Many college educators are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. This well-known categorization of learning, developed by a team of scholars but often attributed to the first author, Benjamin Bloom, has been used by countless educators to design, structure, and assess learning. The six categories in Bloom’s Taxonomy for the Cognitive Domain – remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create – have been the go-to resource for writing learning objectives for over 50 years, assisting countless educators.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy
In 2001, a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum, and assessment scholars published a revised version under the title A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). The most recognized change was shifting the category titles from nouns to verbs and flipping the top two levels.
However, there was substantial thinking behind this revision that goes largely unnoticed. In this revision, it is acknowledged that most learning objectives have both a verb and a noun –– an action or cognitive process that is also associated with the intended knowledge outcome.
The cognitive process dimensions remains mainly the same, although replaced by action verbs. And the new knowledge dimension categorizes four types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire or construct ranging from concrete to abstract; factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive.
The revised version, while taking into account many subtle components, is arguably more complicated are difficult to use. Losing some of the simplicity might explain the ongoing popularity of the original version.
Benefits of Bloom’s Taxonomy
Nothing sticks around this long unless it’s useful. And Bloom’s Taxonomy has allowed faculty to reach for higher-order thinking, to align their outcome with assessments and activities, and to better assess the type of learning students are engaging in.
Having a classification of learning allows us to think more strategically about the type of learning we want and what students are actually doing in our courses. We can see what higher-order learning is possible and aim towards more complex outcomes. Many college faculty have used the many helpful lists of accompanying verbs to craft measurable learning objectives that are abundantly found online.
Some faculty prefer to show Bloom’s in hierarchical form as it implies that we have to put in the work to acquire, remember, and understand knowledge and information in order to be able to do higher-order types of thinking and application. Students might assume that they can go straight to evaluating or analyzing and skip some of the necessary foundational work. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) argue that there is empirical evidence for at least the bottom four levels of the pyramid.
Using a common taxonomy also allows us to assess learning and compare results. Are we reaching the levels we want? Can we see at a glance what kind of learning is happening in a course? Can we compare learning results from different types of instructional interventions? If many of us are using this popular categorization, comparisons and the ability to recognize effective practice becomes much more possible.
Limitations of Bloom’s Taxonomy
However, as we adopt and use this framework, it’s also valuable to explore its limitations.
Is it a true hierarchy?
Bloom’s pyramid representation shows the need for foundational knowledge in supporting higher-order thinking. However, the pyramid also implies that these types of learning are distinct and separate from one another, which may not always be the case. Often our rich learning experiences involve many different types of learning happening at the same time.
In addition, the levels imply a lock-step approach toward “creating” as the highest level we can achieve. It is certainly debatable in different disciplines if “creating” and “evaluating” are better or higher than “analyzing,” or are rather just different versions of higher-order thinking used in different contexts .
The hierarchical view also brings forth some assumptions. Some faculty may be led to think that they need to go as high as possible as often as possible. Or that every course, or even class period, should be reaching all levels. Yet we may need to focus on different learning outcomes at different times. For example, sometimes we simply need to work within and spend time developing foundational knowledge.
Many scholars argue that Bloom’s should not be viewed as levels or a hierarchy, but rather broken into lower-level and higher-level learning. Some find an inverse pyramid to be a better representation. With creating, evaluating, and analyzing at the top.
Other scholars see additional nuances. In Anton Tolman’s representation, the foundational knowledge of Understanding and Remembering are considered basic skills, while analyzing, creating, and evaluating are considered critical thinking skills. Tolman sees Application as the transition or bridge that connects this necessary knowledge and more advanced thinking skills.
Does Blooms capture all learning?
The writing of learning objectives, considered to be an essential aspect of creating effective and engaging learning experiences, has also too often been viewed as an uninspiring task. Shouldn’t this be where our passion as teachers comes through? Could it be we are focusing on a limited aspect of learning?
When we talk about “Blooms” nearly everyone is talking about Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. We often overlook that this was created as one of three domains, including the Psychomotor Domain and the Affective Domain. Rarely do we see college educators using these other domains in course learning outcomes.
Our hopes for student learning often go well beyond cognitive concepts. We also want students to appreciate literature, to recognize their own biases, to work well with others, to learn how to learn, or to have empathy and demonstrate ethical behavior. More recent learning categorizations such as Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Wiggins and McTighe’s Facets of Understanding can empower instructors to articulate and use these valuable goals and are also worth exploring.
Is it worth using?
The goal of using Bloom’s Taxonomy is to articulate and diversify our learning goals, and it can be very helpful in doing so. Bloom’s has been used for so long because it makes sense and is useful. Most people likely only scratch the surface of its use and complexity, but nearly everyone can find some value in this categorization.
Overall, as long as we are using this framework for constructive purposes, and are mindful of the concerns and limitations, any focus on different types of learning is beneficial for both faculty and students. And when you are ready to go deeper, there is always more to to explore!
- Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
- Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.
- Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. John Wiley & Sons.
- Tolman, A.O. (2021). Graphic of Bloom’s Taxonomy. https://sites.google.com/site/ttmcollaboration/home/files?authuser=0
- Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. ASCD.