Knowledge building takes its cue from
communities of researchers and industry
professionals who value ideas as conceptual
artifacts that can be improved by means of
critique and discourse. Training is a critical
component of the ALTE model, where educators -
teachers, principals, and technicians - become
proficient in the use of knowledge-building
technology, methodologies and assessment
tools. They are also partnered with their
colleagues teaching the same age group or
subject matters, especially important in
personalized, "Phonemenon Learning" around
Few school activities provide more excitement
for students than being able to communicate
with their peers. When those peers are in
another location, especially another country,
the excitement grows and global competence
is enhanced. Regularly-scheduled videocon-
ferences between educators - teachers with
teachers, principals with principals, and tech
staff together, improves networking, access to
best practice and resources, and collegial
ongoing professional development.
Knowledge Building Pedagogy
The future of education is here today! The ALTE Global Learning Ecosystem is effective on several different
levels in supporting collaborative learning. Our approach is computer-supported inquiry and project-based
learning that builds knowledge, for students and educators as well.
Sign up for a no-obligation demo
to join the educators and education
leaders around the world who
connect their students for improved
academic achievement and outcomes.
Small group learning in computer-supported
collaborative learning environments utilizing
the Knowledge Forum electronic workspace
promotes critical thinking, innovation,
communication and creativity, rather than
focusing on memorization techniques and
teaching to the test. Embedded formative
assessment tools allow teachers to course
correct in real time, while identifying those
areas where students need additional help
to become college ready.
How does it all work?
How does knowledge building support the acquisition
of 21st Century skills?
Knowledge-building learning environments - in the K-12 classroom or
in alternative learning environments - train students to become better
information seekers, analysts, problem solvers and communicators
through the use of technology. Knowledge-building pedagogy supports
strategies that cover important academic skills and active learning
needed for success in the education process, in the workforce and
- CRITICAL THINKING.... With knowledge building, students are
given the tools to learn and understand information to experiment with
different outcomes by playing with ideas and formulating theories.
- COLLABORATION.... in a safe, closed learning environment
supported by knowledge building, collaborative learning takes place
when students can explore a topic with contributions of ideas from
their peers and small group members solving complex problems.
- COMMUNICATION.... The small group learning environments
of knowledge-building learning environments support discourse,
where discussions can also help clear the tense atmosphere in a
classroom, and small group learning contributes to improved classroom
management. Students preparing results of their research utilizing a
range of multi-media tools also acquire a different set of communication
skills that prepare them with audio-visual communication capabilities.
They also acquire self-esteem and confidence with improved speaking
and language capabilities when getting in from of the webcam to
present their findings to their partnered classrooms or simply introducing
themselves to their peers during videoconferencing sessions.
- GLOBAL COMPETENCE.... Partnering students with other
students across the globe is also very exciting for knowledge-building
students, allowing a glimpse into other cultures and nurturing empathy
that is so vital for international relations. Young learners require and
want interaction with other people to fully attain their potential. Older
students find it most interesting and exciting where there is talking
involved. All students can communicate with their peers as global
How does ALTE address the objectives of world-class
thinking regarding innovation-driven societies for economic
Knowledge-building activity fits within the framework of the Organization
for Economic Co-operation and Development - OECD Innovation Strategy
for Education and Training project, viewing innovation as a driver of
growth toward better lives. OECD states that innovation will not blossom
unless employees have the skills needed to adapt to changing workplaces,
workers and consumers, the skills to suggest improvements, and creative
minds, scientists, and entrepreneurs, the skills to produce new knowledge
and invent new things. In innovation-driven societies, education and
training systems must empower people to innovate and quickly respond
to new skills needs generated by innovations, Confronting these challenges
will require policies that encourage innovation and improvement in the .
education system itself, which positions knowledge building to take the
lead. Innovative know-how is also required to deal with increasingly
serious problems (Thomas Homer-Dixon). Peter Drucker states that
innovation is becoming "part and parcel of the ordinary", where knowledge-based innovation is the hardest, but has the greatest potential benefits. These objectives are important to arrest a widening economic and cultural gap between educational haves and have-nots, and we have an opportunity of bringing proven tools that spark creativity toward innovation down to the
K-12 level, beginning with students as young as 12 years of age.
How does ALTE support educators in acquiring and
mastering their technology-based teaching skills?
