The effects of system design alternatives on the acquisition of tax knowledge from a computerized tax decision aid

Jacob M. Rose, Christopher J. Wolfe

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52 Citations (Scopus)


Accounting firms are intensifying their reliance on experiential learning, and experience increasingly involves the use of computerized decision aids [Messier, W. (1995) Research in and development of audit decision aids. In R. H. Ashton & A. H. Ashton, Judgment and decision making in accounting and auditing (pp. 207-230). New York: Cambridge University Press]. Accountants are expected to learn from automated decision aid use, because the aids are not always available when dealing with the aid's topical matter, and the knowledge inherent in the aid is needed for competency on broader issues. To facilitate knowledge acquisition and explain the logic of the underlying processes, computerized decision aids provide the rationale for their calculations in the form of online explanations. We study how the location of explanations in a computerized decision aid affects learning from its use. Specifically, this research extends the existing literature by using a framework for the study of learning from decision aid use and by using cognitive load theory to explain the failure of certain decision aid design alternatives to promote learning. We define learning as the acquisition of problem-type schemata, and an experiment is performed in which cognitive load is manipulated by the placement of explanations in a computerized tax decision aid to determine its effect on schema acquisition. Schemata are general knowledge structures used for basic comprehension, and cognitive load refers to the burden placed on working memory when acquiring schemata. We find that increased cognitive load produced by the location of explanations in a decision aid leads to reduced schema acquisition. Our results indicate that when explanations in a computerized decision aid are integrated into its problem solving steps, cognitive load is reduced and users acquire more knowledge from aid use. This appears to be an important design consideration for accounting firms buying or building computerized decision aids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-306
Number of pages22
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2000
Externally publishedYes

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