Adults learning mathematics in the workplace through their trade unions: what motivates them?

Prof Doc Thesis

Kelly, EM (2017). Adults learning mathematics in the workplace through their trade unions: what motivates them? Prof Doc Thesis London South Bank University School of Law and Social Sciences
AuthorsKelly, EM
TypeProf Doc Thesis

It is known that motivating people to learn mathematics can be difficult. My research
explores adults’ motivation to learn mathematics and focuses on learners who are
overcoming many barriers to study in the workplace, in classes organised and funded by
their trade union. The adults are aiming to gain a formal qualification, using less formal
learning approaches, in a non-traditional context, hence this research offers teachers in
more conventional education settings an opportunity to learn about successful alternative
Using a grounded theory approach on qualitative data and by exploring the findings within
a range of sources of research literature into motivation and mathematics learning for
adults, the research distinguishes between initial motivation to re-engage with learning and
motivation to continue learning. It identifies the dynamic interplay in motivation between the
personal needs or goals of individual learners, and the influence of other members of faceto-
face learning groups. This interplay is seen as shaped in the wider context of UK
society, and, in particular, by the role of trade unions.
Adults in trade union organised classes report being able to successfully develop their
mathematical skills and confidence through the use of ‘collective’ learning approaches,
which develop positive social and emotional encounters in the classroom that are different
from their previous experiences. Developing confidence while learning mathematics helps
to shape their identities and, for this sample, has considerable influence on their
motivations both inside and outside the classroom.
The significance of developing confidence is reinforced by the adults’ use of emotional
language when reporting changes in their feelings towards mathematics from negative to
positive and their motivation to learn, described as an adult’s ‘Affective Mathematical Journey’. This emphasises the importance of considering the emotional connection to
motivation and cognitive development when reflecting on professional practice associated
with adults learning mathematics.

PublisherLondon South Bank University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
Print27 Apr 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited13 Jul 2017
Completed01 Sep 2016
Publisher's version
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