Adults Learn Foundational Maths

Call centre staffing gives thumbs up to Instructional Designer Wayne Davies


Learners use foundational math to make six numbers match a target. Exciting music intensifies as the clock runs down.

Call centre staffing gives thumbs up to Instructional Designer Wayne Davies


This learning experience gives instant feedback and countless opportunities to practise and internalize in a safe space.

Call centre staffing gives thumbs up to Instructional Designer Wayne Davies


As the learner’s foundational maths skills improve, they can reduce the time per challenge to maintain interest.

Foundational Maths for Adult Learners

My client teaches foundational maths skills to innumerate adults who didn’t learn to add, subtract, multiply, or divide as children.

The Challenge

Many innumerate adults find it challenging to stay motivated and retain focus long enough to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and the order of precedence.

My job was to create an engaging way for innumerate adults to practice the maths skills taught to them in a series of face-to-face learning experiences.

My solution replicates the Countdown Numbers game, which provides an exciting challenge that motivates adult learners to continue practising.

The Numbers game welcome screen (an exciting maths challenge)
A maths teacher helps an adult student

Technology Used

  • Storyline 360
  • Powerpoint
  • Word
  • The Gimp
  • Audacity
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Envato
  • Javascript (frontend)
  • PHP (backend)
  • MySQL (backend)


The client’s training course is divided into six classes, with one class per week. There is a final exam that only 42% of participants pass. The client is unhappy with this result and wants to improve it to 67%.

I interviewed several trainers and participants to find out why they felt over half of all learners failed the exam. The most common answer (77%) is that participants don’t practice their math skills between lessons, and thus, the information is forgotten.

I sat in on every class during a six-week course. I discovered most participants could complete exercises in the classroom but hadn’t completed their homework from the previous lesson.

My interviews with participants confirmed many found the homework exercises unengaging and tedious.

The client agreed I should find an engaging way to practise foundational maths skills between lessons. This should supplement rather than replace homework and stimulate a desire in adults to practice.

Instructional Design analysis as part of the ADDIE process


The Numbers game in the UK TV gameshow Countdown uses all five foundational math skills.

The game includes a timer that runs down and produces emotional arousal, which helps adults encode and transfer knowledge to long-term memory.

In short, it’s a fun way for adults to practice doing maths. The game even motivates learners to revisit their learning aids if they forget how to do something.

The Numbers game is challenging to replicate on a website. The first hurdle was finding a way for the player to provide their solution. I decided on a point-and-click interface that allows the player to build a simple formula.

As you can see in the wireframe (click image expand), my interface groups the control elements in one location for efficient gameplay.

Each box in the top row contains a random number. The player builds their formula by clicking the desired number and the operators they wish to apply to those numbers.

Each number, operator, or bracket the player uses appears on the answer screen at the bottom of the game area.

When the player is satisfied, they click a button and submit their solution.

To add tension to the gameplay, I sourced a music track that intensifies as the clock runs down.

I edited the track in Audacity to create a 40, 60, and 80-second version for each of the three difficulty levels.


I built the Numbers game interface in Articulate Storyline 360 and used Javascript to manage game logic.

I created an API in PHP to permanently save high scores to a MySQL database.

Javascript requests information from the API, detects when a player has qualified for the high-score board, and posts the player’s data to the API.

The development and implementation phases were iterative, with the client providing feedback on bugs and improvements.

The maths countdown numbers game in progress

The game is now taught in class, but there is also a help screen and a video showing a game in progress.


We first tried the game on class teachers to gauge their reaction and seek their buy-in. All enjoyed playing the game and testing their prowess.

Every teacher saw the game’s potential as a learning tool and agreed to incorporate it into the course.

Surprisingly, the teaching staff decided to introduce the game in the second lesson and teach the class how to play it. Teachers felt the promise of improved scores in future would be an incentive to focus on each lesson and complete homework assignments.

The game was integrated into the homework assignments, replacing some traditional exercises.

The client selected a trial class to test the game, and if it worked, would then roll it out to every subsequent class.

People enjoying an Articulate Storyline 360 game created by Wayne Davies


We released the game to a trial class and compared their results in the final exam with the overall average, including two classes taught simultaneously.

The game-playing class scored an average of 74%, a considerable improvement over the overage of 42%. It also outperformed the simultaneous classes that didn’t have access to the game.

The client authorised the game for every subsequent class, and the current average exam result is 71%. The game has successfully motivated adult learners to practice and complete their homework.