Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Use of Humor as a Pedagogical Tool for Accounting Education

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Use of Humor as a Pedagogical Tool for Accounting Education

Article excerpt


This article focuses on the use of humor to increase the effectiveness of teaching accounting by conducting a meta-analysis on the use of humor by business executives and professors in other fields. Exclusively for this study, the meta-analysis quantitatively synthesizes the results of similar studies that meet predetermined criteria on a variable of interest, the effectiveness of humor, by summarizing their common statistic, called their effect size. Results support the hypothesis that humor is more effective today than it was in the early eighties. No articles were found on the use of humor in the accounting classroom, but the results of this meta-analysis affirm that accounting professors may benefit as well. This article then goes on to provide strategies and illustrations related to the use of humor that may enable interested accounting teachers to develop humor consistent with their personal styles and the needs of their students.


In 1998, the AICPA's Vision Project developed a set of core competencies that students entering the accounting field should master (AICPA, 1998). Accounting professors rely on teaching technical skills students need for success in their careers, and most of the core competencies stress this technical knowledge. However, three competencies--communication, leadership, and personal interaction--relate to the "soft skills" one needs to progress to upper management, whether in a CPA firm or other business entity. The question then arises: How can educators help our accounting students master these "soft skills?"

Mastery of these three competencies may be facilitated by the use of humor in the classroom. Prior studies in other fields indicate that successful executives, leaders, and managers use positive humor to motivate employees and to improve their performance (Sala, 2003; Decker & Rotondo, 2001). As future executives in the accounting profession, accounting students might profit from the professorial use of humor because it exposes them to a positive role model (Bush & Dong, 2003), and because it fosters learning by increasing teacher effectiveness (Murray, 1983).

Differing opinions on the use of humor abound. Anecdotally, the chair of an accounting department learned that one professor, who had just completed teaching Intermediate Accounting II for the first time, was poorly evaluated because the students found his otherwise excellent lectures and class discussions "boring." When asked why he didn't use his fine sense of humor, the professor claimed it was "unprofessional." Other educators have commented that using humor is "risky," "politically incorrect," and "inappropriate." These comments contradict the more commonly held belief that "Everyone knows it's better to use humor." Also, at a conference of accounting educators and practitioners who participated in a demonstration of the Chocolate Factory (See Appendix), some commented, "Why don't instructors at CPE sessions use humor? Those sessions are so long and boring." This perceived difference in opinions demands empirical research.

As a first attempt, this study conducted a meta-analysis on studies related to the use of humor by business executives and educators in other fields that meet predetermined criteria (Wolf, 1986). A discussion of the implication of these results includes strategies for those who want to use humor in the accounting classroom and additional hints for those who already do so. A summary, limitations, and the further research needed to clarify this issue conclude the paper.


Numerous studies provide evidence of increased effectiveness from the use of humor in classrooms or applied settings, where effectiveness is defined as success that is evidenced by increased ratings, motivation, achievement, or performance. Effectiveness can be experienced by either the person using humor or the one on the receiving end of the humor. …

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