Brief Introduction to Cognitive Apprenticeship

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Cognitive apprenticeship refers to the instructional approach that “makes thinking visible”. The learner can observe, enact, and practice implicit knowledge with help from the teacher, and thus achieve the successive approximation of mature practice.

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When to Use CA ?

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Cognitive apprenticeship approach is intended for teaching complex or real-life tasks in the cognitive domain, when learning objectives involve the development of problem-solving skills, conceptual strategies, and so on.
Cognitive apprenticeship is not a relevant model for all aspects of teaching. If the targeted goal of learning is a rote task, such as to remember the rules of conjugation in French or the elements of the periodic table, cognitive apprenticeship is not an appropriate model of instruction.

A Framework for Designing Learning Environments

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The cognitive apprenticeship model, developed by Collins, Brown and Newman (1987, 1991), consists of four dimensions: content, method, sequence, and sociology.


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Knowledge is categorized into four types according to cognitive apprenticeship model: domain knowledge, heuristic strategies, control strategies, and learning strategies.

  1. Domain knowledge includes the concepts, facts, and procedures explicitly identified with a particular subject matter. Taking writing as an example, its domain knowledge includes vocabulary, syntax, rhetorical forms and genres, etc.
  2. Heuristic strategies are generally effective techniques and approaches for accomplishing tasks that might be regarded as “tricks of the trade”, such as a writing strategy of avoiding getting bogged down in syntax or other presentational details while getting one’s idea down.
  3. Control strategies, or meta-cognitive strategies, are general approaches for directing one’s solution process. For example, how to select among the various possible strategies, how to decide when to change strategies, and so on.
  4. Learning strategies are strategies for learning any of the other kinds of content described above. For example, if students want to learn to write better, they need to find people to read their writing who can give helpful critiques and explain the reasoning underlying the critiques. They also need to learn to analyze the texts of others in terms of the ways that they are well and badly written. Behaviors like seeking for helpful critiques and analyzing other's writing are examples of learning strategies.


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Teaching methods should be designed to give students the opportunity to observe, engage in, and invent or discover expert strategies in context. Cognitive apprenticeship framework has six teaching methods in three groups, which address three types of goals:

Method Description Goal


It involves showing an expert performing a task so that students can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes that are required to accomplish the task.

To help students acquire an integrated set of skills through observation and guided practice


It consists of observing students while they carry out a task and offering hints, scaffolding, feedback, modeling, reminders, and new tasks aimed at bringing their performance closer to expert performance.


It refers to the supports the teacher provides to help the student carry out the task. It involves the teacher in carrying out parts of the overall task that the student cannot yet manage, and the general removal of supports until students are on their own (fading).


It involves any method of getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes.

To help students both to focus their observations of expert problem solving and to gain conscious access to (and control of) their own problem-solving strategies


It involves enabling students to compare their own problem-solving processes with those of an expert, another student, and ultimately, an internal cognitive model of expertise.


It involves pushing students into a mode of problem solving on their own. Exploration is the natural culmination of the fading of supports, not only in problem solving but in problem setting as well.

To encourage learner autonomy, not only in carrying out expert problem-solving processes but also in defining or formulating the problems to be solved


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Sequencing refers to the ordering of learning activities. Below are three principles that must be balanced in sequencing activities for students.

  1. Global before local skills : allowing students to build a conceptual map of the whole task before attending to details. Students can improve their ability to monitor learning progress and develop self-correction skills under the guidance of a conceptual model; when the student is able to accomplish only a portion of a task, this sequence helps him/her make sense of the portion that is being carried out.
  2. Increasing complexity : constructing a sequence of tasks such that more and more of the skills and concepts necessary for expert performance are required. This can be accomplished either through sequenced tasks, or through teacher's scaffolding.
  3. Increasing diversity : constructing a variety of situations so as to allow the practice of a new strategy or skill repeatedly in a sequence of tasks. Students will be able to distinguish the conditions under which the knowledge applies. Learning transfer is also promoted in this situation.


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Sociology refers to the social characteristics of learning environments.

  1. Situated learning : having students carry out tasks and solve problems in an environment that reflects the multiple uses to which their knowledge will be put in the future.
  2. Community of practice : creating a learning environment in which the participants actively communicate about and engage in the skills involved in expertise.
  3. Intrinsic motivation : allowing students set personal goals to seek skills and solutions, so that they are intrinsically motivated to learn.
  4. Exploiting cooperation : having students working together in a way that fosters cooperative problem solving.

A CASE STUDY may help you understand

Click Practice of CA below to check your understanding of cognitive apprenticeship:

CA Articulation home page Cognitive Apprenticeship Practice of CA Articulation Application of Articulation