Threshold concept learning: emotions and liminal space transitions

Gemma Irving, April Wright, Paul Hibbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


This article explores how learners transition through the liminal space when they engage with and master threshold concepts. We investigate this question through a qualitative study of undergraduate students as they grapple with the threshold concept of Evidence-based Management as a disciplinary way of thinking and practising. Our findings elaborate threshold concept learning as a cumulative process of learner engagement with the troublesome, integrative-and-bounded, irreversible, and transformative elements of a threshold concept. Through this elaboration, we show how transitions through liminal spaces in threshold concept learning play out as an interrelated cognitive and affective process. We identify key transition points and mechanisms related to doubt, high-activation negative emotions, regret, and emotional resolution that trigger entry into, progression through or getting stuck within, and exit from a liminal space when a learner engages with and masters a threshold concept. Our research therefore contributes processual insight into liminality in threshold concept learning by opening up the transitions and emotions that play out for learners in the liminal space. We also contribute to wider debates about student engagement with disciplinary ways of thinking and practising in management.
Original languageEnglish
JournalManagement Learning
Early online date26 Mar 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Mar 2019


  • Emotions
  • Liminality
  • Management education
  • Threshold concepts


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