Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 169–186 | Cite as

Threshold concepts for Australian university outdoor education programs: findings from a Delphi research study

  • Glyn ThomasEmail author
  • Heather Grenon
  • Marcus Morse
  • Sandy Allen-Craig
  • Anthony Mangelsdorf
  • Scott Polley
Original Paper


In Australia, when a person wants to work in the outdoor education or recreation field, they can follow a number of different pathways to gain the required knowledge, skills and experience. Typically, this involves the completion of a formal program with either a training organisation or a university, depending on the qualification sought. Programs delivered by training organisations typically use a national training package to define the specific competencies (knowledge and skills) and the curriculum and outcomes of these programs are clearly defined, and qualifications are usually transferable around the country. Outdoor education programs delivered by universities in Australia, however, have no such clarity. This paper describes a research study that used the Delphi research method to consult with academics working in university outdoor education programs across Australia. The research set out to establish a set of threshold concepts that articulate what a student who completes at least a major in outdoor education knows and is able to do. Over two rounds of consultation the six authors of this paper formed the Delphi facilitation team, which solicited input and feedback from an expert panel. Nineteen different university academics participated in the research and produced seven threshold concepts, which are shared in this paper to encourage discussion and invite feedback from a wider range of stakeholders. More research is required to ascertain the efficacy of these threshold concepts in describing what graduates of university outdoor education programs know and can do.


Threshold concepts Outdoor education pathways Outdoor leadership training Delphi research 



