Transformative insights: A synthesis of threshold concept theory and graduate attributes

J. Dawn Marsh, Rosemary J De Luca


This theoretical study proposes a set of ‘transformative insights’ that transcend disciplinary boundaries and point to a common educational foundation at undergraduate level. It involved a review of disciplinary threshold concepts, followed by thematic analyses of institutional and programme level graduate profiles from New Zealand universities. Twelve common clusters of graduate attributes were identified, but their potential as cross-disciplinary threshold concepts was found to be problematic. This led to the alternative proposal that six transformative insights occur during undergraduate education: discernment of underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and expectations; epistemological positioning; linguistic nuance; engagement as a learner; thinking critically, analytically and creatively; and ethical awareness and integrity. Transformative insights reflect a synthesis of threshold concepts and graduate attributes, and support institution-wide approaches to teaching, learning and curriculum development. Further research to establish an empirical basis for the utility of transformative insights and explore their relationship to disciplinary threshold concepts is proposed.


Threshold concepts; graduate attributes; transformative insights; transformative learning; undergraduate; higher education

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DOI: 10.15663/wje.v21i1.208


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© Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, 2015