Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible
This article has exercised a great influence on the 21st Century Learning Initiative's thinking. It
originally appeared in the Winter, 1991 issue of
, the journal of The American
Federation of Teachers, and is reprinted here with permission.
By Allan Collins, John Seely Brown, and Ann Holum
In ancient times, teaching and learning were accomplished through apprenticeship: We taught
our children how to speak, grow crops, craft cabinets, or tailor clothes by showing them how
and by helping them do it. Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting the knowledge
required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. It was the
natural way to learn. In modern times, apprenticeship has largely been replaced by formal
schooling, except in children's learning of language, in some aspects of graduate education,
and in on-the-job training. We propose in alternative model of instruction that is accessible
within the framework of the typical American classroom. It is a model of instruction that goes
back to apprenticeship but incorporates elements of schooling. We call this model "cognitive
apprenticeship" (Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989).
While there are many differences between schooling and apprenticeship methods, we will
focus on one. In apprenticeship, learners can see the processes of work: They watch a parent
sow, plant and harvest crops and help as they are able; they assist a tradesman as he crafts a
cabinet; they piece together garments under the supervision of a more experienced tailor.
Apprenticeship involves learning a physical, tangible activity. But in schooling, the "practice" of
problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing is not at all obvious -- it is not necessarily
observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of thinking are visible. In schooling,
the processes of thinking are often invisible to both the students and the teacher. Cognitive
apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible.
In this article, we will present some of the features of traditional apprenticeship and discuss the
ways it can be adapted to the teaching and learning of cognitive skills. Then we will present
three successful examples -- cases in which teachers and researchers have used
apprenticeship methods to teach reading, writing, and mathematics.
In the final section we organize our ideas about the characteristics of successful teaching into a
general framework for the design of learning environments, where "environment" includes the
content taught, the pedagogical methods employed, the sequencing of learning activities, and