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What is Apprenticing?

Smartpedia: Apprenticing is a fieldwork variation where an apprentice performs the activity of a user to gather more knowledge.

Apprenticing – gaining more information through own execution

Apprenticing is a variant of field research that collects empirical data through observation and questioning in a person’s work environment. In this variant, an apprentice or a trainee goes to a user for an agreed period of time and carries out his or her activity in order to gather more knowledge about it.

The idea of apprenticing is that more knowledge is gained by carrying out the activities than in other variants of field research such as field observation or interviewing. The trainee or apprentice can thus recognise details that users, employees or stakeholders take for granted and that they would not mention or explain in other variants.

Companies use this technique, for example, in the course of requirements elicitation for the development of software and systems.


Recommendations for Apprenticing

It is recommended to choose your teacher carefully. Not every user is a good teacher. The following three aspects of Apprenticing have proven themselves in practice:

  • Preliminary discussion between “teacher” and “apprentice” including discussion of the procedure, the duration and frequency of the fieldwork, as well as the goals.
  • Either demonstration of the activity to be researched by the teacher or direct introduction of the apprentice without demonstration.
  • Coaching by the teacher during the activity, whereby the coaching is usually reduced with increasing duration.

Just like the Contextual Inquiry, Apprenticing goes back to Karen Holtzblatt and Hugh R. Beyer.¹

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Impulse to discuss:

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[1] Karen Holtzblatt und Hugh. R. Beyer: Apprenticing with the Customer.

There is an effect or phenomenon where people change their behavior or performance when they realise they are being watched. The so-called Hawthorne effect stems from studies conducted in the 1920s and 1930s at the Hawthorne Works factory in Illinois, where researchers observed that workers’ productivity increased simply because they were being observed, regardless of the specific changes made to their working conditions. The Hawthorne effect can have an impact on several areas, including psychology, management and education.

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