The newly developed threshold concepts approach provides a framework for learning that has implications for teaching, learning and assessment. The aim of the approach can be encapsulated as getting students to ‘think like economists’. It may help lecturers in Higher Education who are grappling with two widely reported problems:

  1. students who acquire formal knowledge of a discipline but who seem unable to use this knowledge when making sense of experience in work or their everyday lives
  2. students who struggle with underpinning theory and resort to verbatim learning of isolated aspects of the subject that they seem unable to use effectively in conjunction with each other.

In the approach ‘deep’ rather than ‘surface’ learning is not just related to the student’s approach to learning. Students who want to ‘deep’ learn may initially resort to ‘surface’ learning because deep understanding requires an integration of knowledge they have yet to acquire. The threshold concepts approach is concerned with how students can be helped to acquire integrating ideas. Within the discipline of economics, a three-way classification of concepts has been proposed which link to criteria for teaching, learning and assessment.

More details of our approach are available on our website at The website, as well as providing general information on the Embedding Threshold Concepts’ project, includes:

  • our newsletters
  • working papers from our conference presentations
  • discussion notes from the meetings of the project that present how our thinking progressed during the three years of the project.

More detailed reading is also available from the bibliography section below. This gives the seminal readings on threshold concepts as well as the published articles and book chapters from the project. In addition, it gives some wider reading on conceptual change both in general and in economics which have links to our approach.

Exemplars of the three types of activities discussed in this handbook are available from the project website. These have been revised from feedback and new exercises are added in September of each year. There are currently 12 reflective, eight problem focused and six threshold network activities that cover many aspects of the level one curriculum in economics (12 in microeconomics, five in macroeconomics and seven in international economics).

They are available in two forms:

(i) Staff version

This is the full exercise, with feedback and lecturer’s notes (including information on timing and prerequisites) and is available in word and PDF format. You are welcome to adjust the materials to the needs of your module.

(ii) Student’s version

This version allows students to try the exercises online as part of their independent learning. Each exercise has its own URL which can be given to students as part of the module information (either via hardcopy or through linking from a module website). After each individual part of the task is completed the student is given feedback before progressing on to attempting the next part of the task.

Lecturers new to threshold concepts may find that some of the activities may provide a useful way into the approach. The materials developed require active learning and can be used independently of the adoption of a full threshold concepts approach.

In addition many ideas for active learning that can be used in a threshold concepts approach are available on the Economics Network website at This site also gives access to the International Review of Economics Education which promotes research into effective learning and teaching in economics in higher education.