Network-enabled apprenticeship

by Jay Cross on January 9, 2007

This morning in Cambridge, Jon Udell told an audience that

…for most of human history, in tribal life, village life, or farm life, it was common to be able to watch people do their daily work. Kids who grew up on a farm, for example, saw the whole picture — animal husbandry, equipment maintenance, finance. They understood more about work than kids who only saw dad go to the office, do nobody knew what, and return at the end of the day.

People who capture their work online, in words or multimedia, can function as remote mentors and teachers, although Jon admits that the tentative nature of web relations is essentially different from an apprentice’s devotion to a master.

Later today he talked with a bespoke tailor about attracting fresh blood into the business. The tailor offers online instruction — in other parts of the world. Still, this fails to attract talent. Why? Kids entering the job market dream of becoming rock-star fashion designers, not folks who cut cloth and sew in the back room.

Seventeen years have passed since Collins, Brown, and Newman wrote their classic article on Cognitive apprenticeship.

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.

Apprenticeship is the way we learn most naturally. It characterized learning before there were schools, from learning one’s language to learning how to run an empire. We have very successful models of how apprenticeship methods, in all their dimensions, can be applied to teaching the school curriculum of reading, writing, and mathematics. These models, and the framework we have developed, help point the way toward the redesign of schooling, so that students may better acquired true expertise and robust problem-solving skills, as well as an improved ability to learn throughout life.

The critical social factors to implementing cognitive apprenticeship are: Situated learning. Community of Practice. Intrinsic Motivation. Exploiting Cooperation.

The time is ripe for combining Udell’s understanding of the net with the natural learning described by Collins, Brown, and Newman.

It’s won’t come as a surprise that I’m up for it:

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: