Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Teaching and learning tricky topics

Week 2 Identifying tricky topics


As you saw in Week 1, tricky topics are the practical application of threshold concepts and their theoretical underpinning. Your understanding of tricky topics will be developed over weeks 2 and 3 by identifying and breaking down tricky topics in practice and the tricky topic process. You will learn the many ways in which you can identify tricky topics and the problems that students have in understanding them. You will know many ways of finding out why students have problems with them. You will then be in a position to begin to think about how to design learning to specifically overcome them (in Week 4).

In this week, you will consider what makes tricky topics tricky. Why are these topics so difficult to learn and teach? This week you will see how tricky topics are made up of several assessable parts (which are referred to as stumbling blocks) and how each of the stumbling blocks can be identified and constructed from students’ specific problems in the topic. The students’ problems (which are referred to as problem examples) highlight their misunderstanding of the tricky topic in general and may identify one or two of the stumbling blocks in particular. You will learn how the students’ problem examples can be grouped together to form stumbling blocks or visa-versa, and how stumbling blocks can be defined by many problem examples.

Described image
Figure 1 Stumbling block cartoon

By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • identify tricky topics and their key components
  • conduct a mini ‘needs analysis’ to identify students’ problems in tricky topics
  • use the ‘problem distiller’ to examine why students have these problems
  • begin to appreciate the relationship between stumbling blocks and students’ problem examples.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371