many of the bottom-up methods of teaching where the individual practical steps are taught first to then culminate in the knowledge of the theory.
LEPP stands for Lecture, Example, Problem, and Practice. This methodology lends itself well to flipped classrooms, hybrid courses, and other non-traditional classroom styles. The guiding principle of the LEPP approach is that a core or central theory can be explained without initially presenting the detailed knowledge of the theoretical application. This core theory can then be built upon so students see each additional level of complexity as merely added details to a basic idea that they already know. I equate this idea to the teaching of Columbus’ sailing across the Atlantic. In elementary school, students are taught that Columbus sailed to prove the earth was round. In middle school, this is expanded to the idea of developing trade routes, and in high school, it is introduced that he probably wasn’t the first explorer to make it to the Americas. At each level, the additional complexities of all of the facts of his journey are added to a central idea that had been previously laid out. In some cases, what had previously been laid out is stripped back and re-taught, but the simpler core idea allows the base knowledge that allows for these changes.
We can apply this same idea to the teaching of business, and specifically accounting. Many accounting classes are structured just around the details of specific transactions, trying to push students to work through the mechanics of journal entries and calculations before explaining to them the core principles that are being followed. While this can be an effective way to teach a single way of dealing with a problem or a single journal entry, it runs into the issue that each mechanical process must be taught and learned separately. If the students understand the principles and core concepts behind the reasoning for the journal entries and calculations, new variations and details can be added on easily and students can not only learn faster but can learn to predict the right way to deal with things without being taught. (This idea is the main reason why FASB outlines SFACs for accountants. If the underlying logic can be understood, then specific guidance does not need to be given for every single situation).
So, the LEPP approach follows four distinct steps for each topic to educate students and ingrain within them the mechanics of how to handle different issues.
This is the most traditional sense of lecture. It is the conveying of ideas from the teacher to the student, often in a “speak at you” style. The details of how this lecture is executed can vary depending on the teacher, but the main idea is that it is a brain dump. The important part of this initial lecture though is that it is purposefully not detailed, and in fact, focuses as much on the theory and the ‘why’ of the concepts as any of the actual mechanics. It has been found (footnote) those relatable examples, often from non-accounting subjects, or areas that the students may be familiar with can help solidify the concepts.
Many professors want to jump into details here, or are afraid to make generalized statements because at their level of understanding, they know of all of the exceptions and specifics that can be applied. It is important to note that the students do not know of all of these exceptions and the specifics, so generalized statements and ideas (even making statements in absolutes that are not true absolutes) will allow students to start grasping the ideas. Do not worry about the exceptions and the details, the students will have the chance to learn these at later levels.
This is an expansion of the traditional lecture, except now instead of focusing on theoretical concepts and overarching ideas, the specific mechanics of a problem or issue should be walked through. This isn’t supposed to be the students working through the problem, or the whole class working through the problem together, but rather this is show and tells where the teacher is explaining the steps necessary to apply the theories laid out in lecture to an applied problem. It is important in each of the steps of the example that the teacher continually use the same phrases and terminology that was used during lecture and constantly reference back to the core concepts that had been laid out. This referencing and constant re-iteration fo core ideas will solidify the theories in the students’ heads while showing them the actual specific mechanical steps.
At this point in the learning process, the students will be attacking the problems on their own. This is the natural expansion of the lecture and example, where students are now allowed to apply their theoretical knowledge and the mechanics that they saw within the example. In this layout of the problem, it is important to have similarities to the example that had previously been done, but not have it be simple regurgitation. The similarities will give students comfort that they have seen what to do before and know what to do now. The non-regurgitation and new issues will give students a chance to be challenged and attempt to apply their knowledge to issues that had not previously seen.
I often have students work in groups on these problems with very little guidance. This allows students to bounce ideas off of each other and students can have the ability to teach and to learn from each other. During these group problem sessions, I often walk around the room and am available to answer questions if a group gets stuck, but I am more inclined to give hints back to the lecture or the example than I am to give them the direct answer. The goal is for the students to see the connection within this new problem to things they had seen previously, so they are not only learning the mechanics and theory of accounting but are building their problem solving and critical thinking skills, two of the skillsets that employers consistently rank as what they desire most in job candidates.
I was once told that the three “R”s of learning were repetition, repetition, repetition. I think that the ideas laid out in the lecture, for example, and problems are the best way to instill the theory and mechanics within a student’s mind. But without consistent practice, the learning gains will be lost. So, I say that a fourth step, the practice step is critical to ensuring the long term learning goals of the teacher. The practice is broken into two components, the first is the immediate and direct practice that is required of students outside of class time. The second is the consistent revisiting of previous lessons within the problems of new topics.
When giving students practice problems to work on outside of class, certain characteristics should be adhered to. The first characteristic is that the problems that are being used as a practice should be a combination of some regurgitation problems similar to what was done in the example and group problems, but there should also be some new issues and stretches for the students to have to look for answers and figure out new situations. The combination both helps solidify the specifics of what was taught in the classroom, but also reinforces the idea of problem-solving and critical thinking, giving students a reason to go back to their notes, the book, and other sources which helps reinforce the main theoretical concepts and broadens the learning aims.
But by challenging students to go further than what they had seen in the classroom, students need to be able to find the appropriate answer and to work through stumbling blocks that will invariably happen during their practice. It is advised that students should have answer sets to their practice problems, and if possible walkthroughs to the problems themselves. Many of the online homework management systems that accompany current publisher textbooks can be set up to give the students the answers to the homework problems, and in many cases, they will also give guided step-by-step solutions. This is often enough but can be expanded upon by having pre-recorded walkthroughs of the problems made available through school systems such as Blackboard/Moodle, or made available to the students through publicly available systems such as YouTube.
Some faculty do not like the idea of the answers being made available to students so easily, fearing that this will keep the students from attempting to learn the material on their own. While there may be some students who choose to jump directly to the answer, by allowing the students to get over their stumbling blocks, they are not limited to waiting for answers from the teacher before being able to proceed during their studying and practicing process.
The LEPP approach to teaching is easily adapted to the flipped classroom model or into online classes by treating the lecture as a pre-requisite to the time spent in class. These pre-requisite lectures can be prepared by the instructor well in advance of class and provided to students through learning management software or a publicly available video sharing site such as YouTube.
By basing teaching upon the repetition and growth of a skillset, students gain a better foundational knowledge of the subject matter. It brings the student to the requisite level of knowledge to practically apply the knowledge to new situations, problem-solving through critical thinking instead of simply regurgitating information or performing rote calculations.
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