Cognitive apprenticeship

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This article probably should be merged with situated learning - DSchneider


Cognitive apprenticeship is the pedagogic strategy at the core of situated learning. Similarly to craft apprenticeship, "Cognitive apprenticeship supports learning in a domain by enabling students to acquire, develop, and use cognitive tools in authentic domain activity." (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989) Furthermore, "Cognitive apprenticeship methods try to enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction" (Brown et al.). Thus, it is important not only to solve problems in a learning environment that uses real-world contexts and immerses the learner in the culture of a particular practice, but also to allow learners to witness the practitioners of that culture solving problems and carrying out tasks.

Cognitive apprenticeship in instruction

According to Konrad (2005), Jean Lave (Lave 1991) argues that learning should be considered in our own (personal) sociocultural, historically grounded world. Such a view invites a rethinking of the notion of learning, treating it as an emerging property of whole persons legitimate peripheral participation in communities of practice. (Lave 1991:63)

Learning activities using the cognitive apprenticeship method should include the following key characteristics:

  • Introductory tasks should be based in familiar activities to allow students to use their implicit or tacit knowledge (knowledge that cannot be articulated or defined but which is used to simplify and solve problems intuitively) upon which they can build during the activities to follow.
  • The breakdown (decomposition)of the problem allowing for a variety of heuristic approaches that can be applied to the task.
  • Introduction of precise rules (algorithms) that are used by practitioners to solve such a problem only after learners have been 'enculturated' making the algorithm meaningful. (Brown et al, 1989)

Collins, Brown and Newman's Cognitive Apprenticeship

“Before schools appeared, apprenticeship was the most common means of learning and was used to transmit the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. Even today, many complex and important skills, such as those required for language use and social interaction, are learned informally through apprenticeship-like methods - that is, methods not involving didactic teaching, but observation, coaching, and successive approximation” (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989:453).

According to Donald Clark, retrieved 16:01, 15 October 2012 (CEST), “Cognitive Apprenticeship is defined as “learning-through-guided-experience on cognitive and metacognitive, rather than physical, skills and processes” (Collins, Brown, Newman, 1989, p. 456). It is composed of four main concepts: Methods, Sequencing, Sociology, and Content (or knowledge). Each of the four concepts have several parts within them as shown in this model:”

Collins, Brown and Newman's Cognitive Apprenticeship, Source and Copyright: Donald Clark, 2010.

Clark adds 2nd and 3rd person modeling in the "methods" section in order to accomodate typical e-learning that includes podcasts, slide shows, etc.

Kienia Green-Brooks, retrieved 11 August 2007, quoting Driscoll (2005) and Convey (1997) spell out the method part in the following way.

Cognitive Apprenticeships should allow students to actively practice what they have learned in a mock "real-life" environment (Driscoll, 2005, 174-175). This practice can be broken down to five components (Convey, 1997):

  • Modeling: involves an expert's carrying out a task so that student can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes that are required to accomplish the task. For example, a teacher might model the reading process by reading aloud in one voice, while verbalizing her thought processes (summarize what she just read, what she thinks might happen next) in another voice.
  • Coaching: consists of observing students while they carry out a task and offering hints, feedback, modeling, reminders, etc.
  • Articulation: includes any method of getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes.
  • Reflection: enables students to compare their own problem-solving processes with those of an expert or another student.
  • Exploration: involves pushing students into a mode of problem solving on their own. Forcing them to do exploration is critical, if they are to learn how to frame questions or problems that are interesting and that they can solve (Collins, Brown, Newman, 1989, 481-482).

Spector (2016:p114) associates six general instructional methods with cognitive apprenticeship:

1. Modeling — the teacher or expert models or demonstrates the desired knowledge and skill for the learner; this is typically necessary with new learners in a domain and can be repeated at various learning stages.
2. Coaching — the teacher or expert observes a learner’s performance, and provides feedback aimed at helping the learning improve and become aware of specific aspects requiring improvement.
3. Scaffolding — the designer or instructor deploys various support mechanisms for learners; these typically become less explicit and less supportive as learners gain competence and confidence.
4. Articulation — the teacher encourages a student to talk about what he or she is doing or knows with regard to a particular task; this can occur at many points in an instructional sequence.
5. Reflection — a teacher encourages a student to compare his or her response to a problem situation with that of an expert or possibly with that of another student as a way to draw attention to differences for purposes of developing understanding and insight.
6. Exploration — a teacher provides students with opportunities to explore new problems and perhaps different types of problems requiring alternative problem-solving strategies.

Tip: Explore Donald Clark's Instructional Design Framework spreadsheets

Cognitive apprenticeship and collaborative learning

With cognitive apprenticeship, the immersion into the culture of a practice can only be enhanced by social interaction with other learners and practitioners. The interactions of a learning group are key to learning. Brown et al. outline the key features of a learning group:

  • Collective problem solving
  • Displaying multiple roles
  • Confronting ineffective strategies and misconceptions
  • Providing collaborative work skills



  • Instructional Design Framework. Describes a Framework for designing learning environments using cognitive apprenticeship principles. It includes two templates (Excel workbooks) that aids in the instructional design.


  • Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 15 (3), 6-11, 38-46 PDF.
  • Collins, A., Brown, J. S., and Newman, S. E. (1989). Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing and Mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (ed.) Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Conway, Judith (1997). Educational Technology's Effect on Models of Instruction, HTML, retrieved 16:26, 11 August 2007 (MEST).
  • Driscoll, Marcy P. (2004). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd edition). Allyn & Bacon ISBN 0205375197
  • Herrington, J., Oliver, R. (1995)? Critical Characteristics of Situated Learning: Implications for the Instruction Design of Multimedia, paper presented at Australian Society for Computers in Learning In Tertiary Education Conference 1995, Melbourne, Australia, pdf
  • Konrad, John (2005), PDF, retrieved 14:43, 7 September 2006 (MEST).
  • Lave J, 'Situating Learning in Communities of Practice,' (1996) in Resnick L et al ., Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, American Psychological Association, Washington DC, 63 - 82. ISBN 1557983763
  • Spector, J. M. (2016). Foundations of educational technology : integrative approaches and interdisciplinary perspectives. Routledge.