Chapter 8

Application Question #1

As an instructional designer you are asked to design an apprenticeship program for electricians.

  1. What are some ways in which taking a learning sciences perspective can help you to carry out this task?
  2. Describe the elements of the learning sciences that would help you with this task.
  3. How would knowledge of how expertise develops help you to create an effective apprenticeship program?

Developing an apprentice program is an endeavor my POB, the Consortium for Worker Education, was just awarded $20 million from the American Rescue Plan to develop. (narrative). The only awardee in New York State. How to apply the Learning Sciences to this project is a necessary, and daunting task.

What follows are reflections to the various theories introduced in Chapter 8, as they might apply to developing an apprenticeship program like the one described above.


Before addressing the major aspects of the Learning Sciences, it is important to understand where the word, “journeyman” comes from. For centuries, a journeyman would “journey” to a worksite, survey what needs to get done, pull out the appropriate tools from his toolbox for the job, and start giving orders to the apprentices. Paragons of expert thinking, journeyfolk possess a range of mental resources, such as automatized thinking — adding two fractions without paper, pencil or other tools, mental models — recalling a prior project and what the most effective solutions were, and monitoring — construction work will always be shift work and the importance of clearing a crew at the end of one shift so the next crew can pick up on the next shift is classic deadline work.

What journeyfolk do not do is make a list (1,2,3,4,…) and start checking off the list in sequence. They’d never get anything done that way. Journeyfolk think in parallel, not series, running several pieces of the job simultaneously, each with different apprentices. The most important skill journeyfolk need is planning an entire project out before the apprentices walk onto the worksite.

Nontraditional Instruction

Leveraging the NYC Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to place low-income New Yorkers into union apprenticeships for construction, belies the imperative of going outside of traditional, explanatory or predictive goals when developing an apprenticeship program. Indeed, besides identifying low-income populations, our workforce programs often serve inmates returning to our communities, women (e.g., Nontraditional Employment for Women), gender transitioning people and first generation immigrants. It follows that most existing quality apprenticeship programs already have a social worker or psychiatrist on staff to address the diverse needs of applicants entering an apprenticeship program. NEW in particular enmeshes “soft skills” into much of their programming, even the math classes. “Math anxiety,” dyscalculia, even simply getting beyond, “I don’t get any of it,” are common barriers to success that must be addressed when designing an apprenticeship program.

Research on Thinking

Construction skills are obvious examples of differentiated brain morphology:

  1. Your supervisor (in front of jackhammering) screams an order to you,  Broca’s area
    (and unless you’re journeyfolk, your limbic system).
  2. Figuring out how much framing material you need for the job, visual and parietal lobe.
  3. Get the materials, sensorimotor area.
  4. Safely.  frontal lobe.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

This learning theory is another way to access the rich tapestry of “deep learning,” trades worker employ. Rote “drill and kill” memorization is only the simplest form of learning, and although most people view “shop math” is for idiots, the above learning instruction makes clear how complex construction skills actually are.

Of course, this diagram is only for the cognitive domain. Describing the construction skills above makes clear that the affective and psychomotor domains are also in play.

John Dewey’s Lab Schools

While apprenticeship programs clearly align with lab schools, perhaps more illuminating is what they’re not: traditional academic “Latin schools,” disemboweled from practical, pragmatic knowledge. We can’t simply drop a bunch of 100 page pdfs on an apprentice and expect learning to occur.

Brittle Knowledge

When our apprenticeship programs were forced to go remote, we began observing a conundrum when measuring math skills. When measured by sending fraction worksheet pdfs and having student type their answers in a form for evaluation, the results were dramatically different when the students returned for “hands on” in person instruction with journeymen. While most did well online, when an apprentice had to “think on his feet” standing next to the journeyman on a worksite–“they don’t know fractions” was/is a common retort from the journeymen. This clearly leads into the most important element of Chapter 8.

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

The apprenticeship tradition of learning places an expert side by side with a novice. Knowledge transfer is immediate, contextualized by specific tools, and, again, a tradition to be respected. Indeed, the earliest apprenticeship contracts often used the word, “mystery.” The skills the apprentice learned placed him within powerful guilds who negotiated patent monopolies with the King.

My biggest challenge/failure/why I’m in this program is that the manner in which journeyfolk share knowledge with apprentices does not transfer into a boardroom meeting. Journeyfolk will only meet in a formal corporate meeting environment, if

  1. Food is provided
  2. They can fill out their timesheet during the meeting
  3. They can avoid saying much of anything

Even today, the “mysteries” of the apprenticeship tradition hold strong.

The Iterative Approach

My biggest takeaway from this chapter was the importance of documenting and reflecting on the design process. Too often, government funded programs are “one shot deals.” Any development of an apprenticeship program must be bifurcated:

  1. “Soft skills” identification during intake.
  2. Scaffolded activities to address the needs of a diversified classroom
  3. Well-defined activities between novices and experts
  4. Offering support to instructional designers to observe how Processes #1-3 play out.

More importantly, disbursement of funds should be as follows:

prototype –> Cycle 1 –> Cycle 2 (and so on if funding remains)

We can’t simply “make some curriculum” and expect it to work. The funding must include ways/deliverables to observe how apprenticeship learning actually works:

  1. Between expert and novice
  2. in a “lab” workspace
  3. that simulates the actual working environments construction worker interact in

Distributed Learning

A major recent change in trades apprenticeship programs is the imperative of “building green.” This will radically change the nature of constructions skills, e.g. what is the best solution in terms of carbon footprint minimization, how can we upgrade a LEED silver certification to gold with this building, what kinds of green infrastructure can help address storm surges and heat islands?

That’s enough for now…