ALTE leverages Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
in unique ways. The model utilizes education technology tooled specifically
for hosting an electronic work-space for students to discuss, synthesize
and analyze information about specific topics in the curriculum. The
platform contains robust tools and applications that support collaborative
exploration and building of knowledge to maximize students’ explanation
and understanding of topics in conjunction with subject-based teaching of
mainstream education. It also provides a lens through which to integrate
ICT into teacher training, especially those aligned with the UNESCO
framework for ICT competencies. This framework outlines the
competencies that teachers need to integrate ICTs into their professional
practice, emphasizing the role that ICTs can play in supporting major education focus across growth phases of knowledge acquisition.
How is testing done in knowledge-building classrooms?
Testing is still controlled and mandated by each state according to standards
established by education policies, so standardized testing is not replaced but
rather enhanced through knowledge building. This is due to several factors:
students engaging in knowledge building are better informed through deep
learning. They understand the material being tested because they have
studied it with critical thinking skills and have gained mastery of the subject
matter. And, they are constantly reading and writing, so tests are not
challenging for them. Java-base applets are embedded in the platform to
give a universal view as well as a student-specific view of contributions to
the electronic workspace and a review of research and multi-media
presentations completed in class.
So parents and students don't have to wait until the course or
school year is over to get testing results?
Sorry, we can't fix the system and the process for announcing testing results
remain the same. What is different for knowledge-building students is that
assessment of learning takes place throughout the school year. Teachers
can tell which students need help by the universal overview supported by
tools embedded in the Knowledge Forum platform, and assessment is done
in real time. This allows formative assessment with course correction on
the fly if needed while being able to adhere to the academic standards and
curriculum guidelines imposed by the state and school districts.
What is in the knowledge-building curriculum?
Because knowledge building pedagogy supports a culture of inquiry and evidence to unlock critical thinking and
creativity based on an exchange of ideas and research, there is no set curriculum of pre-determined content.
Each teacher utilizing the Knowledge Forum to support the research students do around common themes and
contextualized phenomenon learning in small groups is creating a supporting learning for exploring and discovery
through the knowledge-building principles: students access authoritative sources of information through books,
newspapers, and magazines, and takes advantage of readily-available digital content, especially the Internet.
This allows exposure to a broad range of ideas and models of how things work, be it the mechanics of a machine,
the tenets of open government climate change or countless other subjects, viewed through a multidisciplinary lens.
The Internet is a good source of updated information that the hard-copy publishing industry for textbooks cannot
compete. With the gaining popularity and growing importance of the Internet of Everything (IoE), more resources
are made available for research from the networked connection of people, data, processes and things.
What subjects and grade-levels are appropriate for knowledge building?
Knowledge-building in K-12 is modeled after scientific research centers, where problem redefinition is based
on a social process and where everyone in small-group learning benefits from the ideas of others. Scientists,
researchers and businesses working on problem solving improve their theories with the advances of others
and a continual interplay of findings. What makes knowledge building a realistic approach to K-12 education is
the discovery that children as early as primary school can engage in it; knowledge building methodology is
appropriate for students from middle school through high school. Any subject that can be investigated, explored
or researched is a good subject for a knowledge-building learning environment, leading to "phenomenon
learning, or topic-centric small group discussions. Subject matters can become multi-disciplinary when
incorporating research around various aspects.
What is contextualized "phenomenon learning" ?
Contextualization, or "phenomenon learning" centers around common themes, subjects or issues that can be
studied from a multidisciplinary perspective, where collaborative learning strategies focus teaching and learning
squarely on concrete applications in a specific context that is of interest to students and relevant to their lives. Some
examples of phenomenon learning include sea level rising, climactic change, water, sustainability, 'Smart' cities,
communities and schools, and others. Phenomenon learning has formed the basis for education reform in countries
such as Finland and Singapore that have consistently topped the ranking of global academic achievement assess-
ments such as PISA. Through education technology proven to improve learning outcomes, the learning continues
and expands, as students share the experience with their friends, family and neighbors, and teachers become the
facilitators of learning through critical thinking and creativity rather than the transmitters of pre-determined content.
Learn more at our PHENOMENON LEARNING page.
What is the significance of the model?
Learning from a 20+ year success of the BCCI (Building Cultural Capacity for Innovation) Network, a multi-nation
design research project, we have designed an innovative K-12 pathway to address the needs of a knowledge
society with a replicable, scalable and cost-effective model for collaborative contextualized phenomenon learning
around topics through research and an exchange of ideas. The ALTE Learning and Teaching Ecosystem brings
together elements that are well-designed, highly-researched and easily scalable and affordable to support all
students in their learning, with the goals of improving student achievements and outcomes while impacting student
growth. The model also supports the acquisition of information and communication technology competencies
required for effective teaching, and arming students and teachers alike with skills to become global citizens in
knowledge-based and innovation-driven societies. ALTE also fits within several international frameworks for
effective teaching and learning toward improving lives, as noted on our SIGNIFICANCE page.
Tell us more about democratizing knowledge by sharing ideas.
All participants are considered legitimate contributors to shared goals. Therefore, every member of a small group
learning environment must contribute his or her own idea to the discussion. To fully understand an idea is to
understand the ideas that surround it, including those that stand in contrast to it. An environment of diverse ideas
and perspectives enables new and more refined ideas to evolve. This is how knowledge building democratizes
knowledge. The ALTE Learning and Teaching Ecosystem supports a culture of inquiry and evidence to unlock
critical thinking and creativity based on an exchange of ideas and research around common themes and
phenomenon learning. Improving learning outcomes through education technology and innovative assessment
methods to bridge gender and achievement gaps while preparing students for college readiness.
What tools can STUDENTS use in knowledge building?
Knowledge-building students are able to use information and technology at their fingertips. A knowledge-building
classroom prepares them to interpret the world around them, identify problems that impact their community,
and collaborate with others to find solutions through innovation and creativity based on deep learning. These
activities are facilitated through the use of the Knowledge Forum platform, an electronic workspace accessed
through the Internet or from a server-hosted platform. Here, students are able to apply what they have learned
in one subject area or with a multi-disciplinary approach to another, in the process acquiring invaluable knowledge
and skills. The process of presenting multi-media presentations for videoconferencing with their partnered class-
rooms not only builds skills but also supports ongoing communication with their peers in classrooms across the
street or around the world.
What tools can TEACHERS use in knowledge building?
Scaffolds help users frame their ideas and present them to the community. Individual ideas are contributed to a
communal database, where notes are stored on the Knowledge Forum platform, designed specifically to support
high-level knowledge processes; analytic tools can be called up on demand, enabling participants to see at a
glance the discourse and participation patterns, growth in semantic content and other aspects of discourse and
participation. These tools, referred to as applets, are distinguished not only by their flexibility and depth of analysis
but also by their rendering of results automatically in dramatic graphical form to quickly make clear what is
happening in a group’s work. Teachers can tell immediately if all of their students are participating; they can
identify the extent to which students are referencing, reading, and building on each others’ notes. These learning
assessment tools allow teachers to see an increase in vocabulary (both quantity and difficulty level) and amount
of writing done on the path toward subject mastery. Embedded formative assessment tools allow teachers to
course correct in real time.
How does the knowledge-building model deviate from current teaching methodologies?
The computer-supported collaborative learning model supports a sound education setting where teachers are no
long simply transmitters of information in isolated classrooms. In a knowledge-building classroom, students form
small groups to propose theories about the subject matter of their research and discourse takes place among
members of the group, with the teacher serving as moderator, facilitator and coach.
What are the college-readiness goals of the ALTE Global Learning Ecosystem?
The knowledge-building model supports active learning, designed to break the cycle of passive learning and
education that teaches to the test through root learning. Active learning and the previously-mentioned 21st Century
skills are important skills key to being successful in college. ALTE Global Learning Ecosystem helps educators bring
their students to the levels where they must be when applying for post-secondary education paths of learning,
having acquired important skills and knowledge that will allow them to enroll in college courses. It also bridges the
college readiness gap, virtually eliminating the needs for remedial reading and writing courses currently offered by
Who can benefit from the ALTE Global Learning Ecosystem?
To say society in general will greatly benefit from implementing the ALTe Global Learning Ecosystem in K-12
education is quite a claim. Consider how In everyone can benefit:
- Educators..... teachers, principals, technology staff and teachers aides belong to a Community of Practice
with immeasurable benefits: networking with their peers, access to resources such as shared curricula and
best-practice case studies, ongoing professional development, and an enhancement of ICT-related skills that
fall in line with UNESCO standards.
- Students..... the model supports the acquisition of important academic skills for education success and
preparation for entering a global workforce with the skills and capacities employers seek - being able to work in
teams and collaborate for problem solving; ways of thinking including creativity and innovation, critical thinking
and decision making; tools for working, including information literacy and being able to use technology; living in
the world, including local and global citizenship, personal and social responsibility, and global competence that
encompasses cultural awareness.
