Scaffolding - two martial arts people practicing in a park

There is a concept in learning theory called scaffolding. It is the idea that when learning new concepts, you start simple and progressively get more complicated over time. It is designed to increase motivation, engagement and enjoyment. Scaffolding happens within individual lessons or topics or even in entire disciplines or careers.

One historically famous model is the Apprentice-\>Journeyman-\>Master journey. This is a model that has come and gone over time and is back in vogue. Another model often used in learning Agile and other new models is Shuhari. It is derived from martial arts and was the tried and trusted method to instruct students.  Shu is about an instructor protecting the student by only giving instructions that are specific and to be followed directly. The instructor doesn’t push a student beyond a limit. Ha is once all the basics have been mastered and the instructor starts detaching from day-to-day, offering specific guidance which allows the learner to digress and explore a topic more fully. By this stage the learner should have a feel for when things are working and when they’re not, and should be able to judge progress themselves. Ri is the final stage where the instructor leaves the student alone. Learners have now explored their subject matter fully enough to embark on their own and start creating new knowledge.

At Emergn, we talk about three parts of learning that need to be balanced: mindset, mechanics, and measures. Measures is about keeping our eye on the outcomes that matter. These are the elements we need in place to judge whether our changes are making the desired improvements. Mindset is about the beliefs, attitudes, and thought processes. It’s the area that leads to long-lasting change. This is the most challenging domain as new ways of thinking can be hard to embed. Change happens over time when new techniques and outcomes are proven to work. This is where the Mechanics are required to put form to a new way of working. Early on with new teams and people, there is often a requirement to be more explicit and directive – not too explicit and directive, but enough to help people new to a topic explore it safely and start getting results.


Too much focus on any one of Measures, Mindset and Mechanics can lead to challenges in learning. Start with the mechanics, but there needs to be a good balance between the three to support people and teams.