Modern accounting requires both hard and soft skills, and businesses want accountants with the most up-to-date skill sets. These online resources will help you improve your accounting skills.
Today, businesses of all sizes look for accounting candidates with the perfect balance of technical accounting skills and interpersonal, professional skills to meet their needs. Whether you're an entrepreneur managing your books on your own or an established professional seeking employment, quality accounting skills are crucial to maintain the financial health of your business or advance your career. Obtaining or maintaining those accounting skills can be challenging in the constantly changing industry, but fortunately, the internet has revolutionized learning, taking it out of the traditional classroom and directly into the home.
In case you're not sure where to begin your online accounting training, we've found some great training resources to help you navigate your way through online learning. These resources include both free and fee-based courses, with both instructor-led options and self-paced programs that you can complete on your own time and at your own speed. Regardless of your location and your accounting training needs, there is a course for you online.
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What are the top skills of a great accountant?
Modern accounting requires much more than crunching numbers and balancing ledgers. Accountants have the difficult job of balancing technical "hard skills" with interpersonal "soft skills" to help their businesses grow. These are the soft and hard skills you need to be a great accountant.
What are soft skills in accounting?
Soft skills are less tangible and more difficult to measure than hard skills; they are usually learned through experience. Here are the top soft skills every accountant needs.
- Communication: Today's accounting and finance professionals aren't just expected to crunch numbers. Rather, they need the ability to tell the story behind the numbers in an interesting, easily understandable manner. This is especially true when communicating with colleagues or clients who are unfamiliar with accounting terms. On top of excellent verbal communication skills, accountants must have strong business writing skills to compose clean, concise and accurate emails, reports or documents.
- Organization: Accountants must be highly organized in order to manage multiple accounts and clients, meet company deadlines, and follow proper guidelines. Accountants deal with a significant amount of paperwork, and a disorganized individual may find it difficult to file sensitive documents correctly or on time.
- Time management: Most accountants work on multiple projects at once, which means their time management and multitasking skills must be exceptional. Furthermore, time management is crucial during tax season, in which accountants must go above and beyond to meet their companies' and clients' needs.
- Problem-solving: Every organization encounters financial discrepancies that must be accounted for. Great accountants have critical thinking and problem-solving skills to address financial errors and think creatively to solve complex issues. This skill is invaluable, as even small financial discrepancies can have huge repercussions for businesses in any industry.
What are hard skills in accounting?
Unlike soft skills, hard skills are specific and measurable and can be learned in school, professional courses, or books. Today, hard skills in accounting means solid tech skills. [If you're looking for help with your accounting tasks, check out our reviews of the best accounting software for businesses.]
Staying on top of the latest technology trends, especially in fintech, becomes more important every year. While every accountant is expected to have the fundamentals of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and Microsoft Excel nailed down, employers look for more advanced skills and expertise in the following areas:
- Microsoft Visual Basic
- Data analytics
- Business intelligence software
- Risk and compliance
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Cloud-based accounting
While people may assume every accountant is an expert in every financial field, there are certain areas of expertise accountants can focus on. Businesses often look for specific experience or industry knowledge that will fill a gap within their organization.
For example, government accountants are expected to understand local, state and federal regulations, while management accountants should have a strong foundation in corporate finance. Hiring managers will look for these specific traits when interviewing candidates for an accounting position.
The best of online accounting training
One of the most transformative facets of online education today is the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs for short. MOOCs are free, which make them attractive to the budget-conscious. While some MOOC trainers may charge a fee for testing, or to issue a certificate or collegiate credit, the courseware itself is free to learners.
One great MOOC search engine is MOOC List. MOOC List includes courses from online learning providers such as Coursera, edX, FUN, FutureLearn, OpenClassrooms and top universities. Many course listings on MOOC List have definitive start dates, so you'll only find courses that are due to start within the next 30 days. These are some of the accounting courses we found on MOOC List:
- Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination is a five-week instructor-led course offered by the West Virginia University; a verified certificate may be obtained for a fee.
- Introduction to Accounting is a self-paced course offered by the University of British Columbia; a verified certificate is available for a fee.
