Cognitive Scaffolding: Characteristics, Examples And Types

The cognitive scaffold or scaffold is a metaphor that is used to represent learning collaboratively through the interaction between an expert and a learner, in which the expert will progressively cede control of the task to the learner until he no longer needs it. More help.

In this way, as with a real scaffolding, the aid must be gradually dismantled, always bearing in mind that it must be gradually modified until the apprentice achieves autonomy in its execution. This metaphor has been applied especially in the field of education as an instructional method. 

Concepts related to cognitive scaffolding

The scaffolding was initially proposed to describe how parents and teachers supported young children as they learned to build pyramids out of wooden blocks.

This concept is based on the ideas of Vygotsky , who emphasized the role of the social aspect on learning.

Zone of proximal development

The cognitive scaffold is based especially on the concept of ” zone of proximal development “, which refers to the distance between the actual development of a person and their potential development. This zone of proximal development is determined through problem solving with the help of an adult or a more expert peer.

Based on this, scaffolding is understood as one of the ways in which that adult or expert peer supports the learner, since not every type of interaction between a child and an adult necessarily implies scaffolding.

Instruction Sensitivity Region

Another related concept is that of “region of sensitivity to instruction”, which means that the tutor should ask the student for more than he is capable of giving at the present time, without being so excessive as to demotivate him.

Main features

Temporary support

The scaffolding is intended to be removed gradually, it should not be indefinite.

Contingent with problems

This figure occurs as the apprentice faces problems. It is not simply about giving instructions and having the person deal with problems on their own.

Skill learning

Scaffolding implies that the learner manages to acquire the skill that is being taught and can use it independently.

Recognition of complexity

This technique does not only seek to simplify the task, since the recognition and coping with the complexity of the task itself may lead to autonomy in its resolution in the future.

Apprentice participation

The scaffolding must involve the active participation of the apprentice to agree on the task to be carried out and determine the criteria for the success of this task.

For learning to be meaningful and can lead to autonomy, the same person must be able to recognize when they are using the skill successfully.

Elements of the cognitive scaffold

Scaffolding has several important elements for its application.

– In the first place, the dynamic evaluation stands out, on which the personalization of the scaffolding process depends. This type of evaluation seeks to determine the current and potential level of performance, and the most appropriate instructional practices for the person.

– It is also important to provide the appropriate amount of support, which is determined from the dynamic evaluation and requires the adjustment of strategies, the sub-activities in which they are going to work and the moment in which the support is offered. It may involve phasing out or adding or enhancing existing support.

– Through intersubjectivity it is sought that learners recognize the appropriate solution to problems that are similar to the main problem before being able to carry out the task independently. The learner learns that what he is doing (or proposing) will be appropriate to perform the target task appropriately and independently.

Steps to apply scaffolding

Regarding the application, a series of steps have been proposed to apply this concept properly:


In this step, the teacher or expert must capture the learner’s attention and motivate him towards the task.

Reduction of freedom levels

The task is simplified and the number of steps to reach the solution is reduced.

Steering maintenance

The tutor maintains the motivation of the learner and directs him to take the steps, for example, proposing new steps and reinforcing achievements.

Highlight essential features

The tutor must specify which parts of the task are necessary to consider that it has been satisfactorily completed.

Control of frustration

The apprentice should feel that it is less stressful to perform the task with the tutor than without help, so the apprentice’s frustration must be controlled. It must be taken into account not to generate dependency.


The tutor must present an “idealized” version of how to solve the task, in order for the learner to imitate it.

Types of cognitive scaffolds

Scaffolds can be of various types, with specific advantages and disadvantages that should be taken into account by teachers or tutors.

Individualized scaffolding

It consists of a tutor who works individually with a student. This is one of the types of scaffolding that shows the best results in terms of learning results.

However, it is difficult to apply in real life due to resource limitations that prevent a teacher from being able to focus on a single student.

Pair scaffolding

Support is provided by peers who have similar or superior abilities. The positive thing about this type of scaffolding is that it is a second option to have individualized support, but it does not necessarily imply that the tutor is an expert or has mastery of the skill to teach.

Computerized scaffolding

The role of the tutor is fulfilled by a technological tool that is included in the planning of the subject.

The advantages of this type of scaffolding is that it can be used individually; however, it is the least dynamic and interactive option.


  1. Belland, BR (2017). Instructional Scaffolding in STEM Education . Springer.
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  5. Wood, D., Bruner, JS and Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, pp 89–100. doi: 10.1111 / j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x

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