Apprenticeship is an ancient idea; skills have been taught by others for centuries. In the past, elders worked alongside their children to teach them how to grow food, wash their clothes, build homes and speak the language. Today, the term apprenticeship is more closely associated with learning a skilled trade; the journeyman works with the apprentice and shows him how a task is completed. The journeyman offers words of encouragement or correction and practices with the apprentice until he is able to do it without assistance or supervision. Then, he too becomes proficient and is able to pass on his skills to others. This cycle defines apprenticeship as one learns how to do specific tasks by working and learning from another. The thinking process of apprenticeship is visible to all involved, which makes it an ideal method of learning. This model is supported by Albert Bandura’s theory of modeling.
In traditional schools, the thinking processes of reading and writing are often invisible to both the instructor and the students. The idea of cognitive apprenticeship was introduced to assist everyone in understanding the thought process involved when developing skills. Cognitive apprenticeship blends the idea of apprenticeship with the traditional classroom by placing emphasis on the process of developing the skill itself. This, however, can be quite difficult. There are some distinct differences between cognitive and traditional apprenticeship that make it challenging to implement in schools.
- The environment in which students learn is not conductive to traditional apprenticeships. Whereas trades are learned on the job and as problems arise, learning in school is already an abstract concept. It is difficult to imagine the school curriculum in real-life, which makes it harder for students to explain their thinking.
- The thought process of cognitive apprenticeship is not observable. It is easy to watch a traditional apprentice complete a task and offer immediate feedback. In cognitive apprenticeship, one must prompt students to make their thinking visible.
- The skills taught in school are not directly linked to the tasks themselves. An apprentice usually learns a set of skills specific to their trade, such as cabinet-making for a carpenter or sewing for a tailor. One does not learn the skills of the other as it is irrelevant to their own trade and would not typically be used. On the contrary, cognitive apprenticeship usually involves a transfer of skills across many subjects, with the students making connections between tasks and reflecting on a variety of activities.
See also: Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction
This means that there are a few differences between the cognitive and apprenticeship models. The big ideas for each are summarized in the table below.
Comparing the Cognitive and Traditional Apprenticeship Models
|Cognitive Apprenticeship, which highlights cognitive and affective processes||Traditional Apprenticeship, which highlights psychomotor processes and tasks|
|The goal is to evaluate one’s competence in a skill by asking “what did you learn?”||The learning goal is the completion of the task, usually by asking “how did you do?”|
|Learners verbally communicate their understanding throughout the process||Physical completion of tasks is required|
|Journeyman discusses problems and potential solutions with apprentice||Journeyman observes and assists the apprentice in performance|
|Instruction involves demonstrating, but also discussion and reflection of thought process||Instruction involves demonstrating, modeling, and gradual work independence|
See also: Andragogy Theory – Malcolm Knowles
Goals of Cognitive Apprenticeship
- Incorporate the valuable teachings of traditional apprenticeship
- Assist students in developing problem-solving strategies
- Direct student learning
- Teach specific skills relevant to the area of instruction
- Encourage students to verbally explain their thought process
- Support self-reflection and growth
As it is typically challenging to implement an apprenticeship in a traditional classroom environment, cognitive apprenticeship attempts to intercede in four main areas.
- Content, which includes concrete facts and ideas as well as problem-solving skills:
- Dimension knowledge: Specific concepts, facts, and procedures
- Heuristic strategies: Generally applicable techniques to accomplish tasks (“rules of thumb”)
- Control strategies: General approaches for directing one’s solution process
- Learning strategies: Knowledge about how to learn new concepts, facts, and procedures
- Methods, which encourages extensive knowledge in one area of expertise:
- Modeling: Perform a task so students can observe
- Coaching: Observe and facilitate while students perform a task
- Scaffolding: Provide supports to help the student perform a task
- Articulation: Encourage students to verbalize their knowledge and thinking
- Reflection: Enable students to compare their performance with others
- Exploration: Invite students to propose and solve their own problems
- The sequence of learning activities, which involves scaffolding tasks and working toward a gradual increase in the difficulty of skills:
- Increasing complexity: Arrange tasks to gradually increase in difficulty
- Increasing diversity: Allow practice in a variety of situations to emphasize broad application
- Global to local skills: Focus on conceptualizing the whole task before executing the parts
- Sociology, which refers to the social skills necessary to succeed in learning, such as self-motivation, cooperation with others, and understanding cultural differences:
- Situated learning: Use realistic tasks that are in the context of practice
- Communities of practice: Communicate about different ways to accomplish meaningful tasks
- Intrinsic motivation: have students set personal goals to seek skills and solutions
- Cooperation: Have students work together to accomplish their goals
We can achieve the goals of cognitive apprenticeship using specific methods.
- Modeling: showing others how a task is completed. In cognitive apprenticeship, this includes making one’s thoughts visible. An instructor may communicate his or her own reasoning out loud to assist the students in understanding the thought process of a task. Examples:
- Observations of experts, both skills and attributes
- Externalizing mental processes in text or oral explanations
- Modeled in person, 3D animations or video footage
- Explanation: elaborating on why certain activities take place.
- Coaching: offering assistance and correction to the students as they complete a task. Examples:
- Individualized feedback
- Expert observes student demonstrate a skill
- Replay of a videotaped student performance
- Checklists for trainers and learners
- Formative assessments
- Scaffolding: presenting students with tasks of increasing difficulty. The instructor gradually releases responsibility to the student as they gain confidence and skill with each activity. Examples:
- Individualized support from experts
- Conceptual models, algorithms
- Hints, reminders, access to resources, informal chatting
- Simulations, scenarios
- Reflection: analyzing one’s performance and thought process. In cognitive apprenticeship, the student is able to compare their ideas with the instructor. Examples:
- Pst-hod reflection of performance
- Informal or formal discussions with colleagues or peers
- Portfolios, online forums, journals, online prompts, video footage of performance
- Comparison with expert performance
- Encouragement by mentors
- Articulation: discussing one’s thought process with others. Making thinking visible is a key component of the cognitive apprenticeship framework. Examples:
- Summative assessments
- Socratic questioning, assessment questions
- Students explain rationale
- Exploration: testing ideas by applying them to the next problem. Having students explore their hypotheses helps them expand their understanding of a topic. Examples:
- Self-directed learning in related content areas
- Encouragement to explore and form own learning goals
- Stimulate students to ask more questions