Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PhD in Accountancy


Department of Accountancy

First Advisor

Jean C. Bedard

Second Advisor

Christine E. Earley

Third Advisor

Karla M. Johnstone

Fourth Advisor

Jay C. Thibodeau


This dissertation consists of three studies examining component(s) of the cognitive apprenticeship (CA) model applied to on-the-job learning in auditing. This abstract summarizes each study, including purpose, methodology, and findings. The first study provides descriptive evidence on the importance and pervasiveness of CA as a model of on-the-job learning (OTJL) in auditing, investigates changes in its use over time, and assesses factors that promote or hinder auditors’ learning through apprenticeship. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 relatively new and more experienced audit partners at a Big 4 firm, seeking their impressions about past and current OTJL practices in public accounting. Results show that apprenticeship is considered a key component of OTJL, but partners vary in beliefs about the levels in which it is currently practiced. Mapping partner responses to the CA model shows that apprenticeship as practiced in auditing may be incomplete, suggesting benefits to learning if additional elements were stressed by firms. We also identify characteristics of auditors and the professional environment that enhance and/or reduce the effectiveness of OTJL, including technology, time/work demands, feedback practices and reward systems.

My first study shows that partners are concerned that novice auditors require extensive “hand-holding” during OTJL. My second study addresses this issue through an experiment examining how awareness of availability of repeated task instruction, the learners’ choice to repeat instruction, and task-specific knowledge affect performance in a semi-structured substantive audit task. Results suggest that when lower-knowledge auditors are aware that repeated modeling is not available: their performance is indistinguishable from higher-knowledge auditors. However, when novice auditors are aware that repeated instruction is available, performance of lower-knowledge auditors is reduced. Also, I find that receiving more than a single instruction does not improve performance, regardless of learner knowledge.

The third study is a literature review examining how CA, as a framework of effective learning environments, is applicable to auditing. Tracing its components to the auditing literature, I identify opportunities for future research and for improvements in audit learning environments with respect to reflection, exploration, intrinsic motivation, and cooperation among learners.