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 detailed reading is also available from the bibliography section of this handbook chapter. 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.

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.