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From Vygotsky (1926, 1997 p. 50) “(The educator) calls upon the services of powerful forces in the environment, directs them, and places them in the service of education.”


“Education is realized through the student’s own experience, which is wholly determined by the environment, and the role of the teacher (tutor) then reduces to directing and guiding the environment.”

Scaffolds can be any of or combination of cognitive and metacognitive tools or strategies used in instruction either by human or computer-based tutors to help learners gain an understanding that would not be possible by the learner alone. See ILE, Intelligent tutoring system, E-tutoring, Mentoring

Scaffolding in socio-constructivist learning

Scaffolding aiming to increase Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development—the difference between what a learner can do independently and what the same learner can do when tutored (Vygotsky, 1978).

Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) cited by Langer & Applebee, 1986:177) list characteristics of effective tutoring that are aimed at engaging and keeping the learner to task as:

  • recruitment
  • reduction in degrees of freedom
  • direction maintenance
  • marking critical features
  • frustration control
  • demonstration.

According to Langer & Applebee, 1986:178-179), Wood et al. (1976) define four phases to describe the internalization process of a scaffolded instruction involving children/adult language learning activities:

  1. learner and tutor have different representations of the task
  2. learner mimics the structures presented by the tutor without full comprehension
  3. learner needs less direction, tutor is available to offer solicited guidance,
  4. the structures necessary to complete a task have been internalized, self-regulation takes the place of the tutor.
Contingent teaching

Coined by Wood & Wood (1996), refers to helping when needed, and the eventual fading out of support. Also, the knowledge-building community model approach advocates opportunistic (i.e. on demand as needs emerge) planning on the teacher side.

Procedural facilitation vs. substantive facilitation

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987a, p. 254) define two types of scaffolding.

Procedural facilitation

Introduction of self-regulatory mechanisms to scaffold a task

From Bereiter and Scardamalia, Langer & Applebee (1986, p. 184) derive a checklist of options to scaffold cognitive strategies:

  • offer examples for imitation
  • set up structures to help self-monitoring
  • limit choices
  • make cognitive process visible
  • provide labels to categorize and organize tacit knowledge
  • procedures should be tailorable to the learner’s level and needs.
Substantive facilitation

Reduces the burden of the executive structure (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987a, p. 256) by providing explicit guidance on the conventions and standards in a given domain

Scaffolding in inquiry learning

According to de Jong, Sotirou and Gillet (2014), Jong and Lazonder defined the following guidance typology, which also was reused in the go-lab project.

The following list starts from non-intrusive techniques (using constraints or providing dashboards) towards tools that more actively constrain and support user activity.

  • Process constraints: limiting the number of choices they are given, can include the use of simplified models or interfaces, for example.
  • Learner dashboards: students can be provided with a (graphical) overview of their inquiry actions (e.g., number and type of variables manipulated) or characteristics of their product (e.g., quality of a concept map). They can help students may adapt their inquiry activities.
  • Prompts are cues for students to carry out a certain action. They tell students that they should perform an action, so that they will not forget to do this on their own (e.g., “compare the results of the different experiments you did”, or “did you consider measurement errors?”).
  • Assignments are more specific prompts that explain to students what actions to perform.
  • Heuristics give students general suggestions on how to perform a certain action or learning process, e.g. tell students to try out extreme values of variables to see how the model behaves under such circumstances.
  • Scaffolds are Cognitive tools that help students perform a learning process by supporting the dynamics of the activities involved.

The following screenshot shows a user interaction with an experiment set up by the scaffolding 'experiment design tool'.

Experiment design tool (for the Methyl Orange domain)

Scaffolding in ILEs

Scaffolding should adapt to learners' cognitive, metacognitive and motivational factors using student models and open learner models.


Outlining some considerations in understanding the role of scaffolding as presented in current research Azevedo & Hadwin (2005) list some issues related to building effective scaffolding:

  1. Types of instructional targets of scaffolding in a computer-based learning environment
    • learning domain knowledge (declarative, procedural),
    • learning about one’s own learning (metacognition, self-regulation),
    • learning about using the computer-based learning environment
    • learning how to adapt to a particular instructional context (help-seeking behavior).
  2. source of scaffolded support
  3. effect of types of scaffolds
  4. diagnosing scaffolding needs

Related articles

Scaffolded knowledge integration, socio-constructivism, cognitive tool, metacognition



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