Instructional scaffolding is the framework of supporting and guiding learners to build knowledge and achieve mastery over time. This technique has been proven to improve learning outcomes and retention. Why? Well, information is more likely to reach long-term memory when learners can connect it to other Concepts and previously learned information.  

With scaffolding, learners are presented simpler information first and then build upon it as they are gradually presented more complex Concepts. This helps them create associations between Concepts, by giving them something to relate new knowledge to, and helps to fill in knowledge gaps. “Complex” does not necessarily mean that the information is difficult to understand but may also refer to the fact that the information involves a lot of steps.

Sample Scenario

For example, imagine you are teaching a course on how to change a tire. You assume that your learners already have some general knowledge about tires and cars but don’t know anything about changing a tire. 

Using scaffolding, you teach learners where to find the spare tire, then describe what tools they will need, explain how to use the jack, and, lastly, outline the steps for changing the tire. This allows learners to gradually build upon their knowledge.

If you had immediately started explaining how to change a tire (no scaffolding), your learners would have likely had a lot of questions like “What is a lug wrench?”, or “How do I lock the wheels?”. When learners don’t have foundational knowledge, the rest of the information becomes much harder to master and retain. 

Scaffolding 

No Scaffolding

1. Where to find the spare tire.

Steps for changing the tire. (assumes that learners already know all of the information in steps 1-3 in the scaffolding example).

2. What tools are required.

3. How to use the jack.

4. Steps for changing the tire.