There is much discussion both in the education community and the mathematics community concerning the challenge of (epsilon, delta) type definitions in real analysis and the student reception of it. My impression has been that the mathematical community often holds an upbeat opinion on the success of student reception of this, whereas the education community often stresses difficulties and their "baffling" and "inhibitive" effect (see below). A typical educational perspective on this was recently expressed by Paul Dawkins in the following terms:
2.3. Student difficulties with real analysis definitions. The concepts of limit and continuity have posed well-documented difficulties for students both at the calculus and analysis level of instructions (e.g. Cornu, 1991; Cottrill et al., 1996; Ferrini-Mundy & Graham, 1994; Tall & Vinner, 1981; Williams, 1991). Researchers identified difficulties stemming from a number of issues: the language of limits (Cornu, 1991; Williams, 1991), multiple quantification in the formal definition (Dubinsky, Elderman, & Gong, 1988; Dubinsky & Yiparaki, 2000; Swinyard & Lockwood, 2007), implicit dependencies among quantities in the definition (Roh & Lee, 2011a, 2011b), and persistent notions pertaining to the existence of infinitesimal quantities (Ely, 2010). Limits and continuity are often couched as formalizations of approaching and connectedness respectively. However, the standard, formal definitions display much more subtlety and complexity. That complexity often baffles students who cannot perceive the necessity for so many moving parts. Thus learning the concepts and formal definitions in real analysis are fraught both with need to acquire proficiency with conceptual tools such as quantification and to help students perceive conceptual necessity for these tools. This means students often cannot coordinate their concept image with the concept definition, inhibiting their acculturation to advanced mathematical practice, which emphasizes concept definitions.
See http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jmathb.2013.10.002 for the entire article (note that the online article provides links to the papers cited above).
When one compares the upbeat assessment common in the mathematics community and the somber assessments common in the education community, sometimes one wonders whether they are talking about the same thing. How does one bridge the gap between the two assessments? Are they perhaps dealing with distinct student populations? Are there perhaps education studies providing more upbeat assessments than Dawkins' article would suggest?