Learning as a Threshold Concept for Teaching

Palmer, Marion (2012) Learning as a Threshold Concept for Teaching. 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.


Ideas and theories of learning have changed in recent years. However fundamental assumptions about learning as ‘getting information’ remain for students, lecturers and the higher education system as exemplified by discourse such as ‘delivery of courses’. This underlying assumption about learning influences lecturers in their teaching. In higher education lecturers when appointed move from learning and/or doing and becoming expert to teaching their subject in one step. They know how they learn and how they develop in their disciplines but learning as done by someone else is alien and unknown. It can be argued that lecturers tend to teach based on their prior knowledge and experience, very much guided and influenced by their disciplinary practice. This paper examines learning as a concept and applies to it the criteria for threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2003). The paper argues that learning itself is a threshold concept for higher education lecturers and that an understanding of student learning opens up new ways of thinking about teaching and transforms teaching in the higher education classroom. Challenging an understanding of learning in new and experienced lecturers leads to learning itself being ‘troublesome knowledge’ (Meyer and Land, 2003, p. 5). Learning is a key concept in academic professional development courses. The paper argues that consideration of learning is essential to 'ways of thinking and practising' (Meyer and Land, 2003, p. 9) as a teacher in higher education. The paper is supported by evidence from lecturers who took a Certificate in Learning and Teaching in the author’s Institute in recent years. Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2003) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines. ETL Project Occasional Report 4, University of Edinburgh. Available from www.etl.tla.ed.ac.uk/docs/ETLreport4.pdf.

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