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Threshold Concepts

A concept is "..a unit of thought or element of knowledge that allows us to organize experience," (Donald, 2001, p. 9)

Threshold Concepts

  • The core concepts and capabilities which the students MUST have to successfully transition to both subsequent courses and future employment
  • First defined by Meyer and Land (2003) as being:
    • Transformative (accessibility to the previously inaccessible - ways of thinking and functioning)
      • A mandatory feature of threshold concepts
    • Integrative (of previously perceived unrelated aspects)
      • Are constructed and reconstituted rather than revelatory
    • Troublesome (seemingly tacit, incoherent, counter-intuitive)
      • "Real learning requires stepping into the unknown, which initiates a rupture in knowing. The interval of difficulty that follows exposure to existentially unfamiliar, educationally critical material can be understood as a response to that rupture," (Schwartzman, 2010, p. 38).
      • Similar to Piaget's idea of adaptation (equilibration/disequilibration)
      • Intellectual uncertainty
    • Bounded (contextually and conceptually)
        • Tend to be discipline specific (systemized, logical taxonomy, methods of validation)
          Particular 'ways of knowing'
    • Once attained they are perhaps irreversible
  • Considered critical for a student to progress, leading to previously inaccessible ways of thinking and constructing knowledge (processing information in new ways)
    • Are required to be able to progress to higher levels of functioning
  • Are systems of ideas and ways of thinking that enable the construction of new knowledge (Perkins, 2006)

Threshold Concepts Model


Threshold concepts are your critical course goals (student capabilities/behaviors) that guide your course development and decision-making.

Teacher Role

  • Design courses that:
  • Establish opportunities for small successes (progressions)
  • Provide authentic experiences (via scaffolding)
  • Engage and stimulate the thinking processes and behaviors (Donald, 2001) of:
      • Description
      • Selection
      • Representation
      • Inference
      • Synthesis
      • Verification
  • Provide collaborative learning opportunities to rigorously examine concepts, perspectives, processes, relationships, and paradigms

References and Resources

Last Published: Mar 12, 2021