To understand knowledge building it is essential to distinguish learning – "the process through which the cultural capital of a society is made available to successive generations" from knowledge building – the deliberate effort to increase the cultural capital. This, in turn, requires distinguishing knowledge building from a broad range of activities that share its constructivist underpinnings, but not its focus on the creation of new knowledge. These include collaborative learning, guided discovery, project-based learning, communities of learners, communities of practice and anchored instruction.
Dynamics of Knowledge Building
Knowledge building is work that involves improvement of ideas for understanding a question or a problem. The dynamic is social, resulting in the creation of public knowledge. In contrast to knowledge situated within the individual mind (the traditional concern of education) and knowledge situated in the practice of groups (the concern of situated cognition and communities of practice), public knowledge has an out-in-the-world character. Public knowledge can itself become an object of inquiry and the basis for further knowledge building. Thus there is the possibility of a knowledge building dynamic that drives the continual creation and advancement of new knowledge. What makes knowledge building a realistic approach to education is the discovery that children as early as grade one can engage in this process. Thus there is a clear developmental link running from childhood education on into advanced education and adult knowledge work, in which the same process is carried out at increasingly high levels.