Cognitive apprenticeship

Cognitive apprenticeship

Almost all professional education programmes include a period of field work practice called the practicum or practice placement. For many students the practice placement can be the most memorable and significant part of their development as professional practitioners.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is one approach to curriculum design that has proven to be an effective way of connecting learning with practice in many areas of professional education (see the work of Debbie Lam and colleagues for evidence of its effectiveness in the social work curriculum). Cognitive apprenticeship is another innovative pedagogical approach designed to reconnect learning with practice. Although developed in the context of school education, cognitive apprenticeship has been readily adopted in curricula for the professional education of teachers, nurses and other professionals. Like PBL cognitive apprenticeship is about situating learning in real world contexts, but – as the use of the term apprenticeship implies – it also recognises and describes the role of the teacher in the educational process in a way that goes beyond the facilitation of independent study groups.  Collins, Brown & Newman (1987) describe six teaching methods associated with cognitive apprenticeship: modeling; coaching; scaffolding; articulation; reflection; and exploration. Taken together the teaching methods offer a very helpful model for thinking about what teachers can do to create the conditions for learning skills with a high level of cognitive complexity. They describe a process for making thinking about practice visible, and for enabling learners to move from observation, to skillful practice. The model has been used as way of making school and college based learning more relevant to practice, but it’s also being used to make practicum-based learning more rigorous (Stalmeijer et al, 2009). Maybe apprenticeship isn’t so outdated after all?

Neil Ballantyne

Neil is the Director of Learning Designs.