The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, known as Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, & Krathwohl, 1956) is one of the most recognized learning theories in the field of education. Educators often use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create learning outcomes that target not only subject matter but also the depth of learning they want students to achieve, and to then create assessments that accurately report on students’ progress towards these outcomes (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Bloom’s taxonomy is a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition—i.e., thinking, learning, and understanding. Educators have typically used Bloom’s taxonomy to inform or guide the development of assessments (tests and other evaluations of student learning), curriculum (units, lessons, projects, and other learning activities), and instructional methods such as questioning strategies.
The Three Domains of Learning
Bloom’s taxonomy was originally published in 1956 by a team of cognitive psychologists at the University of Chicago. It is named after the committee’s chairman, Benjamin Bloom (1913–1999). The committee identified three domains of learning or educational activities. (Bloom, et al. 1956)
- Cognitive domain: mental or intellectual skills (Knowledge) Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Affective domain: growth in feelings or emotional areas (Attitude or self) Krathwohl’s Taxonomy
- Psychomotor domain: manual or physical practical skills (Skills) Dave’s Taxonomy
Which of these three taxonomies of learning domains to use for a given measurable student outcome depends upon the original goal to which the measurable student outcome is connected. There are knowledge-based goals, skills-based goals, and affective goals (affective: values, attitudes, and interests); accordingly, there is a taxonomy for each. Within each taxonomy of learning domain, levels of expertise are listed in order of increasing complexity. Measurable student outcomes that require the higher levels of expertise will require more sophisticated classroom assessment techniques.
It’s important to note that the different levels of thinking defined within each domain of the Taxonomy are hierarchical. In other words, each level subsumes the levels that come before it. So, if we look at the cognitive domain for example, we can infer that before a student can conduct an analysis, they first might need to know the methods of analysis, understand the different elements to review, and consider which method to apply. It is only then that they will be ready to conduct the analysis itself.
Criticism on Bloom’s Taxonomy
While the committee produced an elaborate compilation for the cognitive and affective domains, they omitted the psychomotor domain. Their explanation for this oversight was that they have little experience in teaching manual skills within the college level. However, there have been at least three psychomotor models created by other researchers.
Their compilation divides the three domains into subdivisions, starting from the simplest cognitive process or behavior to the most complex. The divisions outlined are not absolutes and there are other systems or hierarchies that have been devised, such as the Structure of Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) Taxonomy. However, Bloom’s taxonomy is easily understood and is probably the most widely applied one in use today.
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