Cognitive Apprenticeship

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

It used to be that everyone learned on the job, through formal or informal apprenticeships, but modern knowledge work goes on inside the the master’s head, where it’s invisible to the apprentice. A cognitive apprenticeship requires some special effort:

“Applying apprenticeship methods to largely cognitive skills requires the externalization of processes that are usually carried out internally.” That means that the modern-day master and apprentice must be continuously communicating as they work side by side.

Collins prescribes two specific types of talk: in the first, the master and the neophyte take turns explaining what they’re doing as they do it. This alternation allows apprentices “to use the details of expert performance as the basis for incremental adjustments to their own performance,” Collins writes.

The second approach Collins calls “abstracted replay”: that is, after a task has been performed, the master offers a detailed commentary on what just happened (sometimes augmented by the actual replay of video taken during the task). During the recap, the more experienced member of the pair recounts what would have been his or her internal dialogue so that the less-experienced participant can hear it — and, in time, draw that dialogue inward as well.

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