Numeracy for adults: building skills with online learning links
This Ministry of Education report describes a project that supplemented workplace learning with online numeracy activities. It found that simple online tasks that trainees completed in their own time helped them to improve their numeracy skills.
Published: June 2010
Data from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey provides a detailed and valuable picture of the literacy and numeracy skills of the New Zealand adult population. A significant number of New Zealand adults have low levels of numeracy, with 51 percent below level 2 (Satherley, Lawes & Sok, 2008a), the level regarded by experts as being the minimum required for adults to meet the “complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge society” (Walker, Udy & Pole, 1996, p. 1). These levels are of concern as low numeracy has been found to be associated with higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes and restricted career opportunities (Satherley, Lawes & Sok, 2008b).
In addition to the effects felt by individuals when numeracy skills are low, the skill levels of the workforce also affect our nation’s economy. While the labour-force demands of a modern economy are complex, it is clear that if New Zealand is to improve or maintain its position in the world economy it must develop a workforce with high levels of generic and technical skills (Satherley, Lawes & Sok, 2008b).
Within the New Zealand context there is an opportunity to provide numeracy for adults as a part of existing training programmes. The most effective models for achieving this are referred to as “embedded” and involve incorporating aspects of numeracy learning into vocational training (Casey et al., 2006). Embedded approaches “combine the development of literacy, language, and numeracy with vocational and other skills. The skills acquired provide learners with the confidence, competence and motivation necessary for them to succeed in qualifications, in life, and at work” (Roberts et al., 2005, p. 5).
While embedding has been established as an effective method of developing numeracy, “the ‘mechanics’ of embedding literacy and numeracy are challenging” (Industry Training Federation, 2009, p. 9). In particular, the Industry Training Federation found that it was difficult to design programmes that would be effective for the differing numeracy levels of learners, and many tutors felt threatened, unprepared and under-resourced to support learners to make numeracy gains.
This research sought to identify an efficient and cost-effective way to strengthen the numeracy of workers undertaking a vocational qualification. The research comprised three major phases:
- The identification of critical factors that enable the provision of effective numeracy training through a review of international literature.
- An investigation of one industry training organisation (ITO) as a context for adult numeracy learning. This resulted in the identification of an appropriate group of workers to take part.
- Case studies investigating an approach using online learning activities with five workers in the concrete industry.
This report summarises the findings from this research, and is structured in three sections representing the main phases of the project.