- Employers.... workers at all levels need to develop digital skills to grow the economy and be successful. Leading,
managing and selling in the digital economy requires collaboration, continual learning, virtual teaming, agility, a
focus on business outcomes, and a commitment and willingness to innovate.
- Governments..... modern societies need educated and informed citizens willing to contribute to the governing
processes and lend themselves toward a civilization-wide effort to advance knowledge frontiers.
What is inquiry-based learning promoted through knowledge building methodologies?
Inquiry-based learning refers to creating learning environments that spark children’s natural curiosity. Knowledge-
building pedagogy creates equitable, inclusive, engaging and active environments that make students’ thinking
visible and transforms classrooms into communities of learners with ideas at the center of the learning experience.
Knowledge-building students in K-12 collect information through the Knowledge Forum, an electronic workspace
that supports discourse and exchanges by making the knowledge acquired collectively, i.e. contributed by each
student, available for current and future use. Ideas the that come from students’ questions and interests provide the
base for inquiry-based teaching, which is about really listening to and valuing what students have to say and where
the teacher serves more as a facilitator of learning rather than a transmitter of pre-determined knowledge.
Inquiry-based teaching provides opportunities for deeper and more equitable learning experiences for all students,
as knowledge building success comes when all members of the small group learning environment contribute their
ideas to the discourse thereby increasing students’ engagement and participation and breaking away from passive
What is the expected performances from the use of knowledge-building dynamics?
Dr. Jianwei Zhang is a Professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University at
Albany, State University of New York. His research explores technology-enabled learning designs to engage
students in sustained, creative knowledge work across content areas and school years in order to prepare
them for 21st century careers.To measure increase in scientific thinking and knowledge gain, Dr. Zhang has
presented the following table of research questions and analysis resulting from knowledge-building inquiry:
Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs
Learning and Teaching Re-imagined * Future Education Today
Visit our page on Technology in K-12 education to learn why we are so committed to
promoting the United Nation's Information & Technology Competency Framework for
Bereiter, C. (2002). Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age (Second ed.): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (2003). Learning to work creatively with knowledge. In E. De Corte, L. Verschaffel, N. Entwistle, & J. van Merriënboer (Eds.), Unravelling basic components and dimensions of powerful learning environments. EARLI Advances in Learning and Instruction Series. Pergamon.
Bereiter, C., Scardamalia, M., Cassells, C., & Hewitt, J. (1997). Postmodernism, knowledge building, and elementary science. Elementary School Journal. (97) 4, 329-340.
Hakkarainen & De Jong, Toward practices of knowledge building. (symposium). Proceedings of the 8th European biennial meeting for research on learning and instruction, (Göteborg, Sweden), 1999.
Chiaratto, Loraine. Natural Curiosity: Building Children’s Understanding of the World through Environmental Inquiry / A Resource for Teachers. University of Toronto/The Laboratory School at The Dr. Eric Jackman
Institute of Child Study.
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Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283. 
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Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006) FCL and Knowledge Building: A Continuing Dialogue. PDF. (A nice introduction that opposed "belief mode" and "design mode".
Swan, K., Shea, P., Fredericksen, E., Pickett, A, Pelz, W. & Maher, G. (2000). “Building knowledge building communities: consistency, contact and communication in the virtual classroom.”
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Zhang, Jianwei; Marlene Scardamalia, Mary Lamon, Richard Messina and Richard Reeve (2007). Socio-cognitive dynamics of knowledge building in the work of 9- and 10-year-olds,
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Zhang, Jianwei; Huang-Yao Hong, Marlene Scardamalia, Chew Lee Teo, Elizabeth A. Morley, Sustaining Knowledge Building as a Principle-Based Innovation at an Elementary School,
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Zhang Jianwei; Marlene Scardamalia, Richard Reeve, Richard Messina, Designs for Collective Cognitive Responsibility in Knowledge-Building Communities, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2009, 18, 1, 7
Bielaczyc, K., Kapur, M. & Collins, A. (2013) Cultivating a community of learners in K-12 classrooms. In C. E. Hmelo-Silver, A. M. O’Donnell, C. Chan, & C. A. Chinn (Eds.), International Handbook of Collaborative
Learning (pp. 233 – 249). Taylor & Francis, Inc. http://www.academia.edu/3207977/Cultivating_a_Community_of_Learners_in_K-12_Classrooms
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