Evaluating the Decoding the Disciplines paradigm that is used for developing disciplinary habits of mind: A systematic literature review

Keywords: bottlenecks, Decoding the Disciplines, disposition, efficacy, habits of mind, mind theory, student learning, systematic review, troublesome knowledge, ways of thinking


This article reports on a systematic review of the literature to evaluate the Decoding the Disciplines paradigm (henceforth “DtD”) in the development of expert disciplinary habits of mind in student learning. A search was conducted utilising various databases (EBSCOhost, DOAJ, JSTOR, SAGE Journals Online, Scopus, Wiley Online and uKwazi) (Library Search Engine) for the period 2004 to 2020. More than 500 papers, retrieved from nine scholarly databases, were screened, based on title and abstract, resulting in 33 shortlisted papers for analysis. The researcher and one independent reviewer assessed the methodological quality of the shortlisted articles. Five countries are represented in this study. The results of this review highlighted the impact that the DtD has on the development of expert ways of thinking in learners. The case studies attest to the fact that several insights, namely 1) Concretising abstract phenomena; 2) Overcoming emotional bottlenecks; 3) Making expert habits of mind explicit to the learner; 4) Trans-disciplinary approaches and the T-Shaped learner and 5) Synergies between threshold concepts and information literacy habits of mind, are capabilities that the DtD process could cultivate in student learning to overcome complex bottlenecks.

Author Biographies

S. Mohamed, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town

Senior Librarian

Library Services: Learning and Teaching

A. Bayat, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town

Associate Professor

School of Business and Finance

Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences



ACRL see Association of Colleges and Research Libraries.

Alhamlan, Suad, Haya Aljasser, Asma Almajed, Haila Almansour, and Nidhal Alahmad. 2018. “A Systematic Review: Using Habits of Mind to Improve Student’s Thinking in Class.” Higher Education Studies 8(1): 25–35.

Ardizzone, Tony, Fritz Breithaupt, and Paul C Gutjahr. 2004. “Decoding the Humanities.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98(2004): 45–56.

Association of Colleges and Research Libraries. 2016. “Framework for information literacy for higher education.” http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

Attas, Robin. 2018. “Uncovering and Teaching the Process of Analysis to Undergraduate Music Theory Students.” College Music Symposium 58(2): 1–23.

Baer, Andrea. 2015. “Decoding the ACRL framework for information literacy: Applying the 'Decoding the Discipline’ model for instructional planning.” October 29. ALA Publishing eLearning Workshop. https://www.slideshare.net/ALATechSource/decoding-the-acrl-framework-for-information-literacy-applying-the-decoding-the-discipline-model-for-instructional-planning-workshop.

Balkin, J. 1995‒1996. Deconstruction. https://jackbalkin.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/deconessay.pdf.

Barthes, Roland, Richard Miller, and Richard Howard. 1974. S/Z an essay. New York: Hill and Wang.

Boell, Sebastian K. and Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic. 2015. “On Being ‘Systematic’ in Literature Reviews in IS.” Journal of Information Technology 30(2): 161–173.

Burkholder, J. 2011. “Decoding the Discipline of Music History for Our Students.” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 1(2): 93–111.

Cameron, E. L. 2019. “Using Methods from Cognitive Psychology to Elucidate Mental Processes.” In 3rd Actas EuroSoTL Conference: Exploring new fields through the scholarship of teaching and learning, Bilbao, Basque Country, June 13‒14, 2019. Servicio Editorial de la Universidad del País Vasco.

Costa, Arthur L. and Bena Kallick. 2000. Integrating and sustaining habits of mind. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Currie, Genevieve. 2017. “Conscious Connections: Phenomenology and Decoding the Disciplines.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 150(2017): 37–48.

Derrida, J. 1976. Of grammatology. Translated by G. C. Spivak. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. (Original work published 1967).

Díaz, Middendorf. 2008. “The History Learning Project: A Department ‘Decodes’ Its Students.” The Journal of American History 94(4): 1211–1224. Bloomington, Ind.

Durisen, Richard H. and Catherine A. Pilachowski. 2004. “Decoding Astronomical Concepts.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98: 33–43.

Fischer, Matthias. 2018. “Decoding sustainability in the healthcare system. Teaching students how to problematize complex concepts.” Journal on Innovation and Sustainability RISUS 9(3): 149‒159. https://doi.org/10.24212/2179-3565.2018v9i3p149-159.

Gibson, Craig and Trudi E Jacobson. 2018. “Habits of Mind in an Uncertain Information World.” Reference and user services quarterly 57(3): 183–192.

Gofman, Ari. 2019. “A Carpentries Approach to ACRL Framework Instruction.” Journal Of Escience Librarianship 8(2): 1–14.

Grim, Valerie, David Pace, and Leah Shopkow. 2004. “Learning to Use Evidence in the Study of History.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98: 57–65.

Higgs, Philip. 2002. “Deconstruction and Re-Thinking Education.” South African Journal of Education 22(3): 170–176.

Isaacs, Nazeema Zainura and Michelle Glenda Andipatin. 2020. “A Systematic Review Regarding Women’s Emotional and Psychological Experiences of High-Risk Pregnancies.” BMC Psychology 8(1): 45–45.

Jadoon, Aisha, Ali Naqi, and Uzma Imtiaz. 2020. “Five Codes of Barthes: A Post-Structuralist Analysis of the Novel The Colour of Our Sky by Amita Trasi.” sjesr 3(1): 243–250.

Khomokhoana, Pakiso J. and Liezel Nel. 2020. “Decoding the Underlying Cognitive Processes and Related Support Strategies Utilised by Expert Instructors During Source Code Comprehension.” South African Computer Journal / Suid-Afrikaanse Rekenaartydskrif 32(2): 232–257.

Kurz, Lisa and Trudy W. Banta. 2004. “Decoding the Assessment of Student Learning.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98(2004): 85–94.

Land, Ray. 2016. “Toil and trouble: Threshold concepts as a pedagogy of uncertainty.” In Threshold concepts in practice, ed. Ray Land, Jan H. F. Meyer and Michael T. Flanagan, 11‒13. Educational futures: Rethinking theory and practice, Michael A. Peters (Series Editor). Rotterdam/Boston: Sense Publishers.

Lee-Post, Anita. 2019. “Developing numeracy and problem-solving skills by overcoming learning bottlenecks.” Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education 11(3): 398‒414. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-03-2018-0049.

Long, Hannah A., David P. French, and Joanna M. Brooks. 2020. “Optimising the Value of the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) Tool for Quality Appraisal in Qualitative Evidence Synthesis.” Research Methods in Medicine & Health Sciences 1(1): 31–42.

Middendorf, Joan and David Pace. 2004. “Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98: 1‒12. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.142.

Middendorf, Joan, Jolanta Mickutė, Tara Saunders, José Najar, Andrew E. Clark-Huckstep, and David Pace. 2015. “What’s Feeling Got to Do with It? Decoding Emotional Bottlenecks in the History Classroom.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 14(2): 166–180.

Miller, Sara. 2018. “Diving Deep: Reflective Questions for Identifying Tacit Disciplinary Information Literacy Knowledge Practices, Dispositions, and Values through the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 44(3): 412–418.

Miller-Young, Dean. 2015. “Decoding Ourselves: An Inquiry into Faculty Learning About Reciprocity in Service-Learning.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 22(1): 32–47.

Miller-Young, Janice and Jennifer Boman. 2017. “Uncovering ways of thinking, practicing, and being through decoding across disciplines.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 150: 19‒35. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20235.

Mohamed, Shehaamah. 2020. “Decoding information literacy ways of thinking in student learning: Influencing pedagogic methods.” South African Journal of Higher Education 34(3): 182‒209.

Pace, David. 2011. “Assessment in History: The Case for ‘Decoding’ the Discipline.” The Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 11(3): 107–119.

Pace, David. 2004. “Decoding the Reading of History: An Example of the Process.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98(2004): 13–21.

Pace, David. 2017. The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Pettit, Rathburn. 2017. “Building Bridges from the Decoding Interview to Teaching Practice.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 150(2017): 75–85.

Pinnow, Eleni. 2016. “Decoding the disciplines: An approach to scientific thinking.” Psychology Learning and Teaching 15(1): 94‒101. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475725716637484.

Riegler, P. 2019. “Lost in Language Comprehension: Decoding putatively extra-disciplinary expertise.” In 3rd Actas EuroSoTL Conference: Exploring new fields through the scholarship of teaching and learning, Bilbao, Basque Country, June 13‒14, 2019. Servicio Editorial de la Universidad del País Vasco.

Rousse, Mary, Julie Phillips, Rachel Mehaffey, Susanna McGowan, and Peter Felten. 2017. “Decoding and disclosure in students-as-partners research: A case study of the political science literature review.” International Journal for Students as Partners 1(1): 1‒14. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i1.3061.

Rubin, Barry M. and Shanker Krishnan 2004. “Decoding Applied Data in Professional Schools.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98(2004): 67–73.

Schlegel, Whitney M. and David Pace. 2004. “Using Collaborative Learning Teams to Decode Disciplines: Physiology and History.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98: 75–83.

Sturts, Jill R. and Rasul A. Mowatt. 2012. “Understanding and overcoming bottlenecks in student learning.” SCHOLE: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education 27(1): 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/1937156X.2012.11949364.

Sundt, Jody. 2010. “Overcoming Student Resistance to Learning Research Methods: An Approach Based on Decoding Disciplinary Thinking.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 21(3): 266–284.

Tingerthal, John Steven. 2013. “Applying the Decoding the Disciplines process to teaching structural mechanics: An autoethnographic case study.” Dissertation. Northern Arizona University.

Verpoorten, D., J. Devyver, D. Duchâteau, B. Mihaylov, A. Agnello, P. Ebrahimbabaye, J.-F. Focant, et al. 2017. “Decoding the disciplines – A pilot study at the University of Liège (Belgium).” In Proceedings of the 2nd European Conference for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, ed. R. Andersson, K. Martensson, and T. Roxa, 263‒267. University of Lund, Sweden: Jubileum Series.

Yeo, Michelle, Mark R. Lafave, Khatija Westbrook, Jenelle R. McAllister, Dennis Valdez, and Breda H. F. Eubank. 2017. “Impact of decoding work within a professional program.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 150: 87‒96. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.

Yeo, Michelle. 2017. “Decoding the Disciplines as a Hermeneutic Practice.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 150: 49–62.

Zhu, Chen, George Rehrey, Brooke Treadwell, and Claudia C. Johnson. 2012. “Looking Back to Move Ahead: How Students Learn Geologic Time by Predicting Future Environmental Impacts.” Journal of College Science Teaching 41(3): 54‒60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43748327. (Accessed 1 February 2021).

Zolan, Miriam, Susan Strome, and Roger Innes. 2004. “Decoding Genetics and Molecular Biology: Sharing the Movies in Our Heads.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 98: 23–32.

How to Cite
Mohamed, S., and A. Bayat. 2022. “Evaluating the Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm That Is Used for Developing Disciplinary Habits of Mind: A Systematic Literature Review”. South African Journal of Higher Education 36 (1), 207-33. https://doi.org/10.20853/36-1-4517.
General Articles