John Seely Brown

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John Seely Brown, who is also known as JSB, received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and physics from Brown University in 1962 and a Ph.D. in computer and communication sciences from the University of Michigan in 1972. He is currently the Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and a visiting scholar and advisor to the Provost at University of Southern California(USC).

Additional Credentials:
  • Honorary Doctorate of Information Systems, Singapore Management University
  • Retired Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation
  • Formerly, Director, Palo Alto Research Center, formerly Xerox PARC
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Cofounder, Institute for Research on Learning
  • Member, National Academy of Education
  • Fellow, American Association for Artificial Intelligence
  • Trustee, MacArthur Foundation
  • Board of Directors, Corning, Amazon, Varian Medical Systems

Cognitive Apprenticeship

Cognitive Apprenticeship is a method of teaching aimed primarily at teaching the processes that “experts” use to handle complex tasks. Cognitive here means that emphasis is on teaching of cognitive rather than physical skills, and apprenticeship means that learning will occur through interaction with a more experienced tutor. Learning is, just as in situated learning theory (from which it developed), defined as naturally tied to activity, context, and culture which form the learning context and occurs through legitimate peripheral participation (a process in which a novice joins a communities of practice on periphery and as he learns moves toward full participation). Applying apprenticeship methods to what are largely cognitive skills requires the externalization of processes that are usually carried out internally. Therefore, the thinking and reflection have to be out loud. Observing the processes by which an expert thinks and practices her skills can teach students to learn on their own more skillfully.

“In ancient times, teaching and learning were accomplished through apprenticeship: We taught our children how to speak, grow crops, craft cabinets, or tailor clothes by showing them how and by helping them do it. Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. It was the natural way to learn. In modern times, apprenticeship has largely been replaced by formal schooling, except in children’s learning of language, in some aspects of graduate education, and in on-the-job training. We propose in alternative model of instruction that is accessible within the framework of the typical American classroom. It is a model of instruction that goes back to apprenticeship but incorporates elements of schooling. We call this model ‘cognitive apprenticeship.’”
From: Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible. Allan Collins, Ann Holum, John Seely Brown. (1991)
Beyond striving to engage learners in activity in real-world, meaningful contexts, cognitive apprenticeship involves certain characteristics known as modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflection, articulation, and exploration.
  • Modeling: Showing how a process unfolds and giving reasons why it happens this way
  • Scaffolding: A “kind of cooperative problem-solving effort by teachers and students in which the intent is for the students to assume as much of the task on his own as possible”
  • Coaching: Giving the learner any type of feedback or assistance that is necessary to complete a task
  • Exploration: Pushing students to try out their hypotheses, methods, and strategies with the similar processes that experts use
  • Articulation: Any method of getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes
  • Reflection: Time for students to analyze what they have learned and how it can be improved upon.

Current Work

Brown’s personal research interests and expertise include digital culture and rich media, new forms of communication and learning, and the management of radical innovation. His work focuses now on how, in a rapidly changing world, to best motivate and educate students in relevant and meaningful ways. JSB sees social learning theory as having the most meaningful and appropriate applications in the modern world. “We participate therefore we are.” He goes on to clarify that “understanding is socially constructed, not the knowledge.”

Important Works

Papers and Articles

Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing, and Mathematics. (1989).

Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. (1989)

Learning for a World of Constant Change: Homo Sapiens, Homo Faber & Homo Ludens Revisited (2009)


The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion (2010)
A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (2011)

Related Links