4. The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model

There is necessarily an emphasis on situating all aspects of this cognitive apprenticeship model in authentic environments with authentic practitioners performing authentic tasks and practices, because, according to situated cognition theory, useful, meaningful knowledge is inseparable from the context and culture in which it is embedded, “being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used.” (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).

In the cognitive apprenticeship model (Boling et al., 2014), novice practitioners engage with the department/programme/institute in order to meet their academic practice needs. As they acquire and develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities and become more proficient at online academic practice, they can take on more responsible roles as modellers, coaches, and mentors. There is strong evidence that learning methods such as peer-instruction (Crouch & Mazur, 2001) and reciprocal teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1984) are not only effective but are also of significant and substantial additional benefit to peer-learners that take on the roles of modellers, coaches, and mentors (Lundstrom & Baker, 2009).

The cognitive apprenticeship model (Boling et al., 2014) recommends engaging learners as apprentices in authentic tasks and practices alongside more proficient and experienced practitioners and/or experts, as well as peer-practitioners. More experienced practitioners use methods of instruction in the following categories: Modelling, scaffolding, coaching, articulation, and reflection (Boling et al., 2014). I also propose including the concept of legitimate peripheral participation (Everyday Life and Learning with Jean Lave, 2012; Lave, 1989).


More proficient practitioners model authentic tasks by performing them in an authentic context and environment so that learners can see what authentic practice and the processes involved look like and build a first-hand conceptual model of them (Boling et al., 2014; Brown et al., 1989). In some cases, modelling practitioners may call learners’ attention to specific aspects of the tasks they are performing and maybe explicitly describe and/or rationalise their actions to make them more understandable and accessible to learners. However, modelling is not limited to experts and learners can often learn valuable skills and concepts from observing their peers (Boling et al., 2014).


When learners come to perform tasks, they may meet challenges that they cannot resolve by themselves. This is where more experienced practitioners can offer guidance and support, through bringing previously unperceived aspects of the task to the learner’s attention or through prompts and/or questions, for example, that enable learners to learn the requisite new skill or concept and successfully complete the task (Boling et al., 2014).

Legitimate Peripheral Participation

Apprentices in some situations receive little or no instruction from their masters. Instead, they learn through working first on the final finishing tasks on almost finished projects and, as they gain more familiarity with their environment and observe more proficient practitioners at work, they gradually take on more challenging and complicated tasks until they have mastered every aspect of the practice. In essence, they start by helping at the end of a project and successively work on subsequent projects taking on more responsibilities, normally working backwards from the finish to the start, so as to get a sense of and feel for the purpose of those tasks and how they fit into the finished project (Everyday Life and Learning with Jean Lave, 2012).

In the context of online cognitive apprenticeship, more experienced practitioners can seek out novices to perform some of the finishing tasks. For example, when writing academic papers, novices can perform tasks such as proof-reading, spell-checking, and checking academic writing style/formatting, which has been shown to significantly improve proof-readers’ writing skills (Lundstrom & Baker, 2009). In such an arrangement between experienced practitioners and novices, experienced practitioners enjoy a lighter workload while novices benefit from attentively reading papers while they correct any basic errors that they find. Novices can get a sense of how and why academic papers are structured and formatted, the conventions and styles used, and how practitioners develop their writing. This is a possible approach to cognitive apprenticeship that I think may be worth investigating as an alternative to direct instruction, prescriptive rubrics, and intensive scaffolding by teaching staff where applicable.


Under some circumstances and in some instances, learners can be supported by experienced practitioners (coaches) observing learners performing tasks and providing feedback, hints, modelling, and reminders (similar to scaffolding). However, this kind of coach to learner interaction can be counter-productive if incorrectly performed (Truscott, 2004) and it requires the coach to have substantial mentoring and counselling skills as well as a high coach to learner ratio in programmes, which may put unsustainable burdens on the department/institute and restrict its scalability. It also requires establishing hierarchical roles and unbalanced, inequitable relationships between participants, which can also be counter-productive and may inhibit the significant transformation of participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and values (Freire, 1970). Alternatives to coaching, such as peer-feedback, peer-teaching, and legitimate peripheral participation should be considered wherever possible.

Articulation and Reflection

When learners are required to articulate or describe their observations and experiences of tasks and activities, either afterwards (reflection on action) or, when they have gained sufficient reflective capacity, during tasks and activities (reflection in action), it enables them to become more aware of their thought processes, their relative levels of procedural expertise in comparison to other practitioners, and how they can further develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities (Gibbs, 1988; Roberts, 2003; Schön, 1982). An added benefit is that some learners may categorise their experiences, create and test hypotheses, and construct abstract generalisations, thereby transforming their procedural knowledge (knowledge of or experience of doing) into declarative/propositional knowledge (knowledge about), which is a highly desirable skill to acquire in higher education and academic practice (Biggs, 1999).

Online Cognitive Apprenticeship Model

  1. Programme Aims and Objectives
  2. Organisational Structure and Context
  3. Programme Participants
  4. The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model
  5. Example Activities/Tasks
  6. Programme Delivery and Integration
  7. Evaluation and Assessment
  8. Participant Support: Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Psychological Change
  9. The Programme as an Agent of Change
  10. References