Scaling the Apprenticeship Model
June 17th, 2017

Recently, I was thinking about the future of the educational textbook industry. Currently, school districts and students (usually of the college variety) purchase the 19th edition of Algebra 1, whose most recent update was changing a few images and adding 7 pages worth of “editors”. This model is not sustainable for much longer as other industries transition to “as-a-service” models. I can see textbook publishing shifting towards more of a curriculum-as-a-service model with digital assets, but this made me call into question the overall goal of a textbook and where educational content is headed in the future.

When asked what the most effective way to teach is, I’m inclined to answer “the apprenticeship model”. There are definitely caveats where you have an excellent teacher in a non-apprenticeship setting or a suboptimal mentor in an apprenticeship, but on the whole it’s hard not to learn as an apprentice. An apprentice is watching and doing on a repeated basis with tight feedback loops. Such proximate learning forms strong associations with the learner because they must apply all that they learn. This line of thinking is very comparable to project-based learning, but I claim that an obstacle with most problem-based learning paradigms is they lack exemplars for learners to see what excellence in a field looks like. On the other hand, the main problem with the apprenticeship model is that it’s the least scalable education model. As such, I think the future of educational content lies in a deeply-curated pedagogical experience rooted in documenting the workflows of a master of a field. Essentially, turning the learner into a virtual apprentice. This model would be an intermediary between a one-to-one apprenticeship and a one-to-many curriculum.

What does this model look like?

Jennifer is an architect. She’s been commissioned to build 376 Melrose Ave.

  1. Here’s Jennifer meeting with her clients to gather the requirements of the building
    1. This is Jennifer’s agenda for the meeting and why she chose those talking points
  2. This is Jennifer’s process to turning client requirements into a rough sketch
  3. Here’s the meeting where Jennifer presents her rough sketch to the clients and solicits feedback
    1. Here’s how Jennifer approaches getting feedback
  4. This is Jennifer working the feedback into the final sketches
  5. Here’s the final blueprint
    1. Here’s why it’s important to make this complex blueprint
      1. Share some failure cases that could’ve been prevented by a good blueprint
    2. Here’s how to read the blueprint
  6. This is the software she used to build the blueprint
    1. This is a high level of what that software does
    2. {flashback to her using the software and roughly narrating her actions}
    3. {professional tutorial on how to get dangerous in that software}
  7. To actually get the building built, she has to work with a “contractor”
    1. Here’s what a contractor does
    2. Here’s how she selects a contractor
    3. Once she’s selected a contractor, this is the meeting she has and the agenda for it
    4. Here’s how she negotiates with these contractors
  8. Et cetera
  9. Et cetera

Note: I’m not at all an architect, but the “curriculum” I outlined above would be some of the details I would seek out to try and learn about what an architect does and how they do it.

The format is rather straight forward – it’s a meticulously detailed documentation of an expert completing a single project in their field, similar to MasterClass. The goal would be to apply the same interrogative framework and apply it to a software engineer, a shoe-maker, a doctor, a painter, a rocket scientist, a medical researcher, a handyperson, etc. All the actions of the master would clearly captured, organized and further structured by a learning designer to create a coherent narrative. All the tools would be enumerated and explained just enough to get the job done. Just enough to make the learner “dangerous”. Just enough to make the learner excited and not much more. The tools would then be catalogued in a manner similar to EquipBoard or StackShare. All video would be transcribed, categorized and timestamped for easy topic lookup and reference. Any skill or tool dependencies would be clearly enumerated such that a learner could easily find out how to get up to speed with the master they’re currently “shadowing”. Optimally, such dependencies would be learned in a similar, practical format.

The goal of the “Scaled Apprenticeship” would not necessarily be for learners to recreate exactly what an expert has done step-by-step. Instead, it would be used to show a learner what an initiative in a certain field looks like when completely brought to fruition. In that process, the learner can see the strategies, best practices, artifacts, tools and communications that go into completing a similar project such that the learner can more effectively complete a project of their own. Hopefully this form of education would not only motivate learners to learn by building, but also show them precisely what it takes to be the best in their field, thus leveling the playing field for all.