We would like to acknowledge the input and support of the academics from the Australian Tertiary Outdoor Education Network who contributed as expert panel members.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Australian Qualifications Framework Council. (2013). Australian qualifications framework, (2nd ed.) Retrieved from
  2. Barradell, S., & Peseta, T. (2017). Putting threshold concepts to work in health sciences: Insights for curriculum design from a qualitative research synthesis. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(3), 349–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrett, M. J., Harmin, M., Maracle, B., Patterson, M., Thomson, C., Flowers, M., & Bors, K. (2016). Shifting relations with the more-than-human: Six threshold concepts for transformative sustainability learning. Environmental Education Research. Scholar
  4. Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education., 1, 5–22.Google Scholar
  5. Blenkinsop, S., Telford, J., & Morse, M. (2016). A surprising discovery: Five pedagogical skills outdoor and experiential educators might offer more mainstream educators in this time of change. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 16(4), 346–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bond-Rogers, E., & Rose, J. (2019). A critical exploration of women’s gendered experiences in outdoor leadership. Journal of Experiential Education, online first, Scholar
  7. Boyes, M. (2004). The maintenance of quality in the preparation of outdoor education teachers. New Zealand Journal of Outdoor Education: Ko Tane Mahuta Pupuke, 1(4), 82–98.Google Scholar
  8. Breunig, M. (2019). Beings who are becoming: Enhancing social justice literacy. The Journal of Experimental Education. Scholar
  9. Brookes, A. (2018). Preventing fatal incidents in school and youth group camps and excursions: Understanding the unthinkable. Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brookes, A., & Holmes, P. (2014). Supervision of school and youth groups on lift-served ski-slopes: A research perspective. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 17(2), 30–42. Scholar
  11. Cousin, G. (2006). An introduction to threshold concepts. Planet, 17, 4–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dalkey, N., & Helmer, O. (1963). An experimental application of the Delphi method to the use of experts. Management Science, 9(3), 458–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Department of Education and Training. (2015). Training package details SIS10 - Sport, Fitness and Recreation Training Package. Retrieved from
  14. Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  15. Dyment, J., Chick, H., Walker, C., & Macqueen, T. (2018). Pedagogical content knowledge and teaching of outdoor education. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Education Learning, 18(4), 303–322. Scholar
  16. Fletcher, A. J., & Marchildon, G. P. (2014). Using the Delphi method for qualitative, participatory action research in health leadership. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 13, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Galloway, S. (2002). Theoretical cognitive differences in expert and novice outdoor leader decision making: Implications for training and development. The Journal of Experimental Education, 2(1), 19–28.Google Scholar
  18. Galloway, S. (2007). Experience and medical decision-making in outdoor leaders. The Journal of Experimental Education, 30(2), 99–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gray, T., & Mitten, D. (Eds.). (2018). The Palgrave international handbook of women and outdoor learning. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Hill, A., & Brown, M. (2014). Intersections between place, sustainability and transformative outdoor experiences. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 14(3), 217–232. Scholar
  21. Hills, D., & Thomas, G. J. (2019). Digital technology and outdoor experiential learning. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.
  22. Keeney, S., Hasson, F., & McKenna, H. P. (2001). A critical review of the Delphi technique as a research methodology for nursing. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38, 195–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kennedy, H. P. (2004). Enhancing Delphi research: Methods and results. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45(5), 504–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Larkin, I. (2003). Developing a code of ethics for Australian outdoor education, in Relevance: Making it Happen (pp. 115–120), Proceedings of the 13th National Outdoor Education Conference, Adelaide, South Australia.Google Scholar
  25. Martin, P. (1998). Educational ideology and outdoor leadership education: Why both ORCA and the AOEC exist. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 3(1), 14–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martin, B., Bruenig, M., Wagstaff, M., & Goldenberg, M. (2017). Outdoor leadership: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). Champaign: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  27. Meyer, J. H. F. (2016). Threshold concepts and pedagogic representation. Education + Training, 58(5), 463–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practicing within the disciplines. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving student learning: Theory and practice ten years on (pp. 412–424). Oxford: OCSLD Retrieved on September 24, 2016 from Scholar
  29. Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49(3), 373–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2006). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: An introduction. In J. H. F. Meyer & R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (pp. 3–18). London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morgan, P. K. (2015). Pausing at the threshold. (Paper 1258). Faculty Publications.
  32. Morrison, C., & Pickering, C. (2013). Limits to climate change adaptation: Case study of the Australian Alps. Geographical Research, 51(1), 11–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nicola-Richmond, K., Pepin, G., Larkin, H., & Taylor, C. (2018). Threshold concepts in higher education: A synthesis of the literature relating to measurement of threshold crossing. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(1), 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. North, C., & Brookes, A. (2017). Case-based teaching of fatal incidents in outdoor education teacher preparation courses. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 17(3), 191–202. Scholar
  35. O’Donnell, R. (2010). A critique of the threshold concepts hypothesis and an application in economics (Working Paper No. 164). Retrieved from
  36. Outdoor Education Australia. (2017). Code of Ethics, accessed 19/2/2019 from
  37. Payne, P., & Wattchow, B. (2009). Phenomenological deconstruction, slow pedagogy and the corporeal turn in wild environmental/outdoor education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 15–32.Google Scholar
  38. Polley, S., & Thomas, G. J. (2017). What are the capabilities of graduates who study outdoor education in Australian universities? The case for a threshold concepts framework. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 20(1), 55–63. Scholar
  39. Priest, S., & Gass, M. A. (2017). Effective leadership in adventure programming (3rd ed.). Champaign: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  40. Rosengren, N., & Peterson, J. (1989). Heritage values and the geological and geomorphological significance of the Australian alpine zone. The Scientific Significance of the Australian Alps. The Australian Alps National Parks Liaison Committee/Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 187–204.Google Scholar
  41. Rowbottom, D. R. (2007). Demystifying threshold concepts. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 41(2), 263–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schön, D. A. (1995). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Aldershot: Arena.Google Scholar
  43. Sellars, M. (2017). Reflective practice for teachers. Los Angeles: SAGE.Google Scholar
  44. Shanahan, M. (2016). Threshold concepts in economics. Education + Training, 58(5), 510–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. SkillsIQ. (2015). SIS10: Sport, Fitness, and Recreation Training Package (Release 3.1). Retrieved from
  46. Smith, H., & Penney, D. (2010). Effective, exemplary, extraordinary? Towards an understanding of extraordinary outdoor leadership. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 14(1), 23–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stewart, A. (2012). Uncharted waters: An outdoor environmental education rhizocurrere. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 16(1), 58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Thomas, G. J. (2008). Preparing facilitators for experiential education: The role of intentionality and intuition. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 8(1), 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thomas, G. J. (2018). Effective teaching and learning strategies in outdoor education: Findings from two residential programmes based in Australia. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. Scholar
  50. Thomas, G. J., & Munge, B. (2017). Innovative outdoor fieldwork pedagogies in the higher education sector: Optimising the use of technology. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 20(1), 7–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tough, S., & Butt, J. (1993). A review of fatal injuries associated with downhill skiing. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 14(1), 12–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Warren, K., Roberts, N. S., Breunig, M., & Alvarez, M. A. G. (2014). Social justice in outdoor experiential education: A state of knowledge review. The Journal of Experimental Education, 37(1), 89–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wattchow, B., & Brown, M. (2011). A pedagogy of place: Outdoor education for a changing world. Clayton: Monash University Publishing.Google Scholar
  54. Williams, A., & Wainwright, N. (2016). A new pedagogical model for adventure in the curriculum: Part two - outlining the model. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 21(6), 589–602. Scholar

Copyright information

© Outdoor Education Australia 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of the Sunshine CoastSippy DownsAustralia
  2. 2.Federation University AustraliaMount HelenAustralia
  3. 3.La Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Australian Catholic UniversitySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations