Category Archives: Graduate Coursework

Personal Limitations and Limiting Beliefs in Adult Learners

On January 29, 2017, added my replies to others to this blog post.

A brief exploration of my emergent beliefs about adult learning, written on January 22, 2017 for an assignment in my Spring 2017 course, IDS 6504: Adult Learning, at University of Central Florida. Many terms I have included, coined, or adapted are not operationally defined.

1. BeliefDisciplined and self-aware adult learners recognize their time, energy, and willpower is highly limited; consequently, under ideal psychological and physiological conditions they concentrate their efforts on what is highly interesting or useful.

2. Explanation – The feeling of infinite time and potentialities experienced by teenagers and twenty-somethings gradually evaporates, giving way through self-agency and external influences to realistic pragmatism, unhappy disillusionment, or something in-between. Those who recognize their personal limitations can focus pragmatically on what brings them the most happiness or benefit, particularly when they feel secure, well-rested, and are in a conducive learning environment. Sometimes, this may even involve strengthening areas where they already excel, rather than shoring up areas that require overwhelming efforts to yield minimal gains. However, the disciplined and self-aware adult learner is also able to direct their focus as appropriate to the goal at hand. For example, such an individual may focus on what s/he finds very interesting when learning in his/her spare time, but when it comes to formal or professional education, s/he recognizes the importance of pandering to syllabi, rubrics, requirements of courses or programs of study, and expectations of instructors or supervisors, which may involve learning or expressing interest in certain materials or tasks that are not of intrinsic interest, even though the overall course or program is of intrinsic interest. Finally, either consciously (ideal) or subconsciously (more common), such learners recognize the opportunity cost of learning, the value of creative and divergent thinking, the imperative to seek help and feedback early and repeatedly, and the value of strategic procrastination.

3. BeliefAdult learners are more susceptible than child learners to entrenched limiting beliefs operating globally and/or with respect to specific tasks or domains, including inferiority complexes, fixed mindset (entity theory of intelligence), performance-avoidance and mastery-avoidance goal orientations, social identity threat, and stereotype threat.

4. Explanation – While child learners may face limiting beliefs such as stereotype threat for mathematics among girls (often due to not fault of their own), adult learners may carry limiting beliefs from childhood or early adulthood with them as entrenched parts of their identities. For instance, many adults have a fixed mindset for their mathematical abilities, which can circumvent efforts to develop these skills. Such limiting beliefs are often based on a modicum of truth—for instance, it certainly is easier to learn a second language as a child than adult. However, the limiting belief often serves to prevent all progress, even when a great deal of progress was possible. The velocity at which the adult learner reaches the inflection point where a limiting belief is overturned is crucial to maximizing the degrees of freedom in his/her learning horizon. For example, it is not very useful if an adult at Age 70 finally overturns the limiting belief that she is not “college material.” However, if this limiting belief can be overturned at Age 35, the remaining potentialities (degrees of freedom) are far greater. On the other hand, past beliefs and knowledge can function as heuristics that allow the learner to quickly absorb instructional materials with an adequate level of fidelity. For example, the experienced academic may be able to quickly synthesize a journal article with a surprising degree of accuracy, just by reading the abstract and skimming key sections, tables, and figures. The adult learner’s experience is a double-edged sword, inflicting self-mutilation only to the extent that experienced-derived beliefs are inconsistent with reality. The disciplined and self-aware adult learner recognizes the search for truth as ongoing, iterative, and asymptotic. Moreover, s/he recognizes and rejects fallacies of logic and reasoning such as the all-or-nothing fallacy.

Replies to discussion posts by others, written by me on January 28, 2017.

Belief to which I am responding: “Whenever a person cares about the topic they are learning about, they do a better job of learning about it.”

My response:

Sometimes, we don’t know what we find interesting. We may think we find a particular topic interesting, and yet be bored and unmotivated in a formal course on the topic. This can be related to how the topic is framed and presented in the curriculum and by the instructor, a mismatch between our perceived and actual interests, or a combination of the two. Further, I have often found myself highly interested in a topic that is of no practical relevance to my life or real-world plans. One only has to look at the hordes of people interested in fictional worlds like World of Warcraft or A Song of Ice and Fire to see that humans are not necessarily most interested in what is most relevant to their professional or financial success, even as adults.

Regarding high-level maths, it has always amused me that one of the main uses for learning these is becoming a math teacher. Now, even engineers and statisticians rely on computer programs to perform many of their calculations. Of course, people must know how to design, develop, improve, and trouble-shoot these programs, but just as farming has become concentrated in the hands of a few experts who perform it at massive scale, so might knowledge of higher maths become unnecessary for many. In fact, this simplification is ongoing in multiple domains—for example, we have a whole new generation of web entrepreneurs who don’t even know how to write JavaScript, PHP or ASP.NET, SQL, or advanced HTML and CSS thanks to software suites (e.g., WordPress, Joomla) that do much of the difficult work for you.

Belief to which I am responding: “Adult learners have a better grasp on what their learning style is, and can then tailor their education in a way that best suits them.”

My response:

Learning styles have been thoroughly debunked, but what you are describing here sounds more like learning preferences (and in fact you even used the word “preference” in your explanation), which have validity. The learning styles myth is typically summed up in the belief that some learners are better served by visual content, while others might learn better in auditory, linguistic, or kinesthetic modalities. In fact, a more accurate characterization is that particular content is best learned in particular modalities—if making a balloon animal is best learned visually, then it is best learned that way for all (or most) learners, even if a learner claims to have a linguistic learning style.

Using “learning styles” in the way you have is not incorrect, but the term just has too much baggage and must be abandoned, particularly if you attend conferences like the American Educational Research Association (AERA), lest you be lampooned by hordes of educational eggheads dying to pounce on usage of an educational proposition that has (a) been thoroughly and reliably discredited and (b) remains wildly popular and influential.

As for online versus face-to-face courses, I agree 100% that online courses work much better for those with busy schedules. Some people may ask, why even bother? If you are going to learn online, why not just use Coursera, Udemy, Wikipedia, et cetera? Well, there are plenty of reasons! Particularly as an educator, academic credentials are very important and cannot be earned via Wikipedia. You can’t go in for an interview to be a teacher, instructor, or professor without the requisite academic degrees. Being enrolled at a university provides access to journal articles that you actually have to pay for otherwise. UCF alone pays $1.3 million for its subscription to Web of Science, and many millions more to provide you with access to academic journals and resources. Try writing a literature review as an Independent Scholar, and you’ll quickly find it is no easy task. Plus, even online courses have a way of lighting a fire under your butt that a massively open online course (MOOC) simply cannot do. For example, in your M.A., Ed.D., or Ph.D. at UCF, fail more than two courses and you’ll be ejected from the program. If you stop working on your MOOC, no one cares.

My Professional Development in Fall 2016

Today, January 17, 2017, I revised and expanded the paragraph from my teaching biography on my professional development in Fall 2016, which was my first semester in the Education Ph.D. program, Instructional Technology track, at University of Central Florida:

After concluding my first semester as a Ph.D. student, I am a co-PI (principal investigator) on a microbiology attitudes validation study (Modification and Validation of a Biology Student Attitude Survey for Use with Microbiology Students) and a co-presenter on a social studies conference proposal (Correlating Subsidized Lunch Prevalence with Seventh-Grade Civics End-of-Course Exam Proficiency in Florida Schools). In August 2016, I presented The Implications of Mindsets for Learning and Instruction (poster) at the Association of Teacher Educators’ summer conference in Louisville, Kentucky. In Fall 2016, I worked extensively on a National Parks Service project in EME 6613: Instructional Systems Design (no publications or conference presentations forthcoming). As part of my summer volunteering and fall GTA work, I contributed to STEM Education grant proposals that my advisor and colleagues were working on (presentations and publications may be forthcoming in future semesters, pending grant approval).

My Teaching Biography

Here is a personal biography I wrote on January 14, 2017 to introduce myself to other students in the EME 7634: Advanced Instructional Design course at University of Central Florida. Here, I have detailed my teaching background, personal goals, and personal expectations, as I enter the second semester of the Education Ph.D. program in the Instructional Technology track.

(a) current work position and job title

My name is Richard Thripp (I go by “Richard”) and I am a first-year Education Ph.D. student in the Instructional Technology track at University of Central Florida, a Dean’s Fellow, and a Graduate Teaching Assistant to Dr. Richard Hartshorne. I earned my M.A. in Applied Learning and Instruction at UCF in 2016, my B.S. in Psychology at UCF in 2014, and an A.A. at Daytona State College in 2011. I am 25 and a lifelong resident of Ormond Beach, FL.

(b) your teaching/training experience

My teaching experience dates back as far as 2006, when I was a student worker in the Volusia County Library System and gave a series of three two-hour classes to senior citizens on how to use a PC, keyboard, and mouse, Windows 2000, Internet Explorer, and web email.

In Fall 2008, I took PHY2048: University Physics at Daytona State College and prepared several practice exams and solution sets for other students, which other students were very grateful for. This work helped me go from failing to passing in my grades on exams in the course.

In Fall 2009, I was the Supplemental Instruction Leader for BSC 1005: Survey of Biology for Non-Science Majors at Daytona State College, for which I led 33 one-hour review sessions with an average attendance of five students each, created a website with numerous supplemental and review materials including 146 pages of my scanned, handwritten lecture notes and six chapter review quizzes with answers, and distributed printed copies of the website’s URL to over 150 students in three sections of the course.

In Spring 2011, I was a Peer Tutor at the Daytona State College Academic Support Center (ASC), qualified to tutor remedial math, College Algebra, Precalculus Algebra, Trigonometry, and Survey of Biology, though I primarily helped remedial math students who were compelled by departmental policy to complete their e-homework at the ASC. (“Qualified” meant having received an A grade in the course, by the ASC’s criteria.)

Over the next few years, I tutored math, GRE preparation, and piano privately, while taking a year off and then working on my B.S. in Psychology at UCF. (I was tired of higher math and “hard” sciences at this time.)

In Spring 2016, I put together a sprawling online financial literacy course for my M.A. Capstone projects, completing over 25 modules with research-supported activities and pedagogical approaches, including over two hours of narrated video. To date, I find writing about personal finance more personally interesting and motivating than many other educational topics.

In Fall 2016, with three colleagues in EME 6613: Instructional Systems Design, I developed guidelines and rudimentary materials for the National Park Service to train facility management specialists and tradespeople to assess the conditions of historic structures within the park system, based in part on the ARCS model of instructional design (Keller, 1987) and the Learning-by-Doing model (Schank, Berman, Macpherson, 1999).

Also in Fall 2016, with training from Dr. Hartshorne, I graded and provided substantiative feedback on the following assignments produced by undergraduates in two sections of EME 2040: Introduction to Technology for Educators: 20 group-based classroom wikis, 55 one- to two-minute individual educational videos, 58 individual lesson plans, and 56 individual PowerPoint-based interactive quizzes. I quickly learned how time-consuming it is to grade and give quality feedback to large numbers of students.

(c) assessment of how this course relates to what you already know about training and instruction

I still have to look up the definition of ontology / ontological when I see it (cannot remember it), and until a year ago, I could not remember the definition of pedagogy or epistemology. (Now, I remember them as “relating to teaching practice” and “beliefs about knowledge.”) Where I generally am an excellent writer and can produce impressive prose despite having deficits in my retention of educational theories, this course will (a) help further fill in the gaps for me and (b) sharpen my specialization in instructional design. Many ideas in the prior course (EME 6613), such as the differences between systematic design and subject-matter expert (SME) -based design, were ideas I had intuited in past years but never came across a vocabulary for. Consequently, with respect to what I already know about training and instruction, EME 7634 will correct, extend, and make the implicit explicit.

(d) expectations and desired learning outcomes relative to this course

After concluding my first semester as a Ph.D. student, I am a co-PI (principal investigator) on a microbiology attitudes validation study (Modification and Validation of a Biology Student Attitude Survey for Use with Microbiology Students) and a co-presenter on a social studies conference proposal (Correlating Subsidized Lunch Prevalence with Seventh-Grade Civics End-of-Course Exam Proficiency in Florida Schools). I presented The Implications of Mindsets for Learning and Instruction at the Association of Teacher Educators’ summer conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I worked extensively on a National Parks Service project and on STEM Education grant proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of my summer volunteering and GTA work.

While these accomplishments all provided useful experience and were interesting in their own ways, the only one I consciously chose was mindsets, which my interest in has now waned. My desired outcome for this course and the Spring 2017 semester is that I focus heavily on topics that are immensely interesting and motivating to me. While I do want to shore up some of my weaknesses, I want to focus more on strengthening my strengths, even if it doesn’t make everyone happy. This means when given the choice of topic, I would probably pick topics that are STEM- or finance-related. As for the analysis techniques I choose to study in this course, I have not read enough to know which ones I like yet.

My expectations are that Dr. Atsusi Hirumi will be as helpful, entertaining, and rigorous as last semester.

(e) one interesting aspect about your life (hobbies, personal interests, unusual skill or trait)

One ironic aspect of my life is that I skipped two-thirds of 1st grade, was home-schooled by my father for Grades 2–12 (through a private school), combined Grades 2–3 in one year, and graduated high school at Age 15. Then, I took four years to earn a two-year degree (I managed to drop out twice during this time) and took a year off. I am a prospective educator whose only experience in K–12 is attending kindergarten, three months of 1st grade, and sitting in on 15 hours of a 5th grade class in 2011. However, I am more interested in being a postsecondary educator (viz., a professor) than a K–12 educator.

My academic and personal writings and presentations on a wide variety of topics are presented unseparated on my website,


Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2–10.

Schank, R. C., Berman, T. R., & Macpherson, K. A. (1999). Learning by doing. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory, Vol. II (pp. 161–181). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brief Statement on First Semester of Education Ph.D.

I wrote this for my Facebook wall on 2016-12-07. Reposted on on 2016-12-11.

All done with schoolwork! My first semester being a Ph.D. student [Education Ph.D., Instructional Technology track at University of Central Florida] went well. Just need to focus more on my research in future semesters.

It was very interesting working with peers on designing facility management training materials for the National Park Service and studying the standardized test scores of Florida 7th grade civics students. For independent work in another class, I have also learned a lot about threshold concepts. As part of my assistantship, I graded over 100 assignments of undergraduates in EME 2040: Introduction to Technology for Educators, and contributed key materials to several major grant proposals for joint work between the College of Education and Human Performance and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The shocking and sad part of the semester was that the son of my Master’s advisor and mentor, Dr. Bobby Hoffman, passed away. I cannot imagine losing a child who is only age 30… I know that as my father’s only child, it would tear him apart to lose me. Prayers be with Dr. Hoffman and his family in this holiday season.

Prospectus for Survey Research on Threshold Concepts and the Doctoral Process

This prospectus was completed 2016-11-30 for the course, IDS 7501: Issues & Research in Education, building upon my 2016-10-20 annotated bibliography and 2016-11-07 instrument search, as part of my coursework in the Education Ph.D. program at University of Central Florida.

This brief literature review and research proposal synthesizes the research on threshold concepts as applied to doctoral students, pioneered by Drs. Erik Mayer and Ray Land. Please feel free to cite this review. Feedback is welcome, via blog comments, my contact form, or Twitter.

PDF version | Microsoft Word 2016 version

Prospectus for Survey Research on Threshold Concepts and the Doctoral Process
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida


This initial research prospectus first reviews the existing, primarily qualitative research on threshold concepts and doctoral students. Threshold concepts are skills that may be difficult to acquire, but their acquisition is transformative—much like learning to ride a bicycle. Frequently, threshold concepts such as designing a research study, writing a research report, and conducting a literature review are not explicitly taught to doctoral students. In fact, academics may not even consciously consider them, or may be dismissive toward students who have not yet acquired them. In this prospectus, the existing literature is used to guide the design of questionnaire-based research that quantitatively and qualitatively assesses threshold concepts in a broad sample of doctoral students at the University of Central Florida. Ultimately, this will contribute to our understanding of threshold concepts, the doctoral process, and the interaction between the two; guide further research including the development of a validated quantitative threshold concepts instrument; and perhaps suggest practices and workshops that may be implemented to reduce periods of uncertainty (liminality) among doctoral students, improve well-being, encourage productivity, and prevent attrition.

Keywords: threshold concepts, conceptual thresholds, doctoral studies, scholarly research, higher education, PhD students, liminality, troublesome knowledge, higher-order thinking skills, cognitive strategies, doctoral attrition, ontology, epistemology, beliefs

Prospectus for Survey Research on Threshold Concepts and the Doctoral Process

Threshold concepts (or, learning thresholds) are skills or ideas that may be troublesome to acquire, but doing so is often transformative—much like learning to ride a bicycle (Meyer & Land, 2005). The threshold concept framework (TCF) emerged in 2003 from Meyer and Land’s work on the U.K. national research project, Enhancing Teaching–Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses, and was refined by their research on economists, which revealed that understanding certain concepts, such as opportunity cost, is pivotal to progressing in the field (Flanagan, 2016). Acquiring a threshold concept can be counter-intuitive and messy, causing both cognitive and affective stress not unlike a rite of passage (Rhem, 2013), with a liminal space in between that can be long and uncertain (Meyer & Land, 2006), particularly because instruction may address it only tacitly, peers and overseers may not know or recall what not “getting” a threshold concept feels like, and the endpoint of liminality is only clear in hindsight.

In particular, Ph.D. students are supposed to be our next generation of academics. They are expected to have acquired extensive technical and soft skills even at the outset of their programs, particularly for programs requiring a Master’s degree. Unfortunately, many have not acquired skills which appear to be threshold concepts, such as advanced writing and research skills (e.g., Kiley, 2015; Johnson, 2015). Further, there may be other threshold concepts for doctoral students that the limited body of primarily qualitative research has not revealed. Little quantitative research has been employed, and no quantitative instrument has been validated for the threshold concepts field in general, even after 13 years of research and hundreds of academic journal articles. Moreover, in the context of doctoral students, the beliefs of people who have achieved or not achieved threshold concepts has not been systematically compared. This proposed exploratory study will form a portion of the groundwork toward these ends.

Literature Review

Continue reading Prospectus for Survey Research on Threshold Concepts and the Doctoral Process