The Role of Guidance in Instructional Scaffolding

Guidance and cognitive load
Learner support in scaffolding is known as guidance. While it takes on various forms and styles, the basic form of guidance is any type of interaction from the instructor that is intended to aid and/or improve student learning. While this a broad definition, the role and amount of guidance is better defined by the instructor's approach. Instructionists and constructionists approach giving guidance within their own instructional frameworks. Scaffolding involves presenting learners with proper guidance that moves them towards their learning goals. Providing guidance is a method of moderating the cognitive load of a learner. In scaffolding, learners can only be moved toward their learning goals if cognitive load is held in check by properly administered support.

Instructionists tend to give a higher level of guidance in light of the inquiry driven style of learning. With each piece of a complex task being broken down, instructors give guidance for each of the separated parts of the learning. In this way, higher guidance is a function of reducing cognitive load when students are working in a more individual manner.

Constructivists approach guidance differently as a result of their focus on transfer. The concept of transfer focuses on a learner's ability to apply learned tasks in a context other than the modality in which it was learned. This results in constructivists giving a lower level of guidance, as learners work through a complete task, only being given guidance in transfer. The role of guidance is to ensure that cognitive load is moderated while the learner works at more complete and complex task; guidance is given during aspects of the task that will help enable transfer.

Amount of guidance
Research has demonstrated that higher level of guidance has a greater effect on scaffolded learning, but is not a guarantee of more learning. The efficacy of higher amount of guidance is dependent on the level of detail and guidance applicability. Having multiple types of guidance (i.e. worked examples, feedback) can cause them to interact and reinforce each other. Multiple conditions do not guarantee greater learning, as certain types of guidance can be extraneous to the learning goals or the modality of learning. With this, more guidance (if not appropriate to the learning) can negatively impact performance, as it gives the learner overwhelming levels of information. However, appropriately designed high levels of guidance, which properly interact with the learning, is more beneficial to learning than low levels of guidance.

Context of guidance
Constructivists pay close attention to the context of guidance because they believe instruction plays a major role in knowledge retention and transfer. Research studies demonstrate how the context of isolated explanations can have an effect on student-learning outcomes. For example, Hake's (1998) large-scale study demonstrated how post-secondary physics students recalled less than 30% of material covered in a traditional lecture-style class. Similarly, other studies illustrate how students construct different understandings from explanation in isolation versus having a first experience with the material. A first, experience with the material provides students with a "need to know", which allows learners to reflect on prior experiences with the content, which can help learners construct meaning from instruction. Worked examples are guiding tools that can act as a "need to know" for students. Worked examples provide students with straightforward goals, step-by-step instructions as well as ready-to-solve problems that can help students develop a stronger understanding from instruction.

Timing of guidance
Guiding has a key role both in constructivism and 'instructivism'. For instructivists, the timing of guidance is immediate, either at the beginning or when the learner makes a mistake, whereas in constructivism it can be delayed. It has been found that immediate feedback can lead to working memory load as it does not take in consideration the process of gradual acquisition of a skill, which also relates to the amount of guidance being given. Research on intelligent-tutoring systems suggests that immediate feedback on errors is a great strategy to promote learning. As the learner is able to integrate the feedback from short-term memory into the overall learning and problem solving task; the longer the wait on feedback, the harder it is for the learner to make this integration. Yet, in another study it was found that providing feedback right after the error can deprive the learner of the opportunity to develop evaluative skills. Wise and O'Neill bring these two, seemingly contradictory findings, and argue that it does not only prove the importance of the role of feedback, but that points out a timing feature of feedback: immediate feedback in the short term promotes more rapid problem solving, but delaying feedback can result in better retention and transfer in the long term.

Constructivism and guidance
Constructivism views knowledge as a "function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences". Constructivists advocate that learning is better facilitated in a minimally guided environment where learners construct important information for themselves. According to constructivism, minimal guidance in the form of process or task related information should be provided to learners upon request and direct instruction of learning strategies should not be used because it impedes the natural processes learners use to recall prior experiences. In this view, for learners to construct knowledge they should be provided with the goals and minimal information and support. Applications that promote constructivist learning require learners to solve authentic problems or "acquire knowledge in information-rich settings". An example of an application of constructivist learning is science instruction, where students are asked to discover the principles of science by imitating the steps and actions of researchers.

Instructivism and guidance
Instructionism are educational practices characterized for being instructor-centered. Some authors see instructionism as a highly prescriptive practice that mostly focuses on the formation of skills, that is very product-oriented and is not interactive; or that is a highly structured, systematic and explicit way of teaching that gives emphasis to the role of the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge and the students as passive receptacles. The 'transmission' of knowledge and skills from the teacher to the student in this context is often manifested in the form of drill, practice and rote memorization. An 'instructionist', then, focuses on the preparation, organization and management of the lesson making sure the plan is detailed and the communication is effective. The emphasis is on the up-front explicit delivery of instruction.

Instructionism is often contrasted with constructivism. Both of them use the term guidance as means to support learning, and how it can be used more effectively. The difference in the use of guidance is found in the philosophical assumptions regarding the nature of the learner, but they also differ in their views around the quantity, the context and the timing of guidance. An example of application of instructionism in the classroom is direct instruction.

