Threshold concepts: decoding disciplines


Threshold concepts are the areas in our disciplines that students struggle to understand the most.  They are the concepts that, once mastered, have a transformative effect on students (i.e. the point at which a German language student becomes a German speaker, or an architecture student starts to think like an architect).

In this video Joan Middendorf from the Indiana University Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning explains what threshold concepts are, and describes a practical model through which the troublesome areas of knowledge in disciplines can be decoded, leading to gains in student learning as they move from liminality to crossing thresholds.


The model revolves around seven basic steps that give direction to the teaching process.

1. Identify bottlenecks (i.e. threshold concepts)
2. Define the processes that sutdents need to master to get past the bottlenecks
3. Model these processes
4. Create opportunities to practice these processes and to get feedback on them.
5. Motivate students to move through these processes
6. Assess student mastery of these processes
7. Share what has been learned

For more information, see the Decoding the Disciplines website.

For a specific example of how the model has been used in history, click here.  For other published case studies, click here.

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