Troublesome knowledge first topic of the ONL181 course has a scenario that we in our group chose to interpret as a teacher’s fear of publishing their online teaching materials.
During the weeks I have been thinking about what it is that makes us fear the kind of changes that the digitalization of school means.
Last week I had the privilege of listening to a lecture by Professor Ray Land where I stuck to the concept of “Troublesome Knowledge”.
Land emphasized a constructivist approach to how people build their own knowledge and understanding in contrast to a behaviouristic approach with transfer of knowledge. My interpretation of his way of describing a constructivist perspective on how knowledge is built is that new knowledge can be attached to or inserted into the knowledge and perception that the learner already has.
In the case of “Troublesome Knowledge” it is the knowledge that can not easily be attached to the owners knowledge structure, but instead requires a rebuilding. When faced with troublesome knowledge, it is like standing at a threshold. If I go over the threshold, I change. I can imagine that many hesitate and rather deny or find arguments against the new knowledge than to take the step and be forced to rebuild in their minds and thoughts.

Land has researched students’ learning, but I reflect on teachers’ learning. Is there similarly “Troublesome knowledge” in academic learning? Can the digitization and the new challenges for teaching mean “Troublesome Knowledge” for teachers? The digitization is nothing we can say yes or no to, it’s here to stay, but how do we help more teachers feel comfortable with it?
Land referred to Perkins (1999) as identifies Foreign Knowledge as troublesome and that it comes from a perspective that conflicts with our own. For example tends students to view past events through present knowledge and values. In the same way maybe academic teachers view digitalisation through old knowledge and values?
Meyer & Land (2005, p 5) describes the transformation that students undergo, or find difficulty and anxiety in undergoing, when passing the threshold. They give examples of support through mentoring or peer collaboration to enable students to shift in perspective and to cross the threshold.
My reflection is how we can provide support to academic teachers to shift perspektiv, see the threshold and start to redesign there didactic perspektivs.
Maybe we have to dig on a deeper level then pencils, paper and devices?
The way we communicate in society today differs a lot from how we communicated 50 years ago. If we focus on communication maybe new technologies become less frightening?


  • Perkins, David. (1999). The Many Faces of Constructivism. Educational Leadership., 57(3), 6-11.
  • Meyer, Jan H. F., & Land, Ray. (2005). Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (2): Epistemological Considerations and a Conceptual Framework for Teaching and Learning. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 49(3), 373-388.

Image: Threshold by Andrew Carr, License: CC-by-nc-nd

3 Replies to “Troublesome knowledge”

  1. This was very interesting, Birger! We discussed in my group how we will meet the students who are already seen as native or residents, as well as how we will meet future students who will definitely be natives and residents in most areas of the digital world. Digital development goes so fast, and teachers and education do not follow the same development, I think. Perhaps one way can be, as you are saying, to communicate in another way.
    And also try to learn to communicate more online to meet the students in their arena. Could it increase the motivation to learn too? It was also discussed in my group, how do we create an open atmosphere, where both teachers and students feel safe to learn from each other and to share with each other. Do you have any thoughts about that?

    1. Thank you for your reply Lina!
      I think teachers have to move in to the digital arena and become more residents. If students use digital communication as if it is there home arena, I think teachers have to use it on a daily basis to get more “at home”. When we use digital communication without reflecting over that it is digital, then we are on there arena!

  2. Thank you for interesting thoughts. It makes me think of how we work with teachers. I also think thar there are a lot of troublesome knowledge and threasholds for them. And maybe they also feel threatened sometimes? I think we are good in meeting teachers with some form of comport and steady support, and I think that is important.

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