Accounting is a practical discipline, existing to satisfy particular human needs which are usually depicted in terms of decision-making processes and accountability evaluations. Proposals for how accounting education may be infused with learning from the ‘realworld’ contexts in which it operates are always welcome. However, as the recent global financial crisis (GFC) and other phenomenal episodes have repeatedly revealed, accounting practice is itself neither perfect nor uncontroversial. Examining the ‘real world’ contexts of accounting offers not just the prospect of learning more about what accounting is and how it is currently practised, but also the limitations and deficiencies of that practice.
This study examines the impact of prior learning experience on students' approaches to learning (SAL). It compares SAL of accounting students admitted to university in Australia on the basis of Institutes of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) qualifications (TAFE-to-university) and through direct entry mode (Year 12-to-university). The motivation for the study lies in the need to understand potential learning differences to inform learning interventions for optimal learning outcomes for all students—regardless of entry mode. The findings suggest that prior TAFE learning experience impacts SAL in university. However, the findings question the stereotypical view of the TAFE learning context as fostering surface approaches to learning, as higher scores on deep and achieving approaches were recorded by TAFE-to-university students. The level of adoption of a surface approach was found to be less among students undertaking predominantly third-year units regardless of entry mode. This study's findings have important implications for designing curricula and assessment for accounting units to cater for all students from different educational pathways, for university teachers to adopt an inclusive approach, and for higher education access policy.