Threshold concept

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“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. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view. This transformation may be sudden or it may be protracted over a considerable period of time, with the transition to understanding proving troublesome. Such a transformed view or landscape may represent how people ‘think’ in a particular discipline, or how they perceive, apprehend, or experience particular phenomena within that discipline (or more generally).” (Meyer and Land, 2003b: 1).

Characteristics and functions of a threshold concept

According to Meyer and Land (2003b:5ff.), a threshold concept is likely to be: {{quotationbox|* Transformative, in that, once understood, its potential effect on student learning and behaviour, is to occasion a significant shift in the perception of a subject, or part thereof. [...]

  • Probably irreversible, in that the change of perspective occasioned by acquisition of a threshold concept is unlikely to be forgotten, or will be unlearned only by considerable effort.[...]
  • Integrative; that is, it exposes the previously hidden interrelatedness of something.
  • Possibly often (though not necessarily always) bounded in that any conceptual space will have terminal frontiers, bordering with thresholds into new conceptual areas
  • Potentially (and possibly inherently) troublesome

Threshold concepts often prove problematic or "troublesome" and liminal for learners. The liminal state is the point at which many students 'get stuck'

Example concepts quoted in the paper

  • complex number, limit (mathematics)
  • Signification (literary and cultural studies)
  • Opportunity cost (economics)

In education

Meyer and Land (retrieved 14:45, 10 March 2009 (UTC)) raise two important questions related to education:

  • Modes of assessment which could identify sources of conceptual difficulty, at the point and time at which they are experienced, could be used to offer helpful forms of support to the learner.
  • We might move away from traditional assessment regimes in which a student can produce the ‘right’ answer while retaining fundamental misconceptions



Researchers in educational technology should pay more attention to this framework. In our experience-based opinion, we found that it often takes years for teachers (including academics) to acquire concepts that may seem simple. E.g. a Wiki is flat collection of pages and its topology is defined be links and categories (tags). Many teachers that do use wikis, only are able to design activities that engage students in editing single pages (i.e. they better may have used on-line wordprocessing applications) and they can't design knowledge building and linking activities. In other words, understanding the topology of a wiki is a prerequisite for using its full potential. The same is true for learners ... - Daniel K. Schneider 12:10, 14 March 2009 (UTC)


Blackmore, Margaret. “Student Engagement with Information: Applying a Threshold Concept Approach to Information Literacy Development.” Paper presented at the 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium: Exploring Transformative Dimensions of Threshold Concepts, Sydney, Australia, July 1–2, 2010.

Carmichael, Patrick. “Tribes, Territories, and Threshold Concepts: Educational Materialisms at Work in Higher Education.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 44, no. S1 (2012): 31–42.

Cousin, Glynis. "An Introduction to Threshold Concepts." Planet 17 (December 2006): 4–5.

Hofer, Amy R., Lori Townsend, and Korey Brunetti. “Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 12, no. 4 (2012): 387–405.

Meyer J H F and Land R 2003 ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge – Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising’ in Improving Student Learning – Ten Years On. C.Rust (Ed), OCSLD, Oxford.

Meyer J H F and Land R 2003b ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge – Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising’ in Improving Student Learning – Ten Years On. C.Rust (Ed), OCSLD, Oxford. Online Reprint version, .doc Reprint.

Meyer J H F, and Land R (forthcoming) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: dynamics of assessment in Land R, Meyer J.H.F and Baillie C (Eds) Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, Sense Publishers: Rotterdam. .doc preprint

Meyer J H F, and Land R, Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines, Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses, Occasional Report 4, May 2003. PDF. This a short report including the most important concepts.

Meyer, Jan H. F.; Ray Land, and Caroline Baillie. “Editors’ Preface.” In Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, edited by Jan H. F. Meyer, Ray Land, and Caroline Baillie, ix–xlii. (Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2010).

Tucker, Virginia, Christine Bruce, Sylvia Edwards, and Judith Weedman. “Learning Portals: Analyzing Threshold Concept Theory for LIS Education.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 55, no. 2 (2014): 150–65.