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Mediaeval take on Threshold Concepts

Knowledge of good and evil is, in the mythology of the Abrahamic faiths, the ultimate Threshold Concept, as discussed by Meyer and Land (2006);

"In the Brothers Limbourg's depiction of The Fall and Expulsion from Paradise (1415), a serpent with a human face passes the fruit of the tree of knowledge to a curious Eve. The consequences of this acceptance of a knowledge which proves to be troublesome are arrayed sequentially in the tableau that this painting presents. What appears is that as Eve, and then Adam, gain access to this troubling knowledge, their world changes around them. They can no longer stay where they are, in a comfortable and familiar place, much as they might wish to. They are unceremoniously moved on by a rather forbidding scarlet angel and ushered firmly through an imposing gateway, a threshold, into a different kind of space. The expressions on these medieval faces suggest that this new space, this transformed landscape, no longer feels like home. They wish to return. The new space feels, to use Freud's famous phrase, unheimlich - unhomely or strange. However the scarlet angel covers their means of retreat. This new state is irreversible. Adam and Eve have in fact learned. They see the landscape now very differently. They have gained a new understanding and their identity has shifted, as signified by the fig leaves with which they are adorned in the final section of the tableau. They have grown up. They have become adult and have left a world of innocence. However, their gain feels like loss. Their new knowledge is troublesome.

"As all teachers know, teaching is a complex and often challenging process, because learning is a complex and challenging process. Nor, we wish to say at the outset, would we really wish for it to be otherwise. When knowledge ceases to be troublesome, when students sail through the years of a degree programme without encountering challenge or experiencing conceptual dif­ficulty, then it is likely that something valuable will have been lost. If knowl­edge is to have a transformative effect it probably should be troublesome, or at least troubling, but that does not mean it should be stressful or should provoke the kinds of anxiety, self-doubt and frustration that can lead students to give up.

Meyer J H F and Land R (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Learning
London; Routledge p.xiv

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:
ATHERTON J S (2010) Support site for University of Bedfordshire PCE programme:   [On-line] UK: Available:  Accessed:

(Note that if you are using Internet Explorer, and it is doing its "nanny" thing, the full reference will not display. There will be a bar across the top of the screen advising you of "blocked content". Click on it and select "Allow blocked content" and confirm in the pop-up box. I know it's a pain, but we're stuck with it.)

Original material © James Atherton: last up-dated 9 January 2008

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