Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 385–418 | Cite as

Beliefs About Academic Knowledge

  • Michelle M. Buehl
  • Patricia A. Alexander


Individuals' beliefs about knowledge (i.e., epistemological beliefs) have become the focus of inquiry in the educational and psychological literatures. Based on an analysis of those literatures, we first propose that epistemological beliefs are multidimensional and multilayered. That is, individuals possess general beliefs about knowledge, as well as beliefs about more specific forms of knowledge (e.g., academic knowledge). Second, we examine the relationship between epistemological beliefs and learning in order to understand why such beliefs are important to educators. Third, we question whether beliefs about academic knowledge are truly general (i.e., unwavering across academic domains) or have a character reflective of the domain to which they are associated (i.e., domain specific). Finally, we explore some of the common problems in the research and suggest topics for future study.

knowledge epistemology 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander, P. A. (1992). Domain knowledge: Evolving themes and emerging concerns. Educational Psychologist 27: 33–51.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, P. A., and Murphy, P. K. (1998). The research base for APA's learner-centered principles. In Lambert, N. M., and McCombs, B. L. (eds.), Issues in School Reform: A Sampler of Psychological Perspectives on Learner-Centered Schools, The American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, pp. 25–60.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, P. A., Murphy, P. K., and Woods, B. S. (1996). Of squalls and fathoms: Navigating the seas of educational innovation. Educational Researcher 25: 31–36.Google Scholar
  4. Alexander, P. A., Schallert, D. L., and Hare, V. C. (1991). Coming to terms; How researchers in learning and literacy talk about knowledge. Review of Educational Research 61: 283–325.Google Scholar
  5. Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1987). The affective dimension of learning: Faculty-student relationships that enhance intellectual development. College Student Journal 21: 46–58.Google Scholar
  6. Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college students: Gender-related patterns in students' intellectual development, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  7. Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., and Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's ways of knowing: The development of the self, voice, and mind, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  8. Biglan, A. (1973a). Relationships between subject matter characteristics and the structure and output of university departments. Journal of Applied Psychology 57: 204–213.Google Scholar
  9. Biglan, A. (1973b). The characteristics of subject matter in different academic areas. Journal of Applied Psychology 57: 195–203.Google Scholar
  10. Buehl, M. M. (2000,August). Putting students' domain-specific epistemologies in perspective. In Sperl, C.T., and Alexander, P.A. (Co-chairs), ChangingKnowledge and Changing Beliefs— An Examination of Academic Development, Epistemology, and Persuasion. Symposium presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association,Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  11. Buehl, M. M., and Alexander, P. A. (2000, August). Children's beliefs about knowledge and learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  12. Buehl, M. M., Alexander, P. A., and Murphy, P. K. (2001). Beliefs About Schooled Knowledge: Domain General or Domain Specific? Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  13. Chinn, C. A., and Brewer, W. F. (1993). The role of anomalous data in knowledge acquisition: A theoretical framework and implications for science instruction. Review of Educational Research 63: 1–49.Google Scholar
  14. Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education, Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  15. diSessa, A. A. (1985). Learning about knowing. In Klein, E. L. (ed.), Children and Computers: New Directions in Child Development, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 97–124.Google Scholar
  16. diSessa, A. A. (1993). Toward an epistemology of physics. Cognition and Instruction 10: 105–225.Google Scholar
  17. Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist 41: 1040–1048.Google Scholar
  18. Dweck, C. S., and Legget, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review 95: 256–273.Google Scholar
  19. Frederiksen, N. (1984). Implications of cognitive theory for instruction in problem solving. Review of Educational Research 54: 636–407.Google Scholar
  20. Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  21. Garner, R., and Alexander, P A. (eds.). (1994). Beliefs About Text and Instruction With Text, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  22. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  23. Goldberger, N. R. (1996). Looking back, looking forward. In Goldberger, N. R., Tarule, J. M., Clinchy, B. M., and Belenky, M.F. (eds.),Knowledge, Difference, andPower: Essays Inspired by Women's Ways of Knowing, Basic Books, New York, pp. 1–24.Google Scholar
  24. Hofer, B. K. (2000). Dimensionality and disciplinary differences in personal epistemology. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25: 378–405.Google Scholar
  25. Hofer, B. K., and Pintrich, P. R. (1997). The development of epistemological theories: Beliefs about knowledge and knowing and their relation to learning. Review of Educational Research 67: 88–140.Google Scholar
  26. James, W. (1890). Principles of psychology, Holt, New York, Vols. 1 & 2.Google Scholar
  27. Jehng, J. J., Johnson, S.D., and Anderson, R. C. (1993). Schooling and students' epistemological beliefs about learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology 18: 23–35.Google Scholar
  28. Kant, I. (1958). Critique of Pure Reason (Smith, N. K. Trans.), Macmillian, London. (Original work published 1781)Google Scholar
