Threshold Concepts

Threshold concepts are a relatively new idea developed by Meyer and Land (2003) and applied to economics by Davies, P. (2003) and Reimann and Jackson (2003). They offer a potential way of describing levels of understanding in a subject that could be used in assessment for learning.

Meyer and Land define threshold concepts as having five characteristics.

  • First, they should be transformative, in that once acquired they should shift perception of the subject.
  • Second, they should be irreversible. Once an individual has begun to perceive the world in terms of a threshold concept it should be inconceivable that they would return to viewing it in a more primitive way.
  • Third, a threshold concept is integrative. Meyer and Land describe this as the capacity of a concept to expose the previously hidden interrelatedness of something.
  • Fourth a threshold concept is bounded. That is, it helps to define the boundaries of a subject area.
  • Fifth, a threshold concept may be counter-intuitive, or lead to knowledge that is inherently counter-intuitive. In grasping a threshold concept a student moves from common sense understanding to an understanding which may conflict with perceptions that have previously seemed self-evidently true.

Davies, Peter, and Jacek Brant. Teaching School Subjects: Business and Enterprise, London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Threshold Concepts in Information Competency

  1. content and format are different concepts
  2. word searches are not subject heading searches
  3. a platform is not a database
  4. knowing Boolean operators is one key to effective searching
  5. developing information competency is a lifelong process
  6. can you think of any others? If so, email Aline Soules

Threshold Concepts in TESOL

  1. Becoming an expert teacher is an on-going journey rather than a fixed destination. In other words, an expert teacher investigates increasingly complex questions about his/her practice and works on the edge of his/her competence. Therefore, it is important to be a lifelong learner and researcher.
  2. There is not one best teaching method that works in every context and with every student. Effective methods reflect the needs of particular students and the constraints of particular learning contexts. Therefore, it is important to be a lifelong learner and researcher.