Communities of Learners


Contributors: Amy Yanhong Li (University of Munich), Frank Fischer (University of Munich), and Jim Slotta (University of Toronto)

Communities of learners is a theoretical perspective deriving from notions of learning as a process of transformation of participation in which responsibility and autonomy are both desired (Newman, Griffin, & Cole, 1989). Learning is not seen as a passive process (i.e., as the transmission of knowledge from experts or the acquisition of knowledge by novices), but rather as a participation in shared sociocultural endeavors (Rogoff, 1994).

Working together as a community, learners are active in a social process, engaging in a variety of interactions and intercommunications (Dewey, 1938; Blumenfeld, Marx, Soloway, & Krajcik, 1996). Communities of learners work cooperatively and collaboratively to structure their shared endeavors or develop acknowledge base of resources that are accessed, negotiated, revised and applied (Slotta, 2013). Some learning community approaches adopt a knowledge building pedagogy, where learners create new cognitive artifacts as a result of common goals, group discussion, and synthesis of ideas (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006; 2007). Others emphasize a more structured interaction with carefully designed sequences of collaborative, cooperative and collective inquiry activities (Bielaczyc & Collins, 2005).

It is challenging to design collective inquiry activities where a community of learners engage in carefully designed inquiry projects that ensure the process toward learning goals. One pedagogical model, called Knowledge Community and Inquiry (Slotta & Peters, 2008), offers four principles to guide the design of a collective inquiry sequence or script of inquiry activities. First, learners work collectively as a knowledge community, creating a knowledge base that is indexed to a specific content domain. Second, the knowledge base is accessible for communities of learners as a resource as well as for editing and improvement by all members. Third, collaborative inquiry activities are designed to address the targeted domain learning goals, using the knowledge base as a primary resource and producing assessable outcomes. Finally, teacher’s role, and how the role necessitates new pedagogical approaches and responsibilities, must be clearly specified within the inquiry script.

A community of learners’ model entails a particular philosophy of how learning occurs that involves a coherent and integrated set of assumptions guiding practice. In a community of learners, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and different members have different roles (Rogoff, 1994). Each learner can have multiple opportunities or pathways to get involved with the knowledge and connect with different individuals. Because of its relevance to 21st-century learning, the notion of communities of learners and collective inquiry is gathering an increased level of interest (Slotta, Quintana & Moher, 2018).

These abstracts are living documents provided and modified by NAPLeS members. The more contributions we have towards refining the documents the more representative they will be of the community as a whole. If you would like to suggest revisions, please contact [email protected].

Syllabi and Slides

Video Resources

Listen to the Knowledge Community and Inquiry webinar


Basic Reading:
  • Bielaczyc, K. & Collins, A. (2005). Technology as a catalyst for fostering knowledge-creating communities. A. M. O’Donnell, C. E. Hmelo-Silver & J. van der Linden (Eds.), Using technology to enhance learning. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R., Soloway, E., & Krajcik, J. (1996) Learning with peers: From small group cooperation to collaborative communities. Educational Researcher, 25(8), 37-40.
  • Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understanding of the idea of communities of learners. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1(4), 209-229.
  • Slotta, J., Quintana, R., & Moher, T. (2018). Collective Inquiry inCommunities of Learners. In The International Handbook of the Learning Sciences. (F. Fischer, C. Hmelo-Silver, P. Reimann, & S. Goldman, Eds.). Routledge.
Additional Reading:
  • Bielaczyc, K., Kapur, M., & Collins, A. (2013). Cultivating a community of learners in K-12 classrooms. International Handbook of Collaborative Learning, 233-249.
  • Brown, A. L., & Campione, J. (1996). Psychological theory and the design of innovative learning environments: On procedures, principles, and systems. In L. Schauble & R. Glaser (Eds.), Innovations in learning: New environments for education (pp. 289-325). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Exley, B. E. (2008). Communities of Learners: Early years students, new learning pedagogy and transformations. In Multiliteracies and diversity in education: New pedagogies for expanding landscapes (pp. 126-143). Oxford University Press.
  • Fischer, F., Slotta, J., Dillenbourg, P., Tchounikine, P., Kollar, I., Wecker, C., … & Chinn, C. (2013). Scripting and orchestration: Recent theoretical advances. In Proceedings of the Tenth Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Conference, Madison. Volume 1. 564-571. International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).
  • Fong, C., & Slotta, J. D. (2018). Supporting communities of learners in the elementary classroom: The common knowledge learning environment. Instructional Science, 46(4), 533-561.
  • Jonassen, D. H. (1995). Supporting communities of learners with technology: A vision for integrating technology with learning in schools. Educational Technology, 35(4), 60-63.
  • Kruger, K. (2000). Using information technology to create communities of learners. New Directions for Higher Education, 109, 59-70.
  • McCaleb, S. P. (2013). Building communities of learners: A collaboration among teachers, students, families, and community. Routledge.
  • Mintrop, H. (2004). Fostering constructivist communities of learners in the amalgamated multi-discipline of social studies. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 36(2), 141-158.
  • Newman, D., Griffin, P., & Cole, M. (1989). The construction zone: Working for cognitive change in school. Cambridge University Press.
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: Theory, pedagogy, and technology. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 97-115). New York, NY.
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2007). Fostering communities of learners and knowledge building: An interrupted dialogue. Children’s learning in the laboratory and in the classroom: Essays in honor of Ann Brown, 197-212.
  • Sherry, L., Billig, S., Tavalin, F., & Gibson, D. (2000). New insights on technology adoption in communities of learners. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 2044-2049). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
  • Slotta, J. D., & Peters, V. L. (2008). A blended model for knowledge communities: Embedding scaffolded inquiry. International Perspectives in the Learning Sciences: Cre8ing a learning world. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference for the Learning Sciences Utrecht. pp. 343-350. International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).
  • Slotta, J. I. M. (2010). Evolving the classrooms of the future: The interplay of pedagogy, technology and community. Classroom of the Future (pp. 215-242). Brill Sense.
  • Slotta, J. D., Tissenbaum, M., & Lui, M. (2013, April). Orchestrating of complex inquiry: Three roles for learning analytics in a smart classroom infrastructure. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 270-274).
  • Slotta, J. D., Quintana, R. M., & Moher, T. (2018). Collective inquiry in communities of learners. In International Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 308-317). Routledge.
  • Stahl, G. (2000). Collaborative information environments to support knowledge construction by communities. AI & Society, 14, 1-27.
  • Watkins, C. (2005). Classrooms as learning communities: A review of research. London Review of Education, 3(1), 47-64.
  • Zhang, J., Hong, H.-Y., Scardamalia, M., Teo, C., & Morley, E. 2011. Sustaining knowledge building as a principle-based innovation at an elementary school. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20, 262-307.

Learning Scientists Who Have Researched This Topic

  • Carl Bereiter
  • Cindy Hmelo-Silver
  • Yael Kali
  • Marlene Scardamalia
  • Jim Slotta
  • Jianwei Zhang