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Threshold Concepts: a new horizon for students and teachers

22 February 2016 | General Interest

Professor Erik Jan Meyer joined the BBI faculty recently to guide staff through a ‘portal’ of new understanding, leading to a vision of clarity for students and teachers alike.

Jan Meyer, Threshold ConceptsAs one of the founders of Threshold Concepts, Professor Meyer has spent a lifetime learning, teaching and conceiving ideas about pedagogy, and the notion of arbitrary learning capacity from student-to-student.

“I often ask teachers ‘What is the most important thing you can do for your students?’ I have always said it is to help your students learn about their learning capability,” Professor Meyer said.

Threshold Concept theory focuses on the idea that students become stuck in their learning at different stages of their intellectual journey; and to move past this ‘stuck point’, the students must pass through a metaphorical portal to go beyond their learning obstacle and break through to a new horizon.

Hence the role of the teacher becomes that of accompanying the student through these threshold concepts (e.g. the value of mercy, mindfulness, generative questioning) so that they can gain new insights about both the subject and their own approach to learning.

“If you don’t get out of the stuck place you will never progress and be able to reason, think and practice in a particular way.

“The whole point of Threshold Concept framework is to answer the question ‘does this give me some new learning traction?’ Threshold Concepts are not about how to recycle old pedagogy but to create new pedagogy – new student learning experiences that might help overcome some of these problems.

“Must a teacher understand each student’s capacity to learn, or is this a journey the teacher must help foster in each student to arrive at their own conclusion, this is the question,” Professor Meyer said.

Educators at BBI have followed Professor Meyer’s work closely since its conception, challenging the notion of the one-size-fits-all pedagogical approach.

Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Spirituality at BBI Dr Peter Mudge said, “As educators, it is critical we continue to learn about cutting-edge educational theory so we can then pass this knowledge on to our students.

“Threshold Concepts is just one of the paradigms we grapple with to deliver high quality education to our students.

“We teach theology and spirituality online, and it is crucial we understand all of the challenges our students face, particularly in the comprehension of complex ideas taught in our Graduate Certificate in Theology and our Master of Theology courses,” Dr Mudge said.

“We are suggesting there is no general treatment to how students learn. My question to teachers is ‘How much do you know about the learning capability of each student in your classroom?’ Very few teachers can actually answer this question other than in generalised terms and this is part of the problem we face."

For more information about Threshold Concepts visit:

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