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Threshold Concepts in Entrepreneurial Thinking

Group Lead: Dr Lucy Hatt

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AIM: The Entrepreneurial Threshold Concepts International Collaboration group seeks to further the understanding of the threshold concept approach for the development and evaluation of entrepreneurship education curricula worldwide.


SCOPE: Through membership of the group, we support and partner with each other to identify and secure sources of funding, undertake research, and respond to presentation and publication opportunities.

This site is all about how the threshold concept framework can be used as a lens to define entrepreneurship as a subject or discrete academic discipline, and to enable the enhancement of entrepreneurship curriculum development in higher education, informed by students' understanding of entrepreneurship.

By researching the way entrepreneurs think and practice distinctively, and how entrepreneurship educators understand entrepreneurship, candidate threshold concepts in entrepreneurship can be identified.  Eventually, if enough people agree on these threshold concepts, over a long enough period of time, they might become established as the threshold concepts of entrepreneurial thinking.

What is a threshold concept?

The threshold concept framework posits that in any academic discipline there are concepts that have a particularly transformative effect on student learning.  Termed threshold concepts, they represent a transformed way of understanding something, without which the learner cannot progress (Meyer & Land, 2005).  In transforming the learner, threshold concepts change the learner’s perceptions, subjectivity and world-view.  There is a repositioning of the self (Meyer & Land, 2005) where the learner’s understanding of the nature of their own existence and their conception of reality adjusts, an ontological as well as a conceptual shift.  This can often be uncomfortable and is therefore sometimes resisted.  Mastery of a threshold concept simultaneously changes an individual’s idea of what they know and who they are (Cousin, 2009b).  

According to the scholarly community of those conducting research using the threshold concept framework (Flanagan, 2019) a threshold concept is likely to be characterized by its transformative nature and some or all of the other following features:

  • Troublesome: Threshold concepts are likely to be troublesome for the student.

  • Irreversible: Given their transformative potential, threshold concepts are also likely to be irreversible, i.e. they are difficult to unlearn.

  • Integrative: Threshold concepts, once learned, are likely to bring together different aspects of the subject that previously did not appear, to the student, to be related.

  • Bounded: A threshold concept will probably delineate a particular conceptual space, serving a specific and limited purpose

  • Discursive: The crossing of a threshold will incorporate an enhanced and extended use of language

  • Reconstitutive: Understanding a threshold concept may entail a shift in learner subjectivity, which is implied through the transformative and discursive aspects already noted. Such reconstitution is, perhaps, more likely to be recognized initially by others, and also to take place over time

  • Necessitates a state of liminality in the learner: The crossing of the threshold has been compared to a ‘rite of passage’ in which a transitional or liminal space has to be traversed


Dr Lucy Hatt

Newcastle University Business School

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