A threshold concept is fundamentally transformative: it may be considered ‘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).

On mastering a threshold concept the learner begins to think as does a professional in that discipline and not simply as a student of that discipline - the learner begins to think like an engineer... like a chemist ... like an economist ..., i.e. grasping a threshold concept involves both an ontological as well as a conceptual shift.

      portal picture
A relational view of the features of a threshold concept is shown in the following figure (Land, Meyer and Baillie, 2010):

liminality diagram

The originators of the Threshold Concept would not, however, wish to imply that this relational view has an overly rigid sequential nature. It has been emphasised elsewhere (Land et al, 2005) that the acquisition of threshold concepts often involves a degree of recursiveness, and of oscillation, which would need to be layered across this simple diagram (Land, Meyer and Baillie, 2010) [move the cursor across the above figure].

      Tennyson quote   In short, there is no simple passage in learning from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’; mastery of a threshold concept often involves messy journeys back, forth and across conceptual terrain (Cousin, 2006)

Transformation is a mandatory feature of a threshold concept.

The threshold concept framework focuses on the identification of what is fundamental to the grasp of a subject and is essentially a transactional curriculum enquiry requiring a partnership between the relevant subject experts, educational researchers and learners (Cousin 2009, Cousin 2010).


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.
[[]=64&path[]=41   last accessed 14 May 2010]

Cousin, G. (2009), Transactional Curriculum Inquiry: Researching Threshold Concepts,
In: Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches, Routledge, Abingdon & NY, Chapter 13, pp 201-212.
Paperback: ISBN-10: 0-415-99165-X, ISBN-13: 978-0-415-99165-0; Hardback: ISBN-10: 0-415-99164-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-415-99164-3; eBook: ISBN-10: 0-203-88458-2; ISBN-13: 978-0-203-88458-4.

Cousin, G. (2006), An introduction to threshold concepts,
Planet No 17, December 2006, pp 4-5.
[   last accessed 25 June 2008]

Land, R., Meyer, J.H.F. and Baillie, C. (2010) Editors’ Preface: Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning,
in: Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, Land, R., Meyer, J.H.F. and Baillie, C., (eds), Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, pp. ix-xlii,   [book details].

Land, R., Cousin, G., Meyer, J.H.F. and Davies, P. (2005), Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): implications for course design and evaluation,
In: C. Rust (ed.), Improving Student Learning - diversity and inclusivity, Proceedings of the 12th Improving Student Learning Conference. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 53-64.
[   last accessed 10 August 2009]

Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003), Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practising,
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.
[See also for an on-line version: Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses, ETL Project, Occasional Report 4, May 2003   last accessed 25 June 2008]

Click here for the list of papers that are included in this bibliography and have transformation or transformative in the title.

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