One common framework employed in designing instruction is Bloom’s Taxonomy, a pedagogical tool that helps trainers and educators organize learning activities by the type of thought they ask of students.
A committee of educators chaired by Benjamin Samuel Bloom, an educational psychologist, proposed this systemic approach, published in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956.
Bloom’s Taxonomy had helped provide a common language for educators. The model has three distinct learning domains: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor. Within each domain, learning falls into various levels. It is generally true that mastery of higher levels of learning (such as synthesizing ideas to make something new) requires mastery of knowledge and abilities at the lower levels (such as comprehending the writing of others and being able to recall specific facts at will).
The Cognitive Domain
Learning in the Cognitive domain involves the development of skills of knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking. Most online learning courses have the bulk of their objectives in the cognitive domain. There are six levels within the Cognitive domain (listed below in order of least demanding to most demanding):
- Knowledge (Remembering). Requires the indication of memory of materials previously encountered.
- Comprehension (Understanding). Requires demonstrating an understanding of those facts by sorting, comparing, and describing them, and by reducing them to more essential ideas and facts.
- Application (Applying). Requires the use of knowledge in a new and different way.
- Analysis (Analyzing). Requires the examination of information, the reduction of ideas and facts to more fundamental ones, or the identification of causes.
- Evaluation (Evaluating). Requires that one present and defend judgments based on the information that has been learned.
- Synthesis (Creating). Requires compilation of information in different ways.
The classic pyramid of Bloom’s Cognitive domain shows the six levels with the least complex level at the bottom and most complex level at the top.
The progression of the hierarchy in this pyramid diagram has received some criticism over the years. One point of disagreement is whether evaluation or synthesis is the highest level of learning. Bloom’s original hierarchy set evaluation as the highest level, though recent education scholars now believe synthesis/creation to be at the highest level. Other critics argue that while the first three stages of the hierarchy do occur in progression, the final three are actually parallel to one another. In addition, it has been suggested that the categories should actually be identified in verb form since performance words tend to be verbs as well.
Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to Learning
By focusing on the way learners process information and establishing six levels of cognitive learning, Bloom’s Taxonomy helps instructors to move students beyond simple knowledge, or fact-gathering, to more challenging orders of thinking, such as understanding, applying, analyzing, and synthesizing.
Based on a given level of cognitive learning, the system can be used to help:
- define learning objectives for a course or program
- formulate questions and assignments
- establish assessments, essay topics, etc.
- evaluate student discussions
Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a helpful guide in assessing the way material will be presented and taught and how a given pedagogical approach matches up with any learning outcomes that have been established.
Engaging Learners at all Levels
While much effort has been put into discussing the most accurate order of performance skills, it’s best to not slavishly adhere to methods that require students to master lower level thinking before engaging in higher-level thinking. It often seems that as we learn, we employ skills at multiple levels simultaneously, or a student may skip from the first to the fifth step when learning some new information.
The fact that lower-level skills (such as recall) seem easier to teach and easier to test for has, in the past, led to poorly-constructed educational resources that bore the learner with constant drilling before helping the learner to engage in more thought-provoking and interesting applications of these skills. Scaffolding can help learners master less complex skills even while engaging them in real-world tasks.
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