Skip to main content

Nancy Bailey’s Education Website: The Public Ed Threat Behind the Knowledge Building Curriculum

Knowledge Building is used to market curriculum programs, many of which are online, but what does it mean? It seems that Knowledge Building highlights technology and moves children to a place where they won’t need teachers or public schools, at least not the kind we are familiar with.

Knowledge Building makes some sense, making it deceptive. It recognizes that the more students understand, the easier it will be for them to add to what they know.

Some reference the Matthew Effects related to reading, emphasizing a widening knowledge gap between rich and poor children. Students with rich literacy backgrounds, language experiences, and resources will be ahead of students without such opportunities.

However, concern stems from ideas about what should be done to correct these gaps.

Knowledge Building has its roots in technology and students working independently.

Peter Skillen of the Construction Zone blog refers to Knowledge Building technological environments and states:

The origins of knowledge building in education arise out of the work of Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter at OISE/UT. Their work in knowledge transforming and intentional learning—as it relates to the development of expertise—has been the foundation of their coining the term knowledge building. This work goes back to the mid 1970s and their development of CSILE—Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments in the mid 80s.

Catch that last part? Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments.

Skillen also says:

It was recognized, as we hear so much now, that teachers may indeed be a bottleneck in the advancement of knowledge creation by students. 

Along with Knowledge Building comes the idea that public schools and teachers have somehow failed to incorporate it in their teaching.

Wit and Wisdom from Great Minds, uses Knowledge Building as a selling point, and references the group called Knowledge Matters which advertises Wit and Wisdom and other mostly online programs.

From Knowledge Matters:

“Comprehension and communication depend on a body of broadly shared knowledge, but American schools spend astonishingly little time building it—and our most disadvantaged students get the least.” 

Teachers haven’t ignored Knowledge Building whether they’ve used the term or not. As students progress grade to grade, teachers automatically build higher and higher level skills, and teachers who work with disadvantaged children are always searching for ways to support their students.

Knowledge Building when connected to technology might seem better than teachers. However, as helpful as technology might be, and there are certainly innovative uses, there’s little independent research to show it will successfully replace teachers or fix the plight of disadvantaged students.

But technology uses Knowledge Building to market programs.

Amplify for example says Unleash the Power of Knowledge Building in Language Comprehension.

Core Knowledge Uses Building Knowledge too. The nonprofit, based on the ideas of E.D. Hirsch Jr., recently partnered with the Louisiana Department of Education to develop a digital K-8 social studies program.

Future Ed, which pushes school choice also highlights building knowledge.

Despite the lack of research showing technology is best, replacing teachers with it has been the corporate modis operandi for years, the thought being that technology rules.

Here are a few words connected to Knowledge Building. They all focus on the student at the center of their own learning. Students need opportunities to grow in their education independently, but throwing them into a system without teachers and only screens will be chaos for many.

Self-Regulating Behavior 

Students, even young students, are being taught how to teach themselves. I wrote this in 2017. What’s Behind Increased Teaching of Self-Regulation in Children?

Also, here’s Supporting students’ self-regulated learning in online learning using artificial intelligence applications (Jin et al., 2023)

They begin:

Self-regulated learning (SRL) is crucial for helping students attain high academic performance and achieve their learning objectives in the online learning context.

Project-Based Learning

Few would argue that student projects can be an exciting way to learn. But PBI, connected to the Maker Movement (described HERE by the Buck Institute), has been called a paradigm shift or change in teaching methodology.

Teachers learn with students which is fine, but where’s teacher expertise fit? Students are often steered to the community to get support for their projects. In fact, Knowledge Building is much about solving community problems.

School libraries and qualified librarians have been replaced by it.


Students are called active participants in their own learning, not passive, with Constructivism. There’s little discussion about the teacher’s role in most discussions surrounding Constructivism.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Students work on real world problems. Teachers sit on the sidelines.

Edutopia describes it like this: 

Despite its complexity, inquiry-based learning can be easier on teachers, partly because it transfers some responsibilities from teachers to students, but mostly because releasing authority engages students.


Everything happening to public schools today involves transitioning public education to privatized schooling using technology. Once one thinks about it intentionally, it will be easy to spot the words surrounding this change.

Watch for Knowledge Building in the marketing of programs and note how it will affect children, teachers, and public schools.


This blog post has been shared by permission from the author.
Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.
Find the original post here:

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authore...