The Threshold Concept – an introduction and overview to the concept


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Source: The Threshold Concept

Threshold Concepts: Undergraduate Teaching, Postgraduate Training, Professional Development and School Education
A Short Introduction and a Bibliography from 2003 to 2018

The Meyer and Land Threshold Concept

The idea of threshold concepts emerged from a UK national research project into the possible characteristics of strong teaching and learning environments in the disciplines for undergraduate education (Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses). In pursuing this research in the field of economics, it became clear to Erik Meyer and Ray Land [1-7], that certain concepts were held by economists to be central to the mastery of their subject. These concepts, Meyer and Land argued, could be described as ‘threshold’ ones because they have certain features in common.
Glynis Cousin, An introduction to threshold concepts

Over the past decade this concept has been embraced by many disciplines outside economics; indeed the above quote is from Glynis Cousin’s excellent short introduction to the concept written for earth scientists. The threshold concept has been seen as a valuable tool, not only in facilitating students’ understanding of their subject, but in aiding the rational development of curricula in rapidly expanding arenas where there is a strong tendency to overload the curriculum (Cousin, [20082006]). This web page will describe, briefly, the characteristics of a threshold concept and list selected references to the work of those examining its value in a broad range of disciplines.

Features of a Threshold Concept

Portal Picture

‘Threshold Concepts’ may

be considered to be “akin

to passing through a portal”

or “conceptual gateway”

that opens up “previously

inaccessible way[s] of

thinking about something”

(Meyer and Land [1]).

  • Transformative: Once understood, a threshold concept changes the way in which the student views the discipline.  >  More …
  • Troublesome: Threshold concepts are likely to be troublesome for the student. Perkins [19992006] has suggested that knowledge can be troublesome e.g. when it is counter-intuitive, alien or seemingly incoherent.   >  More …
  • Irreversible: Given their transformative potential, threshold concepts are also likely to be irreversible, i.e. they are difficult to unlearn.  >  More …
  • Integrative: Threshold concepts, once learned, are likely to bring together different aspects of the subject that previously did not appear, to the student, to be related.  >  More …
  • Bounded: A threshold concept will probably delineate a particular conceptual space, serving a specific and limited purpose.  >  More …
  • Discursive: Meyer and Land [2] suggest that the crossing of a threshold will incorporate an enhanced and extended use of language.  >  More …
  • Reconstitutive: “Understanding a threshold concept may entail a shift in learner subjectivity, which is implied through the transformative and discursive aspects already noted. Such reconstitution is, perhaps, more likely to be recognised initially by others, and also to take place over time (Smith)”.  >  More …
  • Liminality: Meyer and Land [4] have likened the crossing of the pedagogic threshold to a ‘rite of passage’ (drawing on the ethnographical studies of Gennep and of Turner in which a transitional or liminal space has to be traversed; “in short, there is no simple passage in learning from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’; mastery of a threshold concept often involves messy journeys back, forth and across conceptual terrain. (Cousin [2006])”.  >  More …

Source: The Threshold Concept