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The SWAN game-based approach to learning foundational number language

Project overview

This project will develop a digital game called SWAN (Sequences in Words and Numbers) to help people with language difficulties to improve their basic numeracy skills.

Foundational number language (the spoken number sequence and the relation between spoken numbers and numerical digits) is vital for building arithmetic skills. Children with developmental language disorders and adults with acquired language difficulties after stroke (aphasia) often struggle with foundational number language. This puts them at a significant disadvantage because research shows that basic numeracy at school predicts educational outcomes and poor numeracy in adulthood is associated with social exclusion.

Working with specialist developers, the applicants have produced a prototype of SWAN which requires further development to implement improvements and produce an updated version of the game that will be suitable for subsequent large-scale evaluation. The study will comprise five phases, involving trial cycles of 10 individuals from each population group and modification of SWAN in line with findings. The game will be introduced via one-on-one sessions, followed by usage monitoring and data collection over three weeks. Participants’ number knowledge and skills will then be measured three months post-intervention, and researchers will use quantitative analysis to evaluate the association between changes in numerical skills and engagement and progress with the game. The project will produce 20 single case studies from each study group, complementing existing data and providing new insights into user behaviour.

The resulting enhanced version of SWAN will be specifically engineered to build basic numeracy skills in children and adults with linguistic disadvantage, and the app will be suitable for evaluation in a future randomised controlled trial.


  • Professor Chris Donlan
    Department of Language and Cognition, UCL
  • Dr Caroline Newton
    Department of Language and Cognition, UCL
  • Dr Caroline Bruce
    Department of Language and Cognition, UCL
  • Brigitta Zics and William Latham

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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