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2-Minute Mentor: Cognitive Apprenticeship

Cognitive apprenticeship

  • What is cognitive apprenticeship?
  • If I want to use this approach, where do I start?
  • How can I model it in a course?


Click below to watch CTE’s 2-Minute Mentor video on this topic:

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Cognitive Apprenticeship video transcript (doc)


What is cognitive apprenticeship?

Similar to the traditional apprenticeship model, cognitive apprenticeship (CA) is based on learning by doing; i.e., students learn by engaging in the activity they want to learn about, supported by others knowledgeable in the field and through interaction with peers. Both of those support systems are key components of CA. In the classroom, lab, or studio, a teacher serves as a “knowledgeable other” by making visible his or her thought processes while engaging in a task. Peers also play an important role, since students benefit from group work by together finding multiple solutions to problems, discovering many ways to solve problems, and confronting ineffective strategies and misconceptions.

How to implement a cognitive apprenticeship approach

Collins, Brown, and Newman (1987) identified six teaching methods for implementing CA. The first three are the core of CA, since they help students acquire skills through observation and guided practice. The next two help students focus their observations and gain control of their own problem-solving strategies. The final method encourages learner autonomy, not only in solving problems but also in defining or formulating problems to be solved.

Modeling involves showing an expert carrying out a task so that students can observe and develop a conceptual model of the processes required to complete the task.

Coaching consists of observing students while they carry out a task and offering feedback, hints, modeling, and reminders.

Scaffolding involves a kind of cooperative problem-solving by the teacher and student, precluded by an accurate diagnosis of the student’s current skill level and identification of an intermediate step (or steps) at the right level of difficulty to help the student complete the task.

Articulation includes any way to get students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes.

Reflection involved enabling students to compare their own problem-solving processes with that of an expert, as well as with other students.

Exploration involves pushing students into a mode of problem solving on their own. Exploration is critical for students to learn how to frame questions or problems that they can solve. This may include helping students develop subgoals that lead them to completing a general goal.


Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1987). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing, and mathematics (pdf), p. 21-23.


More about cognitive apprenticeship

The following links provide more information related to cognitive apprenticeship:

     Explore Lendol Calder's work on "Thinking Like a Historian." 

     CTE Resources:

These portfolios in the CTE Gallery illustrate the use of cognitive apprenticeship:

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