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As the name implies, scaffolds are support structures, designed to help learners develop knowledge and skills. Scaffolds lead students “from what they already know to a deep understanding of new materials” (Lange, 2002). They’re also designed to be temporary structures. In a learning environment built with learning scaffolds, learner competence creates more and more independence.

Lange (2002) describes five aspects of  scaffolding:

  1. Modeling desired behavior
  2. Providing explanations (e.g., identifying concepts, guidelines, processes, and examples of each)
  3. Inviting learner participation in an instructional task with the instructor acting as a collaborator rather than an evaluator
  4. Gradually withdrawing instructor support and requiring more and more learner independence

Examples in the health field are described in more detail in this article.

Additional tools
An elearning Web site can provide tools to help learners develop problem-solving skills, and provide varying levels of support. For example, these tools can include:

  • Links to knowledge resources (supported by a searchable database)
  • Worksheets
  • Templates for journaling, reflection, and self-assessment
  • Student guides (taking students through a series of questions and linking to relevant parts of the Web site)
  • Access to collaborative brainstorming, bookmarking, and note taking tools (e.g., edistorm, Wallwisher, Mashtabs, Zoho Notebook, Diigo Groups)
  • Access to discussion forums and/or social networking groups (e.g., Miio, LinkedIn, Twitter, Ning groups, live chat options, etc)
When peers are part of the scaffolding process (i.e., co-learners share in providing learning scaffolds), reciprocal scaffolding occurs.

Optimally, scaffolding follows the least assistance principle.


Fischer, G. and Scharff, E. (1998). Learning Technologies in Support of Self-Directed Learning. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 98 (4)

Lange, V. L. (2002). Instructional scaffolding. Retrieved on September 10, 2010 from http://condor.admin.ccny.cuny.edu.