Posted on

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Hierarchies of Learning

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's TaxonomyMost managers will need to be involved in the learning and development of their staff. So, do you know the steps that learning follows? If you don’t, then take a look at Bloom’s taxonomy. It’s the label for a number of interconnected ideas around how we acquire mastery of any topic.

Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist who started work on this, with others, in the 1940s. They first published their work in 1956 and it has evolved since. But the changes have been ones of detail and its relevance and applicability remain.

Why Do We Need Bloom’s Taxonomy?

All learning is not the same.  When you commission or design training, you need to think about the depth of learning, how learners will progress from one level to the next, and what constitutes mastery.

Benjamin Bloom worked with collaborators: Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl. They devised Bloom’s Taxonomy to answer these questions. It puts educational goals into categories that help us to evaluate learning performance. In 1956, they published Handbook 1 of their ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives‘.

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

There are three components to the answer to this question. The first is a pure taxonomy of knowledge, which appeared in the appendix to Handbook 1.

According to Wikipedia, the taxonomy of knowledge is:

  • 1.00 Knowledge
    • 1.10 Knowledge of specifics
    • 1.11 Knowledge of terminology
    • 1.12 Knowledge of specific facts
    • 1.20 Knowledge of ways and means of dealing with specifics
    • 1.21 Knowledge of conventions
    • 1.22 Knowledge of trends and sequences
    • 1.23 Knowledge of classifications and categories
    • 1.24 Knowledge of criteria
    • 1.25 Knowledge of methodology
    • 1.30 Knowledge of the universals and abstractions in a field
    • 1.31 Knowledge of principles and generalizations
    • 1.32 Knowledge of theories and structures

But this is hardly ever used, and is the weakest and least helpful answer to the question.  

The Three Domains of Learning

For us, the starting point for understanding Bloom’s Taxonomy is the definition of three broad domains of learning: 

  1. Cognitive Domain
    The domain of knowledge, expertise, and acumen
  2. Affective Domain
    The domain of attitudes, beliefs, and intuition
  3. Psychomotor Domain
    The domain of skill, adeptness, and craft

This recognises three distinct ways that we learn and bears some relation to Howard Gardner‘s later model of Multiple Intelligences.

Levels of Mastery

Within each domain, educational psychologists can define levels of mastery – a progression from basic to master. These are different for each domain, and Bloom et al started with the cognitive domain. Bloom went on to define levels for the affective domain, but left work on the psychomotor domain to others.

The Levels of Learning in each Domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy

The Cognitive Domain

Bloom started his in-depth work with the cognitive domain. He divided it into six levels of increasing mastery, proposing that the lowest level was simple knowledge and the ability to remember.  As we learn further, we rise through successive levels of comprehension, application, and analysis, to reach the two highest levels of mastery: synthesis and evaluation.

The modern articulation remains very similar, with some clearer labeling and a significant change to the highest levels of mastery:

  1. Remember, where the learner can access the knowledge reliably
  2. Understand, where the learner comprehends its meaning
  3. Apply, the ability of the learner to make proper use of their knowledge
  4. Analyse, a deep understanding of how the knowledge works, and the causal links and connections it has
  5. Evaluate, the ability to reflect critically on the knowledge and prepare arguments to critique and defend it
  6. Create, applying the knowledge cumulatively to innovate and build new knowledge and understanding

Educators in academics and vocational contexts use this structure to design our learning programmes. We aim to move learners upwards to the desired level. The higher the level; the greater the investment of time and resources. Educational psychologists and learning practitioners have developed a wide range of tools and processes to help learners build and consolidate their mastery at each level.

The Affective Domain

Bloom was keen to encourage a holistic approach to teaching and learning: one that encompassed all three domains.  So, in 1964, he and his colleagues published their analysis of the levels of learning in the affective domain. This provides a sequence for developing attitudes, beliefs, and therefore robust intuition.

This work is particularly relevant to facilitating learning in the area of personal development. Bloom et al charted five levels of mastery:

  1. Receiving the stimulus, which requires the learner’s attention
  2. Responding, which requires participation
  3. Valuing, where learners evaluate the stimuli
  4. Organising, in which learners fit the ideas into their own world view. 
  5. Characterising, where learners adapt their beliefs system and values, thereby deeply influencing their behaviour.

The Psychomotor Domain

Bloom did not develop a structure for the third domain, psychomotor skills.  So, it was one of his students, Ravindrakumar Dave, who took it on. Again, the final model has five levels:

  1. Imitation, the ability to copy
  2. Manipulation, or reproducing from memory
  3. Precision, when performance is reliable and accurate
  4. Articulation, where the learner can adapt the skill to new circumstances
  5. Naturalisation, in which unconscious competence allows automatic performance to a high standard.

It is important to understand that the psychomotor domain is not only about manual or kinaesthetic skills, like tool use or sports.  It includes a wide range of endeavours, from using a software interface to public speaking. This will also be an important part of much workplace training.

Combining the Domains

I hope it is clear to you that most training and much coaching and mentoring will need to integrate all three domains.

What is Your experience of Learning Domains and Levels?

We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.

To learn more…

Three Management Pocketbooks are likely to be of interest to you:

  1. Transfer of Learning Pocketbook
  2. Trainer’s Pocketbook
  3. Learner’s Pocketbook
Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *