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Mark Nicol
Mark Nicol

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Bloom's taxonomy - a way of thinking about learning.

I've been doing a bit of reading about Learning Domains. It is mildly fascinating how many ways there are to divide things up. This comes from Taxonomy of Learning Domains by Benjamin Bloom in 1956.

What is Bloom's Taxonomy

It is essentially a way of thinking about the different levels we go through when making some new experience or knowledge part of our understanding of the world.

First, there are three main categories or types of knowledge we have about the world. Bloom saw these as:

  • mental skills and knowledge (the cognitive domain),
  • our feelings and emotions (the affective)
  • being able to do a coordinated activity or make things (the psychomotive).

Within each of these Bloom identified a number of different levels. The ones towards the bottom of the list showing a greater level of understanding than the ones towards the top of the list.

Cognitive Domain

  • Knowledge: being able to recall or remember things
  • Comprehension: the ability to understand the meaning of the words, to rephrase learning in your own terms
  • Application: Taking facts learnt in one area and using them in a different type of situation
  • Analysis: the ability to distinguish between facts and opinions
  • Synthesis: bringing together facts and ideas from different areas
  • Evaluation: being able to decide which are the most relevant or important facts and being able to decide which facts to trust if sources disagree.

Affective Domain

  • Receiving Phenomena: being able to observe feelings and emotions - listening to a friend and understanding how they are feeling
  • Responding to Phenomena: being part of a conversation replying with appropriate feeling and emotion.
  • Valuing: being able to put a value or a measure on a feeling and how much it matters.
  • Organisation: ability to prioritise a value over another - for instance spending more time studying than watching TV.
  • Characterisation: the ability to internalise values and let them control the person`s behaviour.

Psychomotive Domain

  • Perception: the ability to apply sensory information to motor activity (adjusts the heat of stove to achieve the right temperature)
  • Set: the readiness to act - for instance deciding to sit down to study
  • Guided Response: the ability to imitate a displayed behaviour or to use trial and error - setting up new piece of technology by following the manual
  • Mechanism: the ability to convert learned responses into habitual actions - being able to cook a meal after practising the recipe
  • Complex Overt Response: the ability to skilfully perform complex patterns of action - typing a program while looking at the screen rather than the keyboard
  • Adaptation: the ability to modify learned skills to meet special events. - sewing a costume made out of plastic bottles
  • Origination: creating new movement patterns for a specific situation - for instance creating a new dance routine.

Where is this useful

The taxonomy is referenced a lot in teaching and learning resources. The idea being that when you are trying to teach something the clearer the aim you have and the better you understand the outcomes you want the more likely you are to succeed.

Bloom's is a helpful way of thinking about the outcomes part of this in specific and fairly measurable or testable ways. Each level can quite easily be turned into a check that can be used to gauge how well the teaching or coaching has gone.

As learners I can see it could be helpful to practice a form of Test Driven Learning by setting our own outcomes when trying to assimilate a new topic or skill. It's not a radical thought. What the taxonomy brings is an easy crib sheet for setting the tests.

It is certainly something I'm going to try more in my own reading and learning.

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