Cognitive Apprenticeship


  • Introduced by Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989)
  • Applies the theory of situated cognition (Brown, Collins, and Duguid, 1989)

Basic Tenets:

  • “Apprenticeship embeds the learning of skills and knowledge in their social and functional context” (p. 454)
  • “Teach the processes that experts use to handle complex tasks” (p. 457)
  • Conceptual and factual knowledge are used in “solving problems and carrying out tasks” (p. 457)
  • Emphasis on cognitive and metacognitive skills (in contrast to traditional apprenticeship skills, which are often physical)

Instructional Elements:

  • Modeling – Instructor demonstrates the desired skill or behavior
  • Coaching – Learners practice the skill/behavior under the supervision and guidance of the instructor
  • Fading – Instructor provides decreasing supervision/guidance until learners become autonomous in performing skill/behavior

Why it should be used:

  • Apprenticeship, in general, has long been a proven technique for passing on skills and knowledge
  • The effectiveness of cognitive apprenticeship has been demonstrated many times:
    • Palincsar and Brown’s Reciprocal Teaching of Reading
    • Scardamalia and Bereiter’s Procedural Facilitation of Writing
    • Schoenfeld’s Method for Teaching Mathematical Problem Solving
    • Charney et al. (2007) applied principles of cognitive apprenticeship, including scaffolding, coaching, and reflection, in immersing advanced high school science students in a genetics laboratory environment.
    • Bouck, Okolo, Englert, and Heutsche (2008) explored the use of web-based instruction, scaffolding, and the presentation of multiple perspectives on historical figures and events, in teaching history to middle school special education students.

Application example: Cognitive apprenticeship in network integration troubleshooting

  • Troubleshooting typically involves the ability to think through the problem and isolate the source of failure (clearly, a cognitive skill)
  • Stage 1 of instruction – Didactic instruction builds foundation in basic concepts (hardware, software, etc.) needed for performance
  • Stage 2 of instruction – Instructor models the procedures for integrating two systems
  • Stage 3 of instruction – Learners perform specific tasks at simulators under instructor’s supervision
  • Stage 4 of instruction – As learners perform increasingly difficult tasks, instructor provides decreasing support


  • Bouck, E., Okolo, C., Englert, C., & Heutsche, A. (2008). Cognitive apprenticeship into the discipline: helping students with disabilities think and act like historians. Learning Disabilities – A Contemporary Journal, 6(2), 21-40. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
  • Brown, J., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42. Retrieved from JSTOR database.
  • Charney, J., Hmelo-Silver, C., Sofer, W., Neigeborn, L., Coletta, S., & Nemeroff, M. (2007). Cognitive apprenticeship in science through immersion in laboratory practices. International Journal of Science Education, 29(2), 195-213. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
  • Collins, A., Brown, J., & Newman, S. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.