A view of learning which emphasizes learning and human cognition as analogous to processes of developing and pursuing certain novelties (artefacts, products, practices, concepts, activities, processes) collaboratively and with distributed means where the individuals’ initiative is embedded in fertile social and institutional practices for developing shared “objects” (artefacts, products, ways of working, etc.). The focus is on the process of advancing knowledge, transforming social practices and developing expertise.

It has been maintained (Paavola et al. 2002, 2004; Hakkarainen et al. 2004) that the knowledge creation metaphor is a third main metaphor of learning becoming more and more important in modern society, besides the acquisition metaphor of learning and the participation metaphor of learning; a dichotomy suggested by Anna Sfard (1998).

Figure 1. Three metaphors of learning (adapted from Paavola and Hakkarainen 2005).

According to Paavola et al. (2004) influential representatives of the knowledge creation metaphor are Bereiter’s knowledge building approach, Engeström’s expansive learning, and Nonaka and Takeuchi’s theory of organizational knowledge creation (cf. however: Engeström & Sannino 2010). In spite of clear differences among these theories, they have many features in common. In their article Paavola et al. (2004, 562-566) presented seven common features: 1) pursuit of newness, 2) mediating elements to avoid Cartesian dualisms, 3) viewing knowledge creation as a social process, 4) emphasis on the role of individual subjects in knowledge creation, 5) going beyond propositional and conceptual knowledge, 6) recognizing conceptualizations and conceptual artefacts as important, 7) interaction around and through shared objects (cf. design principles of trilogical learning).

The knowledge creation metaphor of learning is a background for trialogical learning, and was one important theoretical background for the KP-Lab project.


Engeström, Y. & Sannino, Annalisa (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. "Educational Research Review" 5(1), 1-24.

Hakkarainen, K., Palonen, T., Paavola, S. & Lehtinen, E. (2004) Communities of networked expertise: Professional and educational perspectives. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Paavola, S. & Hakkarainen, K. (2005). The Knowledge Creation Metaphor – An Emergent Epistemological Approach to Learning. Science & Education 14(6), 535-557 (draft available online ).

Paavola, S., Lipponen, L. & Hakkarainen, K. (2002) Epistemological Foundations for CSCL: A Comparison of Three Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities . In Gerry Stahl (ed.) Computer Support for Collaborative Learning: Foundations for a CSCL Community, Proceedings of: CSCL 2002 (January 7-11, 2002, Boulder, Colorado, USA). Distributed by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Hilldale, New Jersey, USA.

Paavola, S., Lipponen, L., & Hakkarainen, K. (2004). Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities and Three Metaphors of Learning. Review of Educational Research 74(4), 557-576.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4–13.

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