In last night’s lrnchat (a Twitter-based discussion), someone asked how apprenticeships fit into the context of social learning and informal learning. I think of the best apprenticeships as combining planning and structure, on the one hand, with open-ended opportunity for trial-and-error.
The reality of traditional apprenticeships was that they were often time-focused rather than outcome-focused. Indenture contracts could bind a person to a seven-year apprenticeship. The guild controlling a particular craft had a vested interest in limiting the supply of officially qualified craftsmen.
Collins, Brown, and Holum, in their 1991 article on cognitive apprenticeships, saw four key aspects of traditional apprenticeships:
- Modeling: Here’s how to do it.
- Scaffolding: Try this one first.
- Fading: Now that one.
- Coaching: Here’s how you did;
here’s how you do it.
The Collins article also sees four types of content in a cognitive apprenticeship: domain knowledge (e.g., how the world of civil engineering is organized), heuristics (tacit skills of effective civil engineers), control strategies (how to choose and when to switch your approach), and learning strategies (how to deliberately get better at what you do).
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.
There’s a vital role for planning and organizing, though. I see the potential neglect of that role as one of the greatest drawbacks to so-called informal learning. If you haven’t thought carefully about a set of skills and the contexts in which someone applies them, you’re likely to emulate less-effective models–and then to solidify them.
The announcement in the image below seems to be more serious about qualifications than some of the shopping-mall ear-piercing services I’ve seen.