Why is introductory statistics difficult to learn? And what can we do to make it easier?

Watts, D. G.
The American Statistician

The author states that the reason why students have major difficulty in learning statistics and that distinguishes statistics from other disciplines is that the important fundamental concepts of statistics are quintessentially abstract. In his view, concepts that are fundamental in statistics cannot be directly demonstrated, experienced, or drawn. Other factors are listed as making the problem worse: 1) intro stats courses involve more abstract concepts which are used frequently; 2) students must deal with truly abstract concepts AND immediately relate and apply these concepts to reality; 3) problems in statistics are always open to interpretation and have several solutions, none of which are truly known as being the correct ones; 4) the difference between statistics and mathematics lies in the type of numbers that are obtained- in mathematics, the numbers are obtained from calculations whereas in statistics, numbers are obtained from experiments; and 5) statistical notation and terminology are ambiguous and confusing. Watt's solution to the above problem is for statisticians to improve the notation and terminology by making the terms more meaningful and removing ambiguities.

The CAUSE Research Group is supported in part by a member initiative grant from the American Statistical Association’s Section on Statistics and Data Science Education