Cognitive Apprenticeship to Support Transformation in a Doctoral Program

Jane West, Sherah Carr, Karen Swanson


This session will share the process by which a Ph.D. program in Education is continually revised to better support students’ transformation to research scholars.  A cognitive apprenticeship (CA) model (Collins, 2006; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991) is employed within a framework of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991; 2000).  The CA model (Collins, 2006; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989) can serve as a framework for designing or revising academic programs.  Like apprenticeship in traditional trades such as  woodworking or baking, CA involves the apprentices’ learning under the close supervision of expert mentors, gradually gaining independence and building their own expertise.  Academic programs employing a CA model require intentional design of experiences to make the internal work of experts accessible and to assist apprentices in contextualizing their learning.  Instructors and mentors must provide progressive levels of autonomous practice at the skills required for success in the discipline of study.  In CA, this practice and support take the forms of modeling; coaching; scaffolding; articulating and reflecting; transferring and exploring.   CA is supportive of transformative experiences in the many intersections between those CA processes and Mezirow’s (2000) phases of transformative learning.  Our poster will show the relation between the cognitive apprenticeship model and the transformative learning theory, and how they have guided program improvements and supported students’ transformations.  The poster will incorporate students’ voices on transformation in interview clips.  


Collins, A. (2006). Cognitive apprenticeship. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.) Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 47-60). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38–46.

Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education, 32(1), 3-24.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions in adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2006). An overview of transformative learning. In P. Sutherland & J. Crowther (Eds.), Lifelong learning: Concepts and contexts (pp. 24-38). New York: Routledge.

Swanson, K. W., West, J., Carr, S., & Augustine, S. (2015). Supporting dissertation writing using a cognitive apprenticeship model. In C. X. Wang (Ed.) Handbook of Research on Scholarly Publishing and Research Methods (pp. 84-104). Hershey PA: IGI Global.


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