- Accounting for Business Decision Making: Measurement and Operational Decisions is a four-week instructor-led course offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; a verified certificate is available for a fee.
These are some other MOOCs we found online:
- Accrual Basis of Accounting is a three-video series from Khan Academy.
- Financial Accounting is a 10-week course offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) for an $89 fee.
- Accounting Essentials for MBA Success is a six-week course presented by Imperial College London. The course is free, but there is a $79 fee to obtain a certificate.
Alison is another great online learning provider. While all courses are free, learners must pay a fee to obtain the certificate or diploma designations. Alison makes it easy to navigate courses: Each course landing page includes a course description, predicted outcomes, estimated completion time and the recommended skill level necessary to successfully complete the course. Alison courses are available in certificate, diploma and learning path designations, with each level increasing the required time commitment.
At present, Alison offers 24 accounting courses. Available topics include accounting theory, cash accounting, business and merchandising transactions, control and cash monitoring, and receivables and payables.
Udemy bills itself as the "world's largest online learning marketplace," and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Here, we found 385 accounting-related courses with topics such as cost accounting, Microsoft Excel, bookkeeping, finance fundamentals, investment accounting and accounting for entrepreneurs. Foundational, intermediate and advanced courses are available. The courses have fees, but most are less than $200, with many under $100.
Started by MIT and Harvard in 2012, edX boasts a partnership with over 90 learning providers, including top universities such as Harvard, the University of Texas and the University of California, Berkeley. We found more than 100 accounting-related courses on edX, including both self-paced and instructor-led courses, from introductory accounting courses to more advanced courses geared toward accounting for business decision-makers. We found both free and fee-based accounting courses on edX. Most fee-based courses ranged from $49 to $249. Free courses offer certificates for an additional fee (typically around $150).
Don't underestimate the power of YouTube for online accounting training. A simple search for "accounting" yielded more than 1.7 million hits.
The gems we found included a series of short training videos from Executive Finance. One of our favorite training videos came from CPA Strength, which maintains a robust playlist of more than 90 training videos that cover accounting basics for those with limited skills. Like Executive Finance's series, these videos are short – less than 15 minutes each in most cases – and an easy way for accounting novices to gain some foundational training.
Looking for something more formal? We found class videos for Accounting 1 and Accounting 2 (each nearly an hour long) presented by the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, which allow you to "sit in" on the course. Also, be sure to check out the accounting video series from Alanis Business Academy. Here you'll find more than 100 accounting training videos, most under 20 minutes long.
Coursera is another online training provider that currently offers more than 250 accounting courses, including introductions to financial accounting, business and financial fundamentals, and finance for non-finance professionals. You can even earn a Master of Science in accounting if that's your goal. Coursera courses are available at the certificate, specialization or degree level. Certificate courses typically take about four weeks to complete and cost less than $100, with a certificate issued upon completion. Specialization courses take four to six months to complete and range in price from $39 to $79 per month. Coursera's degree programs take one to three years to complete and cost up to $25,000.
7. Online universities
Many accredited and respected universities across the country offer bachelor's and master's degrees online. The University of Phoenix is one of the largest and best-known online universities. Established in 1976, the university offers certificates and degrees in over 100 programs, including accounting.
Western Governors University is an online university that offers degree programs in business, health and nursing, teaching, and information technology. The business program includes both a bachelor's and master's degree in accounting.
Where to go from here
With so many online training platforms to choose from, finding the training that's right for you may seem daunting. Start by examining your personal goals. Are you an entrepreneur looking to sharpen your personal accounting skills? Are you seeking certifications to help you enter the accounting profession? Perhaps you're an established accounting professional seeking additional certifications to advance your career. Regardless of where you are in your career, understanding what you want to accomplish will help you select the right type of training for you.
You should also understand not only how you like to learn, but the time you have available to learn. If your time is limited, look at self-paced courses that allow you to learn anytime, anywhere, rather than attending an instructor-led course with a defined time commitment. If you're considering a fee-based course, check reviews and see what other learners have to say about the course before you pay.