Threshold concepts….. what is yours?

A year ago I went to an annual conference which is kind of big in the library world. Its called LILAC (Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference) This year I have been unable to head a long, but I was reflected on last year’s experience.

I found some of the the Keynotes particularly interesting:

These Keynotes spoke of the idea of Threshold Concepts as a point most students will encounter in their learning journey. Its an analytical framework which illustrates how a student progresses through their learning cycles.

‘A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.’ (Meyer and Land 2004 p.1).

Threshold concepts will have a set of defining features:

  1. Transformative
  2. Troublesome
  3. Irreversible
  4. Bounded
  5. Integrative
  6. Discursive
  7. Reconstitutive
  8. Liminality (Flanagan 2016)

Threshold Concepts were something that I hadn’t come across before and it seemed an interesting idea. I particularly got interested in the idea of troublesome(ness) which featured as part of this idea of threshold concepts. It got me thinking about my own experiences on the BOE and where I thought I had encountered these threshold concepts, bearing in mind we are just one module in and part way through the second module….. so we this may change or progress as we get further in the programme. For me I think one of the main threshold concepts is the whole idea of online/e-learning as a meaningful alternative to face to face teaching.

In many ways I have found it a transformative experience so far, I am not sure quite what I expected of an experience of on line/blended learning when I started this course. What I have encountered so far has helped to form my expectations and also helped me to empathise as we create on line courses for our students. In that sense it has opened my eyes to the experience and helped to change my approach. I have come to realise that instruction is incredibly important and thinking about how you present a personal experience to the learners- is really not easy. Some approaches will work brilliantly with one set of learners and flop with another.

Troublesome knowledge, well where do I start…. each week I find some of my assumptions being challenged, but I also see that experience happening with many of my student colleagues on a weekly basis. In terms of e-learning, on line learning, call it what you will, it sometimes seems to me to be one massive troublesome area….. working with technology, students expectations and institutional expectations and pressures….. can it seems sometimes to an almost constant feeling of flux. However underneath that if you strip back to how students learn actually some fundamental ideas don’t change that much, for example learning styles often frame peoples approaches to learning whether on line or off line.

Irreversible, well I am here writing about some of my experiences so far, I think that already some of the concepts/ideas/practice I have encountered so far on this programme will stay with me. Some ideas I am already adopting into my practice and so this idea of once you start getting to grips with threshold concepts the experience stays with you.

Bounded, I guess here we are bounded within the field/subject area of education, that sounds quite a manageable boundary until you start to consider the many facets this can have; its international, social, cultural, sectoral, institutional, practitioner etc. So I guess this is another area of troublesome knowledge, to try to consider the concept of e-learning from many standpoints and recognise that you will have global learners all with their own experiences of education to date. This also I guess plays into the idea of inter-relatedness characteristic, it has unlocked how inter-related nearly every subject area is with teaching. Particularly things like psychology.

Discursive, well, I have definitely learnt some new language and had conversations which have taken me into new subject areas. At the beginning of this course I don’t for one second think I thought I would have been writing blog posts on Inclusive curriculum !

I think as for reconsitutive and liminality these are still characteristics that are a work in progress. Something to maybe reflect back on in a years time maybe…. But if we take Meyer and Lands description of Liminality:

‘Difficulty in understanding threshold concepts may leave the learner in a state of liminality (Latin limen – ‘threshold’), a suspended state in which understanding approximates to a kind of mimicry or lack of authenticity.’ (Meyer and Land 2003 p.10).

Maybe we are all constantly in a state of liminality? Thinking that we are grasping subjects, ideas, theories or concepts and then something happens that throws us back. Almost getting used to this state of mind is a must, but I guess its a state that is not always comfortable….


Flanagan, M. (2016) Threshold Concepts: Undergraduate Teaching, Postgraduate Training, Professional Development and Secondary School Education: A Short Introduction and a Bibliography. Available from: [Accessed 20.03.16]

Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2003) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines. Occasional Report 4. Available from: [Accessed 20.03.16]


One thought on “Threshold concepts….. what is yours?

  1. Hello Ella, i laughed when I saw your title. I wrote about a threshold moment in my last post in relation to recognising a marked shift in my approach to BOE. I was also caught up in various discussions at the conference on online doctotates so it was challenging, enlightening and bemusing…best R

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