Bloom’s Taxonomy

While reading about UVA’s recent implementation of Problem Based Learning as the foundation for their medical school curriculum, I saw mention of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a name that I have not heard or thought about for a long time. I confess that I had to look it up, and so I thought I would summarize the results of my brief search here.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is essentially a hierarchical system of classifying learning objectives. The original version was collaboratively outlined in 1956 by a committee under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist. Bloom’s Taxonomy outlined three educational ‘domains’, each of which represents a group of related educational activities. The three domains are:

  1. Cognitive: Activities that involve learning and developing mental skills that focus on knowledge, comprehension, critical thinking, etc.
  2. Affective: Activities that involve growth and awareness of emotionality and attitudes towards both self and others.
  3. Psychomotor: Activities that involve learning or improving physical or technical skills, such as participating in sports or performing skills that require manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

In education, we tend to focus on primarily the cognitive domain, although there are certainly disciplines that may emphasize one or both of the other domains as well. A former student of Bloom’s named Lorin Anderson made some revisions to the original organization of the cognitive domain (the original structure is provided in the article linked below), and an image of this updated Taxonomy is posted below, in the form of an inverted pyramid.

The idea here is that the least important category is listed at the bottom, represented by the smallest area of the pyramid, and the most important category is at the top, represented by the largest area. In this hierarchy, just remembering facts and data is the lowest order of cognitive learning. Understanding the information is more important than just remembering, and being able to apply the information is more important still. Being able to analyze the material means that you can break it down into its component parts, identify the structure, troubleshoot the problem, etc. Evaluating means that you can judge the material based on its merits, perhaps selecting the best option from similar choices. Finally, the most important is creating, which means that you are capable building upon your knowledge by taking discrete elements and using them to produce something new.

When reading it, I suspect most people would tend to agree with this arrangement (at least, in general) and think that it seems quite intuitive. This is at odds with reality, however, as our educational system seems to be stuck at the lowest level, or perhaps levels,  of the hierarchy. So often the focus is simply upon memorizing and regurgitating facts, as if by doing so we will somehow achieve understanding, and that by understanding we become able to apply, and so on until we become producers of knowledge. Sadly, that is not exactly the way it works. Each of these categories is inter-dependent, of course, as you can hardly be capable of applying knowledge that you neither understand nor remember, but it is important to recognize that each of these categories requires skills that we must be exposed to and practice, if we are to have any hope of mastery.

An interesting idea that is, I think, worth investigating.

Here is the link to a great article that provides more information, including details on the other two domains:

http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html

Category(s): Education

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