Cognitive Apprenticeship

Cognitive apprenticeship is a theory that involves an apprentice mastering a skill taught by an expert. Experts usually don’t consider the processes involved when utilizing complex skills and teaching them to students. Cognitive apprenticeship brings these processes to the surface so students can observe and practice these skills with assistance from a teacher. It also supports the three levels of skill acquisition. These are the cognitive stage, associative stage, and the autonomous stage. In the cognitive stage, an understanding of the skill is developed. Misunderstandings, and mistakes are realized and eliminated while connections are made between critical components and are strengthened during the associative stage. Lastly, skills are perfected and the student becomes an expert in the autonomous stage. The apprentice begins by listening and observing the expert as he models the behavior in a real world setting. The master describes what his is thinking as he proceeds through the skill. The apprentice then imitates the skill executed by the master while the master coaches the apprentice through it. The feedback from the expert decreases as the apprentice increases their skill level (Cognitive apprenticeship, 2009). Listening and observing how the expert completes the skill not only teachers the apprentice how to complete the skill but also shows them how to better learn on their own (Conway, 1997).

Teaching Strategies

Cognitive apprenticeship can occur inside and outside of the classroom. Experts can be brought into the classroom or students can find their own. Web browsers can be used to find programs that facilitate mentoring. Some programs help link an expert to a student based on the area of interest. The skill can be picked by the instructor or by the student. After their skill is learned, the students can demonstrate it in front of the class. Concept maps can be used to describe the learning process used to perfect their skills. CMaps or Webspiration are a couple of internet tools that allow individuals to create concept maps. Discussion areas are a great way for students to reflect and should be used to strengthen understanding of the learning content. Experts should us the following methods to increase learning:

1. Modeling- students observe an expert accomplishing a task so the students see the process required to complete the task (Web browsers could help a student find an expert for this method).
2. Coaching- the expert observes the students carrying out the task and provide guidance and feedback during the execution.
3. Articulation- requires the student to articulate their understanding and decision making processes (concept maps would be useful to enhance this method).
4. Reflection- allows the students to compare their own decision-making processes with those of an expert (discussion areas could be used to aid this method).
5. Exploration- students are pushed into a problem-solving mode on their own (Cognitive apprenticeship, 2009).


Cognitive apprenticeship is a direct, real world method to learning a new skill. The hands on experience combined with a precise “how to” explanation create a learning experience hard to compete with.