22 SES 02 A, Teaching and Learning: Feedback and Students' Activities
In 2003, Meyer y Land published their seminal paper about Threshold Concepts, an emerging theory on learning in higher education. In their own words, “a threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.” (Meyer y Land, 2003:1).
Therefore, threshold concepts are seen as a nuclear concept of a discipline that has some intrinsic properties that can lead the student to a qualitatively transformed view of the subject. They argued that threshold concepts have -almost always- five constitutive features: 1) transformative, because “once understood, its potential effect on student learning and behaviour is to occasion a significant shift in the perception of a subject, or part thereof” (Meyer y Land, 2003:4), this is related to the transformative learning of Mezirow (1978); 2) irreversible, because “the change of perspective occasioned by acquisition of a threshold concept is unlikely to be forgotten, or will be unlearned only by considerable effort” (Meyer y Land, 2003:4); 3) integrative, because “it exposes the previously hidden interrelatedness of something” (Meyer y Land, 2003:3); 4) problematic, this is related to the concept of problematic knowledge of Perkins (1999); 5) bounded to a certain discipline. Subsequently, new researches have reworked his features, adding the discursive or the reconstitutive dimensions, among others.
When the student engages with a threshold concept, it is likely that he experiments that transformation both in epistemological and ontological way. Instead of a few cases in which this transformation is instantaneous, Meyer y Land (2005) argue that the student can enter a liminal space of learning, which is highly non-linear and recursive.
Liminality is a concept of anthropology, drawn by Van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1969), which focuses on intermediate processes, and can be described as a state of being that “is neither this nor that, and yet is both” (Turner, 1967:99). In 2005, Meyer y Land used it to think about the oscillating process between previous understanding and the emergence of a new way of understanding, thinking and acting. The concept of liminal learning, which complements the theory of threshold concepts, makes a shift from the focus on the disciplinary structure to the learning process itself.
It seems evident that, although threshold concepts and liminal learning are two closely connected ideas, they are not the same at the epistemological level. However, in most of the specialized literature and research carried out on these topics, they are used interchangeably, as if they were equivalent things.
The big question that this paper addresses is whether research and researchers use the term indistinctly or if there is no conceptual distinction between them. In the end, few ideas are given about the possible causes of this reductionism and the main implications for research are debated.
To review how specialized literature and research use both concepts -threshold concepts and liminal learning-, at the level of terminology and at the epistemological level, we have conducted a review of the literature. We have carried out a review of all the peer-reviewed papers published in web of science and ERIC database, between 2003 -first seminal paper- and 2018 (15 years of specialized literature review). The keywords used for the search were: Threshold concept OR liminal learning. To select the main articles, we used a mixed procedure of the PRISMA protocol for systematic reviews (Moher et al., 2015) and the consideration of the impact factor of each article. The procedure performed has the following steps: a) Database search, using the keywords; b) Elimination of duplicated, non-English language, non-peer-review or non-full text articles; c) revision of abstracts, to identify papers -both theoretical or empiric- that focus on the study of threshold concepts or/and liminal learning; d) revision of the full texts and their impact factor to identify the most relevant papers. Once the screening process was completed, the number of papers was reduced from 306 to 27. With the final 27 papers, a content analysis process has been carried out. In each paper, the terminological use has been analysed, that is, if both terms are used (threshold concept and liminal learning); and its epistemological consideration, that is, if there is a conceptual differentiation between both ideas.
After doing the content analysis of the 27 selected papers, we can see that most papers use both terms in their text (81,5%), but it is necessary to point out that many times it does not literally appear "liminal learning", but rather it appears "liminality", "liminal space", "liminal state" or similar. However, when both terms are used in the same paper, the term of threshold concept has a higher frequency throughout the text. At the epistemological level, we have found that most of the time there is an indistinct use of the two concepts, since the two terms are used to talk about the disciplinary concept and the learning process indiscriminately. It should be noted that, similarly, the idea of threshold concept has more presence than the idea of liminal learning in the 27 selected papers, which means that more attention is given to disciplinary concepts than to the learning process itself. We can venture some possible causes of this fact. On the one hand, the chronological order of the two concepts. In 2003, Meyer and Land coined the threshold concept term and it was not until 2005 that they clearly spoke about liminal learning. On the other hand, and surely with greater influence, the idea of threshold concept is more linked to the discipline, to a pedagogical vision closer to a positivist logic and a technical rationality, that is, it is more coherent with the traditional scientific paradigm. Of course, this reductionism has important implications in research, because it implies a lack of attention to the learning process, toward the student. In summary, the result highlights the need for more research and focus on liminal learning.
Meyer, J.H.F. y Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practising. En C. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning - Theory and Practice Ten Years On, pp. 412-424. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD). Mezirow, J. (1978). Perspective transformation. Adult Education, 28, 100-110. Perkins, D. (1999). The Many Faces of Constructivism. Educational Leadership, 57(3), 6-11. Meyer, J.H.F. y Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49(3), 373-388. Van Gennep, A. (1960). The Rites of Passage. London: Routledge. Turner, V. (1969). The ritual process: structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine. Turner, V. (1967). The forest of symbols. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Moher, D.; Shamseer, L.; Clarke, M.; Ghersi, D.; Liberati, A.; Petticrew, M.; Shekelle, P. & Stewart, L.A. (2015). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Syst Rev, 4(1), 1.
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.