Instructional scaffolding can be thought of as the strategies that a teacher uses to help learners bridge a cognitive gap or progress in their learning to a level they were previously unable to accomplish. These strategies evolve as the teachers evaluate the learners initial level of ability and then through continued feedback throughout the progression of the task. In the early studies, scaffolding was primarily done in oral, face- to-face learning environments. In classrooms, scaffolding may include modelling behaviours, coaching and prompting, thinking out loud, dialogue with questions and answers, planned and spontaneous discussions, as well as other interactive planning or structural assistance to help the learner bridge a cognitive gap. This can also include peer mentoring from more experienced students. These peers can be referred to as MKOs. "MKO" stands for More Knowledgeable Other. The "MKO" is a person who is has a higher understanding of an idea or concept and can bridge this cognitive gap. This includes teachers, parents, and as stated before, peers. MKOs are central part of the process of learning in the ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development. An MKO may help a student using scaffolding, with the goal being that the student can eventually lead themselves to the answer on their own, without the help of anyone else. The MKO may use a gradual reduction of assistance in order to facilitate this, as described earlier.

There are a wide variety of scaffolding strategies that teachers employ. One approach to looking at the application of scaffolding is to look at a framework for evaluating these strategies. This model was developed based on the theoretical principles of scaffolding to highlight the use of scaffolding for educational purposes. It highlights two components of an instructors use of scaffolding. The first is the instructors intentions and the second refers to the means by which the scaffolding is carried out.

Any combination of scaffolding means with scaffolding intention can be construed as a scaffolding strategy, however, whether a teaching strategy qualifies as good scaffolding generally depends upon its enactment in actual practice and more specifically upon whether the strategy is applied contingently and whether it is also part of a process of fading and transfer of responsibility.

A Cycle of Scaffolding
Examples of scaffolding:
Instructors can use a variety of scaffolds to accommodate different levels of knowledge. The context of learning (i.e. novice experience, complexity of the task) may require more than one scaffold strategy in order for the student to master new content. The following table outlines a few common scaffolding strategies:

Scaffolding mediated by technology
When we teach students who are not physically present in the classroom, instructors need to adapt to the environment and their scaffolding needs to be adjusted to fit this new learning medium. It can be challenging to find a way to adjust the verbal and visual elements of scaffolding to construct a successful interactive and collaborative learning environment for distance learning.

The recent spread of technology used in education has opened up the learning environment to include hypermedia, hypertext, collaborative learning environments, and web-based learning environments. This challenges traditional learning design conceptions of scaffolding for educators.

A recent review of the types of scaffolding used in online learning identified four main types of scaffolding:

conceptual scaffolding: helps students decide what to consider in learning and guide them to key concepts
procedural scaffolding: helps students use appropriate tools and resources effectively
strategic scaffolding: helps students find alternative strategies and methods to solve complex problems
metacognitive scaffolding: prompts students to think about what they are learning throughout the process and assists students reflecting on what they have learnt (self-assessment). This is the most common research area and is thought to not only promote higher order thinking but also students ability to plan ahead. Reingold, Rimor and Kalay have listed seven mechanisms of metacognitive scaffolding that encourage students' metacognition in learning.
These four types are structures that appropriately support students' learning in online environments. Other scaffolding approaches that were addressed by the researchers included: technical support, content support, argumentation template, questioning and modelling. These terms were rarely used, and it was argued that these areas had unclear structure to guide students, especially in online learning, and were inadequately justified.

As technology changes, so does the form of support provided to online learners. Instructors have the challenge of adapting scaffolding techniques to this new medium, but also the advantage of using new web-based tools such as wikis and blogs as platforms to support and discuss with students.

Benefits in online learning environments
As the research in this area progresses, studies are showing that when students learn about complex topics with computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) without scaffolding they demonstrated poor ability to regulate their learning, and failure to gain a conceptual understanding of the topic. As a result, researchers have recently begun to emphasize the importance of embedded conceptual, procedural, strategic, and metacognitive scaffolding in CBLEs.

scaffolding can help in group discussions. In a recent study, a significant increase in active participation and meaningful negotiations was found within the scaffolded groups as opposed to the non-scaffolded group.
metacognitive scaffolding can be used to encourage students in reflecting and help build a sense of a community among learners. Specifically, Reingold, Rimor and Kalay recommend using metacognitive scaffolding to support students working on a common task. They believe this can support learners to experience their work as part of a community of learners.

Downfalls in online learning environments
An online learning environment warrants many factors for scaffolding to be successful, this includes basic knowledge of the use of technology, social interactions and reliance on student's individual motivation and initiative for learning. Collaboration is key to instructional scaffolding and can be lost without proper guidance from an instructor creating and initiating an online social space.

The instructor's role in creating a social space for online interaction has been found to increase student's confidence in understanding the content and goals of the course. If an instructor does not create this space a student misses out on critical-thinking, evaluating material and collaborating with fellow students to foster learning. Even with instructors implementing a positive social space online, a research study found that students perceptions of incompetence to other classmates is not affected by positive online social spaces but found this to be less of a problem in face-face courses.

Due to the distance learning that encompasses an online environment, self-regulation is essential for scaffolding to be effective, a study has shown that procrastinators are at a disadvantage in online distance learning and are not able to be scaffolded in the same degree as if there was an in-person instructor.

Students who had more desire to master the content than to receive higher grades were more successful in the online courses. A study by Artino and Stephens found that graduate students were more motivated in online course than undergraduate students but suggests academic level may contribute to the amount of technological support that is needed for positive learning outcomes, finding that undergraduate students needed less support than graduate students when navigating an online course.