Cognitive apprenticeship is not a model of teaching that gives teachers a packaged formula for instruction. Instead, it is an instructional paradigm for teaching. Cognitive apprenticeship is not a relevant model for all aspects of teaching. It does not make sense to use it to teach the rules of conjugation in French or to teach the elements of the periodic table. If the targeted goal of learning is a rote task, cognitive apprenticeship is not an appropriate model of instruction. Cognitive apprenticeship is a useful instructional paradigm when a teacher needs to teach a fairly complex task to students.
Cognitive apprenticeship does not require that the teacher permanently assume the role of the “expert”–in fact, we would imagine that the opposite should happen. Teachers need to encourage students to explore questions teachers cannot answer, to challenge solutions the “experts” have found–in short, to allow the role of “expert” and “student” to be transformed. Cognitive apprenticeship encourages the student to become the expert.
How might a teacher apply the ideas of cognitive apprenticeship to his or her classroom? We don’t believe that there is a formula for implementing the activities of modeling, scaffolding and fading, and coaching. Ultimately, it is up to the teacher to identify ways in which cognitive apprenticeship can work in his or her own domain of teaching.
Apprenticeship is the way we learn most naturally. It characterized learning before there were schools, from learning one’s language to learning how to run an empire. We have very successful models of how apprenticeship methods, in all their dimensions, can be applied to teaching the school curriculum of reading, writing, and mathematics. These models, and the framework we have developed, help point the way toward the redesign of schooling, so that students may better acquired true expertise and robust problem-solving skills, as well as an improved ability to learn throughout life.
Editor’s note: At the time of this article’s original publication, Allan Collins was principal scientist at Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., and professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University. He was also the co-director of the Center for Technology in Education. John Seely Brown was corporate vice president and director of the Palo Alto Research Center for Xerox Corporation. Ann Holum, a former teacher, was a graduate student in education and social policy at Northwestern University. A different version of this essay was published as a chapter in Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser, edited by Lauren Resnick (Erlbaum: 1989).