Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Janet Bowers, PhD; Nancy Farnan, PhD; Noriyuki Inoue, PhD


California, community colleges, curriculum, adult algebra learners, adult learning characteristics, expression as procedure, faculty, graph as path, Grounded theory, higher education, letter as label, misconceptions, pedagogy, quantitative courses, San Diego Mesa College (San Diego, CA)


In California community colleges, fewer than half of students who enroll in basic algebra courses finish with a grade of C or better. Such a low success rate creates an intense demand on institutional resources, including faculty efforts, tutorial services, classroom availability, and financial aid. Furthermore, students who do poorly in algebra also tend to struggle in other quantitative courses. While research suggests that child algebra learners tend to exhibit specific misconceptions, not much is known about misconceptions held by adult algebra learners. Research does indicate, however, that certain general learning characteristics are common among adult learners. The present study employed a grounded theory approach to examine (1) what pedagogical factors influence adult algebra learning, (2) whether adult algebra learners have similar misconceptions to those held by children, and (3) how necessary it is to consider general adult learning characteristics in developing curricula. Data were acquired through clinical interviews of adult community college students. The only criteria for inclusion in the study were that the participant be at least 18 years of age and currently enrolled in beginning or intermediate algebra at San Diego Mesa College. Findings were that: (1) certain pedagogical factors influence adult algebra learning, including instructional style and policies, course activities, learning aids, and course pacing; (2) participants demonstrated some of the same misconceptions as those held by children when learning algebra, including the letter as label and graph as path misconceptions, but not the expression as procedure misconception; (3) participants indicated that they learn algebra more successfully when general adult learning characteristics guide curriculum development, such as those specified by Knowles’ theory of andragogy, academic fossilization, metacognition, and several unanticipated adult characteristics revealed by this study; and (4) very few significant differences emerged among genders, ethnic groups, or age levels, supporting the generalizability of the findings. A unique feature of this study is the open-ended form of data that were collected. Participants freely generated categories themselves rather than answering specific, previously designed questions. Publications from this study will benefit community college students by making faculty more aware of difficulties encountered by adult students during the learning of algebra, thereby putting them in a better position to develop and implement curricula and institute techniques that address such difficulties. Another potential benefit of this study is that select students were able to anonymously voice thoughts and opinions regarding the teaching and learning of algebra in community colleges.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access