Mental Models: How “Threshold Concepts” Are Gateways To Mastery


I think that understanding how to learn about mental models remains (unexplored and unpopular). In other words, the journey that every aspiring renaissance thinker must undertake in order to become “worldly” isn’t as talked about or referenced. Here are some questions around this area:

How can we facilitate the discovery, learning, & comprehension of mental models?

What are the stages/phases in the learning of new mental models?

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How does our perception/understanding change as we learn new concepts?

Recently, I came across a new area in pedagogy that changed my thinking about acquiring worldly wisdom. Specifically, I stumbled across a paper titled, “Threshold Concepts & Troubling Knowledge Linkages to Learning & Practice ” by Meyer and Land. This paper identifies the challenges and phases of learning new concepts (mental models). Furthermore, according to the authors, on our journey towards learning there are “threshold concepts” i.e. levels/gateways that we need to cross before mastering a subject.

Defining & Identifying Threshold Concepts

First let’s start with the definition of threshold concepts. Threshold concepts are:

“Conceived as gateways to learning, threshold concepts are specific ideas within disciplines “without which the learner cannot progress” (Meyer and Land 1). David Perkins explains that these concepts are not simply ideas that learners need to grasp, but concepts that must serve as lenses for analysis within the epistemological context of a discipline (42)” – via Composition Forum

“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 & Land 2006

So, on your knowledge acquisition journey how do you identify a threshold concept? Well they have the following traits – they tend to be:

Troublesome: Counter-intuitive, alien … or incoherent” because they challenge existing beliefs, past practices or inert knowledge, or can be conceptually difficult. Threshold concepts also challenge the learner to reflect on tacit knowledge of which she is “only peripherally aware or entirely unconscious”

Transformative: Once understood a threshold concept changes the way a student views a discipline (and the world).

See full article here.

H/T valueinvestingworld

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