Cognitive scaffolding

When thinking or doing something new and challenging, one common failure mode is that the smallest possible incremental step might still be too difficult to conceive. In these instances, it’s best to adopt an environment which will erect cognitive scaffolding to support part of the cognitive load, enabling that next step. As the actor builds capacity, the scaffolding can be gradually removed, either by him or by his environment. The temporary nature of the scaffolding makes this a subset of mechanisms for augmenting cognition.

Scaffolding is usually authored. Occasionally unauthored scaffolding occurs; for instance, a series of gradually deepening tide pools might provide a great natural environment for learning to swim.

Authored scaffolding may be static or dynamic. Books often include static scaffolds like narrative (Narrative as cognitive scaffolding) or constraints (Constraints as cognitive scaffolding). A static Participatory environment (like a workbook or Make Magazine) may also include carefully-authored sequences of activities (Fine-grained task progressions as cognitive scaffolding).

Dynamic scaffolds can be more powerful because they behave and respond to learners. Great teachers maintain highly dynamic scaffolded learning environments in their classrooms—sometimes almost invisibly, nudging and steering conversation to keep support salient to fade it as learners grow.

One common type of dynamic scaffold is simply a static scaffold, continuously adjusted in response to actors. In this sense, dynamic scaffolds are a superset of static scaffolds.

One particularly important type of dynamic scaffolding is metacognitive supports. Among media forms, games are particularly effective at supporting metacognition. See Metacognitive supports as cognitive scaffolding and Metacognitive supports require dynamic, participatory environments.

Scaffolding is often discussed in the context of Cognitive load theory and Cognitive apprenticeship.

Last updated 2024-04-15.