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The chapter describes a range of dimensions along which a person's concepts may vary. The literature contains contrasting claims that students’ concepts may be labile and transitory, and also that they may be stable and tenacious. That students may hold a range of concepts of different statuses can be understood in terms of the way concepts are acquired and developed, and indeed may be essential for progression in conceptual understanding over time. The dimensions discussed are canonicity (the extent to which concepts match scientific accounts); commonality (that concepts may be idiosyncratic, or widely shared); explicitness (that some knowledge elements are implicit and present as intuitions, whereas others are open to deliberation and conscious reasoning); commitment (that available concepts may be being considered sceptically, or could be strongly committed to): multiplicity (as in some situations it may be quite rational to hold several different versions of a concept that are not entirely consistent); and connectivity (that although all concepts are located in networks, the extent and strength – and so rigidity – of connections embedding a concept among others varies for different concepts). The significance of a student's conception for their current understanding of the subject and for their future learning will depend upon these various characteristics.

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