  29. Kardash, C. A. M., and Scholes, R. J. (1996). Effects of preexisting beliefs, epistemological beliefs, and need for cognition on interpretation of controversial issues. Journal of Educational Psychology 88: 260–271.Google Scholar
  30. King, P. M., and Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing Reflective Judgement: Understanding and Promoting Intellectual Growth and Critical Thinking in Adolescents and Adults, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  31. Kitchener, K. S. (1983). Cognition, metacognition, and epistemic cognition:Athree-level model of cognitive processing. Human Development 26: 106–116.Google Scholar
  32. Kuhn, D. (1991). Skills of argument, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.Google Scholar
  33. Lonka, K., and Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (1996). Epistemologies, conceptions of learning, and study practices in medicine and psychology. Higher Education 31: 5–24.Google Scholar
  34. Paulsen, M. B., and Well, C. T. (1998). Domain differences in the epistemological beliefs of college students. Research in Higher Education 39: 365–384.Google Scholar
  35. Peirce, C. S. (1877). Popular Science Monthly 12: 1–15.Google Scholar
  36. Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  37. Petty, R. E., and Cacioppo, J. T. (1981). Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches, Brown, Dubuque, IA.Google Scholar
  38. Pickering, A. (1995). The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  39. Pintrich, P. R., Marx, R. W., and Boyle, R. A. (1993). Beyond cold conceptual change: The role of motivational beliefs and classroom contextual factors in the process of conceptual change. Review of Educational Research 63: 167–199.Google Scholar
  40. Qian, G., and Alvermann, D. (1995). Role of epistemological beliefs and learned helplessness in secondary school students' learning science concepts from text. Journal of Educational Psychology 87: 282–292.Google Scholar
  41. Resnick, L.B., Levine, J. M., and Teasley, S.D. (1991).Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  42. Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Rukavina, I., and Daneman, M. (1996). Integration and its effects in acquiring knowledge about competing scientific theories from text. Journal of Educational Psychology 88: 72–287.Google Scholar
  44. Ryan, M. P. (1984). Monitoring text comprehension: Individual differences in epistemological standards. Journal of Educational Psychology 76: 248–258.Google Scholar
  45. Ryle, G. (1949). The Concept of Mind, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  46. Schoenfeld, A. (1983). Beyond the purely cognitive: Belief systems, social cognitions, and metacognitions as driving forces in intellectual performance. Cognitive Science 7: 329–363.Google Scholar
  47. Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology 82: 498–504.Google Scholar
  48. Schommer, M. (1993). Epistemological development and academic performance among secondary students. Journal of Educational Psychology 82: 498–504.Google Scholar
  49. Schommer, M., Calvert, C., Gariglietti, G., and Bajas, A. (1997). The development of epistemological beliefs among secondary students: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology 89: 37–40.Google Scholar
  50. Schommer, M., Crouse, A., and Rhodes, N. (1992). Epistemological beliefs and math text comprehension: Believing it is simple does not make it so. Journal of Educational Psychology 84: 435–443.Google Scholar
  51. Schommer, M., and Walker, K. (1995). Are epistemological beliefs similar across domains? Journal of Educational Psychology 87: 424–432.Google Scholar
  52. Schwab, J. J. (1964). The structure of the disciplines: Meanings and significance. In Ford, G.W., and Pungo, L. (eds.), The Structure of Knowledge and the Curriculum, Rand McNally, Chicago, pp. 6–30.Google Scholar
  53. Searle, J. R. (1992). The Rediscovery of the Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  54. Spiro, R. J., and Jehng, J. C. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the linear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. In Nix, D., and Spiro, R. J. (eds.), Cognition, Education, and Multimedia, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 163–205.Google Scholar
  55. Spiro, R. J., Coulson, R. L., Feltovich, P. J., and Anderson, D. K. (1994). Cognitive flexibility theory: Advance knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In Ruddell, R. B., Ruddell, M. R., and Singer, H. (eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, International Reading Association, Newark, DE, pp. 602–615.Google Scholar
  56. Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. J., and Coulson, R. L. (1996). Two-epistemic world-views: Prefigurative schemas and learning in complex domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 10: S51–S61.Google Scholar
  57. Stewart, I. (1987). The Problem of Mathematics, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  58. Stodolsky, S. S. (1988). The Subject Matters: Classroom Activities in Math and Social Studies, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  59. Stodolsky, S., Salk, S., and Glaessner, B. (1991). Student views about learning math and social studies. American Educational Research Journal 28: 89–116.Google Scholar
  60. VanSledright, B. A., and Frankes, L. (1998). Literature's place in learning history and science. In Hynd, C. (ed.), Learning From Text Across Conceptual Domains, Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp. 117–138.Google Scholar
  61. Whitehead, A. N. (1967). The Aims of Education and Other Essays, Macmillian, New York.Google Scholar
  62. Wineburg, S. S. (1991). Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence. Journal of Educational Psychology 83: 73–87.Google Scholar
  63. Wineburg, S. S. (1996). The psychology of learning and teaching history. In Berliner, D. C., and Calfee, R. C. (eds.), The Handbook of Educational Psychology, Macmillan, New York, pp. 423–437.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle M. Buehl
    • 1
  • Patricia A. Alexander
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Human DevelopmentUniversity of MarylandCollege Park
  2. 2.College of Human DevelopmentUniversity of MarylandCollege Park

Personalised recommendations