Guest Editorial - Special Issue: Threshold Concepts and Conceptual Difficulty


This special issue of the PESTLHE journal addresses issues arising from the conceptual difficulty that students face in their disciplinary studies and programmes of professional development in higher education.   Such encounters with difficulty – conceptual, affective, ontological – and the pedagogical and curricular interventions that teachers may identify to assist their students, are central to the Threshold Concepts analytic framework of learning (Meyer & Land 2003). The Threshold Concepts Framework (TCF) is premised on the notion that, in all disciplines, there are certain concepts, or certain learning experiences, which are akin to passing through a portal, permitting the learner to enter new conceptual territory in which things formerly not perceived are brought into view. These learning thresholds are often the points at which students experience difficulty.  The TCF is a transformative approach to learning, assuming that, in a process of becoming, knowledge new to the learner needs to be troublesome in order to provoke new ways of seeing, and a letting go of their prevailing view.  As Dewey (1986) once observed, ‘The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.’ Letting go of a prior view is always troubling, particularly when the new way of seeing, the new knowledge to be integrated, has not yet come fully into view and the learner finds him or herself in an in-between or transitional space which Meyer & Land (2003, 2005)characterise as a state of 'liminality'.  This is the space of transformation, but can become a suspended state or 'stuck place' in which the learner wrestles with language and possible meanings to gain understanding, coherence or clarity.  The learner may be in this space of transformation for considerable time.  It may extend beyond the duration of the programme they are studying.



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