Examples of Modeling

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Saif Altalib and Myoungjin Yang Tollett
The University of Georgia

Cognitive Modeling Scenario

The University of Mosul Art History class attempts to explain the high level task of how expert art critics recognize the difference between the works of various famous painters. The first challenge for the art professor, Dr. Khan, is to demonstrate effectively to the students the cognitive process in discriminating between a van Gogh painting from a Rembrandt painting. Clearly, simple steps cannot teach this level of cognitive task, and it is not possible to visually imitate the physical actions of the professor or the SME (subject matter expert) since the many skills to accomplish this task and its nuances are within the brain of the SME. Learning cognitive tasks requires the study of key cognitive steps, procedures, and experiences that have been stored and sequenced in the minds of expert art critics from many years of reading, learning and researching. Rather than having the students learn everything their professor knows, they are expected to learn the key cognitive steps Dr. Khan uses in making the distinctions between a selection of very famous historical works of art.

To teach his students how to tell the difference between various historical paintings, Dr. Khan uses the first step of the cognitive apprenticeship teaching method, modeling, by first listing and discussing the subtasks or criteria experts use to make discriminations between works of art. His criteria are:

  • Study the brush strokes for certain characteristic features, e.g.:
    • Broad, flat, smooth, and bold (van Gogh)
    • Direction
    • Length
    • Texture
  • Note the use of color:
    • Earth tones (Rembrandt)
    • Bright, pastel tones (van Gogh)
    • Attempt to capture the effects of sunlight (van Gogh)
    • Observe the subject matter:
    • Different historical period and costumes
    • South France (van Gogh)
    • Holland (Rembrandt, van Gogh painted in Holland in his early period also)
  • Study the composition:
    • Bold, striking
    • Detailed

Note how the model above is nothing more than an outline of subtasks. The professor explains the importance of learning, understanding and articulating each of the above criteria/subtasks before moving on to the next step of the cognitive modeling process. After the students have learned the above criteria, the professor displays various van Gogh and Rembrandt paintings, side by side, in front of the class and articulates to the class the processes that he goes through mentally in telling which painting was created by which artist and how he came to that conclusion. Dr. Khan notes the difference of brush strokes, use of color, the subject matter, the historical context of the painting, and the details and composition used in the displayed pieces. This thinking out-loud and commenting activity is intended to build confidence in the students on how to effectively use their mental processes and knowledge of painting standards and criteria in a real world context.

Vincent van Gogh - Patience Escalier with Walking Stick (1888) If the strokes are broad, flat and smooth, it is probably a painting by van Gogh (Davis, Alexander, Yelon 1974).

Rembrandt - Self-Portrait (detail, 1659), from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., is one of his finest. Here the artist presents himself with dignity but also reveals, with great candor, the evidence of harsh life experience.

In the next class, Dr. Khan visually demonstrates the actual types of brush strokes, paint consistency and colors being used by van Gogh and Rembrandt. He then splits the students into van Gogh and Rembrandt groups. The assignment is to create a simple painting using the same tools, colors and painting styles modeled by Dr. Khan and used by van Gogh and Rembrandt. This type of experiential learning, which is tactile in nature, could scaffold the students’ understanding and bring about higher-level thinking regarding how and why the look and feel of the image appears from the start, middle, to the end of the painting.

Over the next class periods, the professor displays more paintings and thinks aloud as he compares the different standards and styles of paintings. The students grow more familiar with his mental processes and realize the professor/expert does not actually go through the various criteria or subtasks in a step-by-step fashion. Because expert art critics have learned to make the judgment so well, they compress these steps and often appear to go directly to the answer.

After the teacher decides some of his students are ready to articulate and make the distinctions themselves, he gives them the opportunity to compare different paintings themselves in front of the class. Presenters are given positive reinforcement, tips and suggestions in their thinking process from their peers, if needed (scaffolding).

As the course progresses, Dr. Khan reduces his participation (fading) and displays paintings with more difficult discriminations (for example the difference between a van Gogh and a Bonnard shown below), thus making the cognitive tasks of the students even more challenging to advance the level of their mental painting discrimination skills.

Vincent van Gogh - Patience Escalier with Walking Stick (1888) If the strokes are broad, flat and smooth, it is probably a painting by van Gogh (Davis, Alexander, Yelon 1974).

Pierre Bonnard - Portrait of Pierre Monteux (1915). Bonnard's portrait of Pierre Monteux, one of the leading musical conductors of the twentieth century, emphasizes the figure's massiveness.

<embed src="http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/images/BookwormModeling6400.swf" quality="high" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="700" height="700">
Caption: This animation is a representation of the cognitive modeling strategy used by Dr. Khan to teach his students how to distinguish between various historical paintings. The cognitive modeling strategy is one aspect of the cognitive apprenticeship teaching method. In this strategy learners are given key cognitive steps (subtasks) and procedures associated with a cognitive task, orally walked through the mental processes used while performing those subtasks, given visual and tactile representations and experience with the subject matter to help facilitate learning and higher order thinking, and finally once they have shown an understanding of the concept, they are given the opportunity to independently demonstrate their knowledge. The most important part of the modeling strategy is the articulation of the MKO’s thinking processes. In this animation, we see Dr. Khan opening his filing cabinet of knowledge and sharing it with his students. By thinking aloud he is giving his students a clear understanding of the subtasks used when distinguishing between paintings. His students are able to file this information away for future use. As Dr. Khan shares more and more information with his students, he is raising their confidence and moving them closer to independence. Dr. Khan then begins to reduce his participation in the activities (fading) and gives his students the opportunity to share and articulate their thoughts. By Daniel Bohmer and Mina Banfield (2006).

