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Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003), Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. In: Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student
Learning - Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 412-424.
Cousin, G. (2010) Neither teacher-centred nor student-centred: threshold concepts and research partnerships, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education,
Issue 2: February 2010
Perkins, D. (2006) ‘The underlying game: troublesome knowledge and threshold conceptions’, in Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (eds.) Overcoming barriers to student
understanding: threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. Abingdon: Routledge.
Flanagan, Michael Thomas (2014): Threshold Concepts: Undergraduate Teaching, Postgraduate Training and Professional Development. A short introduction and
bibliography. Web: (Last accessed 10 October 2014)
Professor Leif Martin Hokstad
The Threshold Concept (TC) framework focuses on identifying those aspects of a discipline that are essential to a grasp
the discipline, that are likely to be difficult, and that once overcome will transform the learner’s view of that discipline. This
means the learner will then begin to think in the manner of a practitioner of their discipline (e.g., to think like an architect).
The framework has been taken up by educational researchers and teachers across a wide range of disciplines (Flana-
gan, 2014). The definition offered by Meyer and Land is that a threshold concept is:
“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 . . . without which the learner cannot progress”
(Meyer and Land, 2003). Furthermore, the transi-
tion may be painful:
“Difficulty in understanding TC 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).
Threshold concepts may be characterized as follows (Flanagan 2014):
Once a TC is understood, a significant shift appears in the student’s perception of the subject, and
enables him or her to see something in a different way. The shift is ontological, as well as conceptual.
Once learned, TCs are likely to bring together and relate different aspects of the subject that previously did
not appear to the learner; and brings to the foreground the hidden interrelatedness of phenomena (Cousins 2010).
Given its transformative potential, a TC is also likely to be irreversible and difficult to unlearn.
A TC will probably describe a particular conceptual space, serving a specific and limited purpose. Cousins
(2010) observes that the more interdisciplinary a subject is, the more complex it will become.
The crossing of a threshold will incorporate an enhanced and extended use of language.
TCs are likely to be troublesome for the learner. Perkins (2006) defines this as referring to whatever
appears as “counter-intuitive, alien or seemingly incoherent.”
The literature contains various descriptions as to how many of the six characteristics need to be present in order to iden-
tify a threshold concept, and to distinguish a threshold concept from a merely troublesome one. Integration seems to be
central for all critics, in that it facilitates the transformation from one state of knowledge or insight to another. Meyer and
Land (2010) suggest that “Threshold concepts cannot be described as an essentialist, definitive list of characteristics,”
thereby opening for a discipline-specific and contextualized interpretation of how a threshold concept may be identi-
fied. The requirement for transformation is seen as the aim of the learning process, and involves an ontological and
epistemological change. In grasping a TC, a student moves from an apparent “common-sense” understanding to an
understanding that may conflict with perceptions that previously seemed self-evidently true. Figure 1 shows the stages
in the learning trajectory.
In this WP we will use data collated in the other workpackages to identify, characterize and categorize threshold concepts
amongst students of architecture, and to use this insight in the redesign and development of courses.
Figure to the right: Adapted from based on Meyer, Land and Baillie (2010)