Transforming Learning and Learners: The Promise of Process Oriented Threshold Concepts

Fellenz, Martin (2012) Transforming Learning and Learners: The Promise of Process Oriented Threshold Concepts. In: National Academy’s Sixth Annual Conference and the Fourth Biennial Threshold Concepts Conference. Threshold Concepts: from personal practice to communities of practice, 2012, June 28 - 29 2012, Trinity College Dublin., Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.


The majority of conceptual and empirical research as well as of discussions and reflections on threshold concepts has focused on relevant concepts that are part of the content of particular disciplines and topic areas. I argue that there may be significant value for increasing student engagement and enabling higher level student learning in considering and using threshold concepts that are focused on the process rather than the content of learning. Specifically, I consider students’ epistemic assumptions about the process of learning in higher education and their role as learners as, for example, exemplified by Kember's (2001) distinction between didactic/reproductive and facilitative/transformative belief sets. I report on classroom approaches to challenge the former beliefs in order to help students recognise their implicit and explicit views on the process of learning and their important and active role in it. These approaches have clear linkages to the notion of deep-learning (e.g. Entwistle, 2000), and their main aspect discussed here is the capacity to support students' ability to recognise and ultimately to take responsibility for independent thinking and learning. In this context a core issue that arises is the successful creation and maintenance of a safe yet challenging learning environment. I reframe the objective of these classroom approaches in terms of threshold concepts with the distinction that the ideas of independent and self-responsible learning are not content oriented threshold concepts relevant to specific disciplines or content areas, but rather process-oriented threshold concepts that apply generally to learning and development processes. Such process-oriented threshold concepts have the potential to transform the learning process of HE students. Ultimately, this approach aims at increasing students’ recognition of their agentic role as learners, to help re-locate the responsibility for achieving learning outcomes to them, and to help transform the students’ learning process, their learning experience, and ultimately the learners themselves

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