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Cognitive Apprenticeships as Active Learning

Home Forums Designing Active Learning (Week 3) Theories of active learning (Activity 3.1) Cognitive Apprenticeships as Active Learning

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    James Kerr

    Cognitive apprenticeship aims to reproduce instructors’ cognitive problem solving abilities through observation and imitation. (Boling, et. al., 2012)  Duncan (1996) states that modelling, scaffolding, coaching, and correction are foundational to CA and to apprenticeships at large, and  “mirror the methods used by experts and apprentices for hundreds, if not thousands of years.” (Duncan, 1996) This behavior is also observed in very young children through mimicry and imitation of older siblings, peers, family members, and family pets.

    “Cognitive apprenticeship comes from a tradition of apprenticeship learning that originated at a time when crafts and skills were learned in a more teacher-guided apprenticeship model, e.g., tailoring, carpentering, and farming. Apprenticeship is still being used in a variety of skill-based contexts, including medical internship and judicial clerkships. However, as education became more formalized in a classroom setting, knowledge was presented in more and more abstract formats.

    In general, cognitive apprenticeship is based on teaching decision-making processes. Cognitive apprenticeship is especially useful for skills that are not as readily apparent as those in crafts and trades. In traditional apprenticeships, there are typically three component parts: modeling, scaffolding, and coaching. Cognitive apprenticeships have the additional components of articulation, reflection, and exploration.” (Chan, Miller, & Monroe, 2009)

    How, then, does this relate to active learning, and to my own practices?  The learning is active in that the learner is engaged intimately (cognitively speaking) with their instructor/mentor/master.  It is situated learning, in that the learning is taking place in the environment it is applied to.  While I do not necessarily utilize this method or approach directly in instructing first year students or in introductory-level coursework, I do model this approach in both assisting faculty with their instructional design and development, and with employees in our department.  While there is a place for traditional learning methods and training for much of the IT processes we support, a great deal of it is also learned “just-in-time” or “on-the-job”, and the approach is very much an apprenticeship model.


    Boling, E., Hough, M. M., Krinsky, H. H., Saleem, H. H., & Stevens, M. M. (2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. Internet & Higher Education, 15(2), 118-126.

    Chan, P., Miller, R., & Monroe, E. (2009). Cognitive Apprenticeship as an Instructional Strategy for Solving Corporate Training Challenges. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 53(6), 35-41.

    Duncan, S. (1996). Cognitive apprenticeship in classroom instruction: implications for industrial and technical teacher education. Journal Of Industrial Teacher Education, 3366-86



    Hi James
    I can relate to the master/aspect of your post. I have learnt something from your explanation. I can certainly see how that relates to my role at work particularly when related to the situated and also the just-in-time elements. I hadn’t really thought of my work in that context before. I hadn’t thought of the academics and colleagues I support as ‘apprentices’ and I’m not sure if they’d like being described as such but they are that none the less 🙂
    Thanks for an interesting insight makes me feel that my work has more educational value. It is so automatic sometimes (my helping people do something) that I lose sight of the skills and techniques I’m actually using.
    Sandra (Fiery Red)


    Hello James and Sandra, I find htis really interesting and I certainly recognise much of what I do as Cognitive Apprenticeship. With my f2f learners at uni we run many workshop/tutorial style classes where they are learning both the technical skills and the reflective and theoretical know-how of graphic design/visual communication. However, I’d say that we overlay CA very overtly with the notion of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger). I say we do this overtly (“In industry you’ll be doing such and such…”) but there is also an unspoken level of this too – this is the motivation of why learners choose specific courses to help them enter a community of practice and what drives them to achieve the “apprenticeship”. I’ve done quite a bit of research too on design students using blogs and I think one of the underlying reasons why they took to it so easily (more so than other learners???) is because blogging is now seen as a thing that designers do in the community of practice and my learners wanted to keep up. I aslo explored Assessment recently and found resources to suggest that learners develop best when they get feedback while “doing” the job of the community of practice. I’m not sure you can seperate out CA and CoP in what used to be called a “vocational” programme. So I guess we use CA, Comms of Practice and a bit of research on top to check our pedagogical best practice.

    Sancha (@GraphDesProject)




    Interesting post, James – I trained as a chartered accountant in the early 2000s, and there were strong elements of the master and apprentice in the work-based learning, I guess in common with other vocational programmes.  One interesting aspect was that the classroom learning we did was very traditional – big class for the most part, drills, practice, lectures etc!  However, it’s a more blended model with more independent learning online now.



    James – a really interesting post on Cognitive Apprenticeship.

    Like Sancha I have to also state that as I was reading your post I immediately recognised how this mirrors a high percentage of the approach I take in my practice both in F2F classroom situations and in providing remote support to our learners. I have not been overt when delivering skills workshops, etc., in linking it to communities of practice for media and cultural studies learners as they tend to be working adults and part of the community already – but it is a valid point.  I definitely think that as individuals on a daily basis we are continuously fluctuating between the master/apprentice role depending on where and what we are doing in a learning/teaching environment.

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