Blooms Taxonomy: Part One

Some Instructional Designers moan about going through the exercise of using Blooms Taxonomy while designing training.  I submit that when you have attended training sessions that over promised yet under delivered, it’s likely because the designer of the training ignored Bloom's Taxonomy.  The most important aspect of Bloom's Taxonomy from the perspective of your learners is that they will receive exactly what was promised during any type of learning activity.

If I promised you the ability to rebuild an automobile engine by the end of my course and simply stood at the front of the class and forced you to memorize facts and figures about cars, you could no more rebuild an engine than you could before you started.  Essentially it’s like bad advertising.  Writing proper learning outcomes will also force you to further develop your learning activities so they do achieve the goals of training.

Bloom's Taxonomy can be broken down into the three domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and the affective domains. Most training and education falls within the cognitive domain so in this first of three parts on Blooms Taxonomy that I will discuss.  The cognitive domain can be broken down into 6 levels of learning.  Here they are explained using some interesting scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean (just for fun).

Cognitive Domain

  1. Knowledge is simply the ability to remember fact or content. 
  2. Comprehension is the ability to understand the material through interpretation, translation or the ability to predict consequences of the material.
  3. Application is the ability to independently apply material in new situations.
  4.  Analysis is the ability to break down material into it's individual parts.
  5. Synthesis is the ability to create something new from the material.
  6. Evaluation is the ability to judge the value of the material
So how does this apply to planning your lessons?  Simple, your goal should be to achieve the higher levels of the cognitive domain.  While knowledge and comprehension are important, memorization and understanding is no substitute for being able to do or create something new or to judge it's value.  This is where true learning occurs.

Secondly to ensure that you direct your learners toward these higher levels, you need to choose the correct language in both your learning objectives and in your instructions for learning activities.  Selecting the correct action verbs will help your learners prepare for what they must do.  Below are some examples of words that will tell your learners what's expected of them and which level of learning these types of activities accomplish:

Knowledge - select, identify, label, match, recall, recite, reproduce

Comprehension - describe, define, explain, illustrate, restate, rewrite

Application - demonstrate, apply, develop, organize, operate, produce, solve, modify

Analysis - compare, distinguish, analyze, breakdown, classify, separate, subdivide

Synthesis - combine, compile, compose, conceive, construct, create, design, generate, invent

Evaluate - appraise, conclude, contrast, criticize, decide, defend, discriminate, write (a review)

Of course several of these action verbs can fall into more than one level of learning, and there are many more possibilities as well.  This should allow you to take your learning activites and determine what level of Blooms Taxonomy they achieve.  For example if I had a learning activity that stated:   

"Please select the correct answer from the following list of wrong answers." would know that this only achieves the knowledge level.  Simple memorization is all that is required to answer this question.  It doesn't determine if the learner actually comprehends the knowledge.  Of course that might be fine.  Perhaps it isn't required that the learner know why something is correct, just that it is correct.  If a learner's job requires the ability to analyze a situation and act appropriately with that information, you are going to want to design course objectives and learning activities that tests their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the material you provide them.  More difficult to do? Yes.  More rewarding for your learners? Absolutely.