Focus on pedagogic research

This issue’s focus on pedagogic research (PedR) takes a look at the recently published article exploring the ‘threshold concepts’ about online pedagogy for novice online teachers in higher education

LITE Research Officer, Katie Livesey, examines the salient parts here for SEB.

With online learning playing an increasingly significant role in the programme portfolios of educational institutions Kilgour et. al’s paper, looking at threshold concepts for online educators, is both thought provoking and very topical.

The paper: Peter Kilgour, Daniel Reynaud, Maria Northcote, Catherine McLoughlin & Kevin P. Gosselin (2018) Threshold concepts about online pedagogy for novice online teachers in higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1450360 explores the challenges faced by teachers in delivering online learning as they make the journey to gaining the skills and knowledge required.

Interestingly, the often experienced teacher takes on the role of the student, with the paper referring to the ‘novice online learner’.

The experienced and confident practitioner is faced with the unease of facing challenging ‘threshold concepts’ to be able to deliver teaching in an unfamiliar environment.


To enable teachers to take advantage of the opportunities offered by online learning the paper identifies threshold concepts for online educators with the view to informing personal development provision to meet these challenges.

Threshold concepts for learners represent feelings, attributes and phases experienced in the acquisition of skills and knowledge.

In effect, it can be described as the learner travelling through a portal from a state of ‘not knowing to knowing’. In this transformational process, learners confront new concepts, often challenging pre-existing skills, overcoming ‘blockages’ and gaining confidence to perform in a new field.

The study looks at the juxtaposition of the experienced teacher as a novice learner and suggests that technology and the skills required to apply the technology in developing online learning is a major factor in generating ‘troublesome knowledge’.

This term is used to describe the factors contributing to the skills and knowledge gap preventing the leap to becoming an online education practitioner, with online pedagogy as one of the main examples.

Resources are also identified as a blockage as well as resistance to change.

The very public nature of developing teaching skills through delivering online learning is raised as a factor that may be contributing to a teacher’s resistance to developing online teaching skills, as they move out of the comfort zone of the lecture theatre environment, with its privacy and familiarity, to, often, open access resources.


The study involved examining the experiences of teaching staff in two Australian institutions and one in the USA. Both experienced and early career teachers participated in the study.

RESEARCH Officer: LITE’s Katie Livesey.

The participants were asked to comment on their views of online learning through completing a reflective journal. Quantitative data was collected via the Online Teaching Self Efficacy Inventory questionnaire.

A panel of experts were then asked to review and comment on the data.

Findings were then compared to a set of threshold concepts identified from previous research studies.

The results identified 12 threshold concepts for novice online learners. These were grouped within three main thematic clusters: preparation and course design; online presence; interaction and relationships.

These themes indicate that support needs to be given not only in the acquisition of skills to apply and develop the technology required for effective online learning but that teachers need to build, or even gain, an understanding of online pedagogy.

As is summed up by threshold concept 11 ‘online teaching requires facilitating interaction, not only presenting content’.

Effective online learning will not be achieved by the facilitator simply fitting traditional teaching techniques into an online format. Instead, an ontological and epistemological shift is required by the teacher.

Personal development programmes can support this through providing a safe space for experimentation and skills development to ensure a transformation in online pedagogic knowledge.

This article formed the basis of discussion at LITE’s Journal Club meeting in May.

To download the paper and find out what our next paper for discussion will be visit the Journal Club’s Sharepoint page.