Unit 4: Modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration

In this unit, we will take a deeper look into the six strategies that comprise the Cognitive Apprenticeship model.


Getting To the Point: Making Thinking Visible

Point to make.jpg

Traditional apprenticeships, as mentioned in Unit 1, revolve around the transfer of observable and tangible skills; however, in some fields, the knowledge is “hidden” and unobservable. The thinking processes of the master remains obscured from the apprentice. Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) suggested that the thinking be made visible so that the learner can begin to use similar patterns in his or her own thinking. To do this, they propose the following process of cognitive apprenticeship:

1.identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students

2.situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work; and

3.vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learn.

Part of making the invisible, visible, hinges on the ability of the instructor to foster reflective practices in the learners by modeling the cognitive activity for the learners. The instructor models the thinking while working through a problem or working on a task. Students are then lead through a complex, dynamic, and iterative process to identify strategies used to solve the problem or successfully complete the task at hand.

Teaching methods should be designed to give students the opportunity to observe, engage in, and invent or discover expert strategies in context. Such an approach will enable students to see how these strategies combine with their factual and conceptual knowledge and how they use a variety of resources in the social and physical environment. The six strategies discussed in this unit fall roughly into three groups: the first three (modeling, coaching, and scaffolding) are the core of cognitive apprenticeship, designed to help students acquire an integrated set of skills through processes of observation and guided practice. The next two (articulation and reflection) are methods designed to help students both to focus their observations of expert problem solving and to gain conscious access to (and control of) their own problem-solving strategies. The final method (exploration) is aimed at encouraging learner autonomy, not only in carrying out expert problem-solving processes but also in defining or formulating the problems to be solved (Collins, et al., 1991).

In highly cognitive professions, such as health care, students can benefit from insight into the cognitive processes underlying expert performance; it can make it easier for them to reproduce certain procedures on their own. The six strategies discussed in this unit promote situated learning by helping students to acquire both cognitive and meta-cognitive skills and focus their observation of expert performance in practice so as to facilitate the development of their own problem-solving skills.


Modeling involves an expert performing a task so that students can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes that are required to accomplish it. In cognitive domains, this requires the externalization of usually internal processes and activities-specifically, the heuristics and control processes by which experts apply their basic conceptual and procedural knowledge.

Example of Modeling: Demonstrate different skills and explain the tasks, identifying aspects that are important for task performance. Create opportunities for students to observe you. Provide ideas about how students may or may not want to function when working as a health care professional in the future.


Coaching consists of observing students while they carry out a task and offering hints, scaffolding, feedback, modeling, reminders, and new tasks aimed at bringing their performance closer to expert performance. Coaching may serve to direct students’ attention to a previously unnoticed aspect of the task or simply to remind the student of some aspect of the task that is known but has been temporarily overlooked. The content of the coaching interaction is immediately related to specific events or problems that arise as the student attempts to accomplish the target task.

Example of Coaching: Observe students on several occasions during clinical sessions. After observing, provide feedback on which aspects of practice could be improved and how.


Scaffolding refers to the supports the teacher provides to help the student carry out the task. These supports can take either the forms of suggestions or help. When scaffolding is provided by a teacher, it involves the teacher in executing parts of the task that the student cannot yet manage. A requisite to such scaffolding is accurate diagnosis of the student’s current skill level or difficulty and the availability of an intermediate step at the appropriate level of difficulty in carrying out the target activity. Fading involves the gradual removal of supports until students are on their own.

Example of Scaffolding: Be aware of students' previous experiences and offer sufficient opportunity for independent activities. Provide assistance when activities seem particularly difficult for the student(s). Gradually reduce support for certain activities so that the student(s) can become more independent.


Articulation involves any method of getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes. There are various ways to do this. Inquiry teaching is a strategy of questioning students to lead them to articulate and refine their understanding of concepts and procedures in different domains. Teachers might also encourage students to articulate their thoughts as they carry out their problem solving or have students assume the critic or monitor role in cooperative activities, as this would lead students to formulate and articulate their ideas to other students.

Example of Articulation: Request that students explain their actions; this helps students to become aware of gaps in their knowledge and skills. Question students regularly; it serves to increase their understanding and encourages them to ask questions.


Reflection involves enabling students to compare their own problem-solving processes with those of an expert, another student, and ultimately, an internal cognitive model of expertise. Reflection is enhanced by the use of various techniques for reproducing or "replaying" the performances of both expert and novice for comparison. The level of detail for a replay may vary depending on the student’s stage of learning.

Example of Reflection: Encourage students to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and to consider what they could do to improve things.


Exploration involves pushing students into a mode of problem-solving on their own. Forcing them to do exploration is critical if they are to learn how to 1. frame questions or problems that are interesting and that they can solve and 2. approach tasks in such a way that will yield successful results. Exploration is the natural culmination of the fading of supports. As a method of teaching, it involves setting general goals for students and then encouraging them to focus on particular subgoals of interest to them, or even to revise the general goals as they come upon something more interesting to pursue.

Example of Exploration: Encourage students to formulate learning objectives and pursue them. Challenge students to keep learning new things. (The examples provided in each of the previous six sections are modified versions of the vignettes that can be found in the first reading for this module).


The following short video highlights the six strategies of Cognitive Apprenticeship:



The following article discusses students' opinions on the effects of Cognitive Apprenticeship:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2744784/

To read about how the six Cognitive Apprenticeship strategies can be applied to elearning:

2. https://elearningindustry.com/situated-cognition-theory-and-cognitive-apprenticeship-model

Discussion: Walk Through

How to take business risks in stride 400x265.jpg

Each of you have the responsibility of instructing students on how to perform tasks related to a particular discipline in health care. For this discussion, you are to walk us through how you would guide your students in performing a specific patient-care related task using the six strategies (modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration). Please choose a task that is rather basic and that you have experience instructing (for example, nurses and dental hygienists might discuss how they teach students to take a patient's blood pressure), as I would like you to reflect on your usual instruction of this task versus how you would modify your instruction using cognitive apprenticeship.

Discussion Area:


Activity: Putting It All Together

Put Together.jpg

By now you should be able to see that guidance is implemented through modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, and exploration. Cognitive Apprenticeship challenges educators to come down off of the soapbox and offer guidance rather than instruction.

The discussion in Unit 1 stated: "After reading about how apprenticeship is applied in a cognitive context, think about a scenario you have encountered as an instructor in which cognitive apprenticeship could have been beneficial. Why would it have been beneficial?" For this activity, I would like you to use the same scenario that you used for the Unit 1 discussion and expand on it. How specifically would the scenario play out now if you were to utilize the six strategies of Cognitive Apprenticeship learned in Unit 4? You may use another scenario if you would like, however, I would like to see how your thought process has been informed throughout this course.

Please email your assignment to me directly. This assignment should be two to three pages, double spaced.

Activity: Reflective Journal


For this final journal entry, please discuss:

1. Your thoughts on how visible thinking affects learning.

2. After learning about Cognitive Apprenticeship, what changes (if any) might you make to your instruction technique?

3. What has been your greatest takeaway from the content learned in this class?

Please email your journal entry to me upon completion of Unit 4.



You have completed this course!

Go back to Unit 3: Guiding student performance

Go back to Unit 2: Creating tasks and projects that support competency in health professional education

Go back to Unit 1: What is cognitive apprenticeship?

Go back to the home page: Cognitive Apprenticeship in Health Professional Education

Portfolio Page : Rosalie Forrester