As we grow old, we have to come to terms with the fact that we are not as capable at acquiring certain new skills as we used to be. However, this is not so with math. While it is true that overall cognitive processing and memory reaches its peak at around age 18, abilities such as concentration, information processing, and even basic arithmetic continue to improve throughout our twenties and could peak well after 50.
Published in 2015, these relatively recent discoveries are not only bound to dispute common sense, but they combat prejudice. Adults in education who feel below par compared to their peers may feel so because of ill-informed notions about their ability to learn, if not their overall level of intelligence. As educational technologies allow us to document and quantify more diverse contexts of adult learning in volume, breakthroughs in learning outcomes are set to arise and to benefit students of all ages.
The free online mathematics teaching initiative Citizen Maths is releasing “A Design Guide for Open Online Courses.” The volume serves many purposes. It documents the years of development of Citizen Maths itself, as the child of education institutions and advocacy organizations in the UK. (Hence the added “s” in “maths.”) It also highlights the social and emotional components that affect learning across ages and contexts, as it focuses on issues such as “disenfranchisement,” which hinders learning interventions in adults much more severely than neurological decline.
But finally, it is a design guide for online courses. Across three sections–Principles, Application and User feedback–the document provides a state-of-the-art handbook for learning practitioners everywhere. Ideas that might have seemed radical only a few years ago are embraced as common standards of practice today. Among these ideas are:
- The importance of context, without which the effectiveness of teaching plummets.
- Transparency in the relationship between existing bodies of knowledge and the truth we have yet to discover, the motivation behind the scientific endeavor.
- Continuous contrast with general applicable standards, from international competencies to digital design practices.
- Medium and content fit. The guide offers pros, cons, and consideration for the usual activities available online, from videos to multiple-choice quizzes.
- Continuous user feedback as a cornerstone of design instead of an afterthought.
The Citizen Maths’ “Level 2” mathematics course is free, open, and self-paced. It is designed to help students attain the mathematical skills expected of a regular 16-year old school-leaver.
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