Cognitive Modeling Strategies

A cognitive modeling strategy, with teachers and competent students serving as cognitive role models, is a key characteristic of cognitive apprenticeships. The models should put their thoughts and reasons into words because students cannot otherwise monitor the thinking process. If we do not have a few cognitive model strategies mentally stored, engaging in authentic and complex tasks can be extremely difficult.

When designing a modeling strategy, it is important to keep three things in mind:

  • First, the model must be complete. Every step in each task and subtask must be included.
  • Second, avoid using words or phrases that can be interpreted in different ways. Try to use action verbs that describe observable behavior. Say exactly what you mean in the simplest and most direct terms.
  • Third, be certain the task is internally consistent, that it doesn't require a person to do two incompatible things at the same time. For example, a person cannot perform two operations at opposite ends of a room at the same exact time.

What is a Task?

A task is some activity (often assigned) in which people engage. Not all tasks have an open or observable action component. There are two major classes of tasks: actions task and cognitive task. Normally an action task implies that someone is doing something to another person or object. Cognitive tasks are performed overtly, exposing mental activities. A number of verbs are used to describe such cognitive tasks. Some of these are: decide, judge, discriminate, evaluate or solve. When managers decide to hire a particular applicant for a job, to invest more money in advertising, or to stop manufacturing a certain item, they are engaging in a cognitive task. When teachers evaluate pupils, decide to seek a new job, or select a spouse, they are engaging in cognitive tasks.

Although we do not often know enough about how people actually complete cognitive tasks, it is still helpful to try to identify the component parts or subtasks and list them. In the case of a decision-making task, we sometimes list the criteria for making the decision. These criteria can then be converted into a form of task description.

It is possible to actually describe cognitive tasks if:

  • There are experts who can show and tell us how to perform the cognitive task; or
  • There is a generally agreed upon procedure for performing the cognitive task.

Sometimes cognitive tasks are a fixed sequence and can be modeled with a flow diagram. A large number of these fixed sequence tasks are in the area of mathematics, or involve the use of mathematical formulae. Although we may do a mathematical task in our heads, it is often done using a fixed sequence of steps with decision points, cues for the next step, and feedback for previous steps.

Another class of tasks is creative tasks, which present a special set of problems. Creative tasks are those which include the production of an original output as the primary goal. When creative tasks are carefully studied, they can generally be broken down into subtasks. Some of the subtasks are describable and some are not. Whenever a task involves an element of personal taste, value, or preference, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to describe or model it. Judges of beauty contests and figure skating may use some objective criteria to evaluate the contestants, but their personal tastes and preferences also play a significant role in their choices (Davis, Alexander, & Yelon, 1974).

Cognitive Modeling and Behavioral Modeling

A cognitive or behavior model (whether it be an outline, visual, flow chart, virtual, etc.) must catch the learner's attention by being distinct, unique and leaving no room for confusion. Visuals trigger feelings the quickest, go the deepest and stay with us the longest. Words cannot do that. Davis, Alexander, and Yelon (1974) described unique characteristics of the SME, the SME's behavior, the modeling media, and the learner, which have been demonstrated to significantly affect the degree of learning by modeling.

Modeling is facilitated when the model, or the subject matter expert, in relation to the observer:

  • Is of the same age, sex, and race, etc.
  • Is of apparent high competence or expertise
  • Is of high status
  • Controls resources desired by the observer
  • Is apparently friendly and helpful, and
  • When the model is rewarded for engaging in the behaviors

Greater modeling will occur when the SME behavior is distinctive. This strategy enhances recall and discrimination of modeled behaviors. Distinctiveness may occur naturally (e.g., a red shape against a black background).

Decker and Nathan (1985) suggest one can induce distinctiveness by:

  • Displaying key behaviors out of context
  • Exaggerating the behaviors
  • Repeating the behaviors, and/or including written labels or descriptions of the vital behavior in the modeling display
  • Being meaningful to the observer. Bandura, Jeffery, and Bachicha (1974) have shown that letters assigned to modeled behaviors significantly enhance the reproduction of those behaviors when the letters form a meaningful word
  • Being simple and clearly observable. The key behavior must be readily observable for imitation or generalization to occur

Modeling is facilitated when the modeling media (e.g. film, book, website) depicts the behaviors to be modeled:

  • In a vivid and detailed manner
  • In order from least to most difficult behaviors
  • With sufficient frequency and repetitiveness to make learning probable
  • With a minimum of irrelevant details
  • When several different models rather than a single model are utilized
  • When a live, interactive or videotape acted model is used
  • When a positive modeling display is shown (with or without a negative modeling display) rather than a model only depicting what not to do

Davis, Alexander, and Yelon (1974) found that greater modeling will occur when the observer:

  • Is instructed to or expected to model or perform the behavior
  • Is similar to the model in relevant attitudes or background
  • Is favorably disposed toward or attracted to the model
  • Is rewarded for engaging in the model's behaviors.

