Knowledge Building


Contributors: Yeliz Günal (Bogazici University), Diler Oner (Bogazici University)

In the early 1990s, Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter coined the term “knowledge building”. Knowledge building centers around the idea that the pursuit of knowledge is a collective endeavor, with students tasked with continually contributing, refining and building on this collective knowledge as a learning community (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). Another key part of knowledge building, is fostering the understanding among students that making their own knowledge freely available gives rise to and supports the development of new knowledge within the community (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). Compared to traditional educational approaches, this “collective epistemology” is more authentic akin to knowledge-creating organizations, such as scientific research groups or innovative industrial design teams (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1991; Slotta & Najafi, 2013). Knowledge building environments are characterized by cooperative discourse that centered around a “design mode” that is committed to idea improvement (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2014). Having roots in the intermediate concept of “intentional learning” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1989), knowledge building goes beyond being a synonym of active or constructivist learning (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2002),with its epistemological premises that knowledge -which has a sort of public life on its own, in the Popperian sense-is created through a deliberate and overt activity rather than implicit mental processes (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2010).

Developing a centralized and accessible knowledge base for the community is a key issue in knowledge building. In addition, to establish a knowledge-building discourse and to ensure sustainable student engagement in idea improvement, both social and technological supports are required (Scardamalia, Bereiter, & Lamon, 1994). Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment (CSILE) was launched in 1983 as the first effort towards asynchronous networked environments supporting knowledge building in communities; evolved into second-generation knowledge building environment called the Knowledge Forum in 1995 and continues to be updated in response to research findings and new technological developments.

The term “knowledge creation” in organizational sciences literature (Nonaka, 1991; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995), and “knowledge building” in education, represent conceptually the same idea but embody different challenges, contexts, and goals such as pragmatic/practical goals of adult knowledge work as opposed to long-term goals of education (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2014). Bereiter and Scardamalia suggest that knowledge building pedagogy can be implemented even with quite young students, as they are capable of creating knowledge and producing real ideas or quasi-theories, which—while they are not new to the world, they are new to them—can be valuable as a means of community knowledge advancement (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2010). Accordingly, knowledge building environments turn higher levels of “epistemic agency” over to students who carry collective cognitive responsibility of idea improvement and constructively use authoritative information with individual learning as a by-product (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2014; Engle & Conant, 2002; Scardamalia, 2002). Fostering Communities of Learners (Brown and Campione, 1996), Knowledge Community and Inquiry (Slotta and Najafi, 2013), and Progressive Inquiry (Hakkarainen, 2002) are other pedagogical models and terms built on a similar knowledge community perspective in the fields of the Learning Sciences and CSCL.

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Syllabi and Slides

Fostering 21st Century Skills with Knowledge Building syllabus by Jan van Aalst, University of Hong Kong

Video Resources


Basic Reading:
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2014). Knowledge building and knowledge creation: Theory, pedagogy, and technology. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Additional Reading:
  • Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1989). Intentional learning as a goal of instruction. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 361-392). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (2010). Can Children Really Create Knowledge?. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / La Revue Canadienne de L’apprentissage et de la Technologie, 36(1). Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Retrieved March 6, 2020 from
  • Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (2014). Knowledge building and knowledge creation: One concept, two hills to climb. In S. C. Tan, H. J. So, J. Yeo (Eds.) Knowledge Creation in Education (pp. 35-52). Singapore: Springer. [Access Online]
  • Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology,
  • Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Eds.), Liberal Education in a Knowledge Society (pp. 76-98). Chicago: Open Court.
  • Scardamalia, M. (2003). Knowledge building environments: Extending the limits of the possible in education and knowledge work. In A. DiStefano, K. E. Rudestam, & R. Silverman (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning (pp. 269-272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Scardamalia, M. (2004). CSILE/Knowledge Forum. In Education and technology: An encyclopedia (pp. 183-192). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. [Access Online]
  • Scardamalia, M. (Ed.). (2010). Knowledge Building. [Special Issue] Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 35(1).9.Scardamalia, M, & Bereiter, C. (1991). Higher levels of agency for children in knowledge building: A challenge for the design of new knowledge media. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1(1), 37-68.
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283.
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge Building. In Encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., pp. 1370-1373). New York: Macmillan Reference, USA.
  • Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / La Revue Canadienne de L’apprentissage et de la Technologie, 36(1). Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Retrieved March 28, 2020 from
  • Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., & Lamon, M. (1994). The CSILE project: Trying to bring the classroom into World 3. In K. McGilley (Eds.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 201-228). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Scardamalia, M., Bransford, J., Kozma, R., & Quellmalz, E. (2012). New assessments and environments for knowledge building. In P. Grifin, B. Mcgaw, & E. Care (Eds.), Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 231-300). New York: Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
  • Zhang, J., Scardamalia, M., Reeve, R., & Messina, R. (2009). Designs for collective cognitive responsibility in knowledge building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 18(1), 7-44.
  • 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(2), 262-307.

Learning Scientists Who Have Researched This Topic

  • Jan van Aalst
  • Stéphane Allaire
  • Carl Bereiter
  • Ruth Beatty
  • Katerine Bielaczyc
  • Stefano Cacciamani
  • Donatella Cesareni
  • Carol K. K. Chan
  • Bodong Chen
  • Maria Chuy
  • Ulrike Cress
  • Nobuko Fujita
  • Huang-Yao Hong
  • Joachim Kimmerle
  • Thérèse Laferrière
  • Mary Lamon
  • Eddy Y.C. Lee
  • Yoshiaki Matsuzawa
  • Joan Moss
  • Isao Murayama
  • Kevin O’Neill
  • Diler Oner
  • Jun Oshima
  • Ritsuko Oshima
  • Donald N. Philip
  • Richard Reeve
  • Monica Resendes
  • Marlene Scardamalia
  • Chew Lee Teo
  • Yuqin Yang
  • Susan A. Yoon
  • Jianwei Zhang