Davis, Alexander, Yelon (1974) described the following five functions of learning from behavioral models:

  1. Attend to the pertinent clues of the expert. The students may misdirect their attention at the time the model is observed, and therefore fail to perform the behavior properly later. A teacher can help by directing the student's attention to those parts of the model's performance that are most important.
  2. Code for memory. A visual image must be stored in the memory for the particular behavior that the student has witnessed. Older students learn more readily from looking at other's performances than do younger students because of the cumulative effect of the storage in the memory. The development of language and coding schemes for observations, improves the student's ability to profit from watching models.
  3. Be able to retain memory of what they have observed, so that it will be available when needed. Memories do fade or disappear with time. However, memory-aiding techniques, such as rehearsal, review, practice, or making an image very vivid for the student, help to maintain the image in the student's memory
  4. Reproduce the observed motor activities accurately. The student must not only get the idea of the behaviors to perform but she/he must also get the muscular feel of behavior. According to Bandura, usually the student cannot do this perfectly on the first trial, and thus the student needs a number of trials to approximate the behavior.
  5. Be motivated to carry through all the steps in the process of learning from models. The crucial role of the consequences of the behavior enters the picture at this point. The student must understand that in the future this would be a good way to behave under particular sets of circumstances.


Methods of modeling instruction under cognitive apprenticeship differ greatly from those used in traditional instructional settings, and yet teachers have used forms of them for ages. What differs most is the manner in which the methods are applied and for what purposes. "Rather than emphasizing message delivery and isolated practice, cognitive modeling emphasizes support for learner mental processes as they structure the problem, derive or find information, form action sequences, create new patterns for recall and use, solve problems, and self-evaluate" (Gibbons, 1997, p.4).

Modeling can be successful when the learners engage in ongoing dialogue with knowledgeable others, as they form, refine, and expand their comprehension. To explain modeling, you must discuss the other methods of cognitive apprenticeships (coaching, scaffolding and fading, articulation, reflection and exploration) since all of the steps complement each other and are enhanced by the number of principles brought into play together. Cognitive apprenticeship encourages the designer to combine all methods for full enrichment of this proven and efficient teaching style.


Bandura, A., Jeffery, R. W., & Bachicha, D. L. (1974). Analysis of memory codes and cumulative rehearsal in observational learning. Journal of Research in Personality, 7, 295-305.

Davis, R. H. and Alexander, L. T., and Yelon S. L. (1974). Learning System Design: An approach to the improvement of instruction. McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Decker, P. J. and Nathan, B. R. (1985). Behavior Modeling Training. Praeger Publishers.

Additional Sources

Barlow, D. L. Educational Psychology (1985). The Teaching-Learning Process. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.

Bellinger, G. (2004). Modeling. Available Website: http://www.systems-thinking.org/simulation/model.htm.

Berryman, S. E. (1990). Designing Effective Learning Environments: Cognitive Apprenticeship Models. Institute on Education and The Economy, Columbia University, New York.

Bloomfield, B. P. (1986). Modeling the World. Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Boeree, Dr. C. G. (1998). ALBERT BANDURA. Available Website: http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/bandura.html.

Brill, J., Kim, B., & Galloway, C. (2001). Cognitive apprenticeships as an instructional model. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Available Website: http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/CognitiveApprenticeship.htm.

Conway, J. (1997). Educational Technology's Effect on Models of Instruction. Available Website: http://copland.udel.edu/~jconway/EDST666.htm.

Dennen, V. P. (2001). Cognitive Apprenticeship in Educational Practice: Research on Scaffolding, Modeling, Mentoring, and Coaching as Instructional strategies. Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2005). The systematic design of instruction (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Epsilon Learning Systems (2003). Epsilon Learning. Available Website: http://www.epsilonlearning.com/focus.htm.

Harris, J. B. and Jones, G. A Descriptive Study of Telementoring Among Students, Subject Matter Experts, and Teachers. University of Texas at Austin.

Hmelo, C. E., Ramakrishnan, S., Day, R. S., Shirey, W. E, Huang, Qingshou (1999). Scaffolded use of a modeling tool to support scientific inquiry. International Conference on Computers in Education.

Huitt, W. (2004). Observational (social) learning: An overview. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/soccog/soclrn.html.

Lajoie, S. P., Wiseman, J., and Faremo, S. (1999). Tutoring Strategies for Effective Instruction in Internal Medicine. McGill University, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology.

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Yates, B. L. (1999) Modeling Strategies for Prosocial Television: A Review. Paper presented to the Open Paper Competition. AEJMC Southeast Colloquium. Lexington, Kentucky March 4-6.


APA Citation: Altalib, S., & Tollett, M. Y.. (2005). Examples of Modeling. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/