Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning

What is the Taxonomy of Significant Learning and how does it differ from Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Dr. L. Dee Fink discusses his rationale for developing a new taxonomy in the Significant Learning by Design course.

“During my four decades of working in higher education, I interviewed not just professors, but students, about what they consider to be significant learning moments and significant kinds of learning. What I mean by “significant learning” is learning that actually change how a student lived his or her personal, social, civic, or professional life. I found that many of the kinds of learning that students identified as being significant did not fit easily into Bloom’s Taxonomy, even if one refers to all three of his domains of learning. Therefore I created a new taxonomy, one that builds on Bloom’s concept of a “taxonomy of learning” but has some true differences.

– Dee Fink

Comparing Fink’s and Bloom’s Taxonomies

Many people find the Taxonomy of Significant Learning valuable and inspiring because it includes more than just cognitive learning. The right-hand side of this taxonomy refers to the same kinds of cognitive learning described in the well known taxonomy by Bloom and his colleagues. But the left-hand side goes beyond cognitive learning, to include specific skills that enable Significant Learning– learning that extends beyond the end of the course and includes Caring, people skills (called Human Dimension), and Learning How to Learn.

Comparison of Fink and Bloom taxonomies showing that Bloom's taxonomy is represented in half of Fink's taxonomy. And fink also includes caring, human dimension and learning to learn
Visual comparison of Fink and Bloom Taxonomies

Read more about the benefits and limitations of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Taxonomy of Significant Learning – Explanations and Examples

Category of LearningMeaningExamples
Foundational KnowledgeStudents will understand and remember key concepts, terms, relationships, facts, etc.Students will be able to define Plate tectonics (term, concept); describe the interaction between pressure and temperature (relationship); identify the dates of the US Civil War (facts)
ApplicationStudents will know how to “do” important tasks.Students will be able to perform physical tasks (use a microscope); employ critical thinking; use creative problem-solving; make decisions; sequence multiple steps in a complex project
IntegrationStudents will be able to identify the relationship between “x” and “y”.Students will be able to compare major psychological theories; describe how the geography and dominant cultures of a region have affected its history; describe how prior learning in another course has shed light on certain new learning in a current course
Human DimensionSelf: Students will better understand themselves 

Others: Students will be able to interact positively and productively with others.
Self: Students will be able to identify and describe their thoughts and feelings about a topic or concept in relationship to themselves, their life goals, their strengths, weaknesses, capabilities

Others: Students will be able to be an effective member of a team; empathize with and better understand people different from themselves (e.g., by gender, ethnicity, age, etc.); work effectively with people different from themselves
CaringStudents will care more deeply about this subject or issues related to this subject.Students will develop deeper values in relation to “green” environmental policies, critical thinking, religious and racial tolerance, correct English usage, etc.; Students will become excited about and desire to learn more about the general subject of the course, e.g., ancient history, astronomy, insects, etc.
Learning How to LearnStudents will develop the ability to learn better (more efficiently and effectively), both in this course and in life in general.Students will improve certain skills that are important for being a good student in college, e.g., taking notes from readings or lectures, taking different kinds of tests, study skills, etc.; Students will learn how knowledge is created and tested in different intellectual domains, e.g., how to use the scientific method, literary analysis, historical analysis;Students will become effective self-directed learners, meaning they can develop (a) a learning agenda and (b) a learning strategy for this agenda for learning more about the general subject of this course – after the course is over.

Integrated Nature of the Taxonomy

Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Taxonomy of Significant Learning has six major categories of learning, but unlike Bloom’s, the categories are not located in different “domains” and unlike Bloom’s it is interactive – not hierarchical.

This last characteristic is particularly important; it means that having students achieve any one kind of learning helps them achieve the other five kinds of learning.

Questions to Help Develop Learning Outcomes for each Significant Learning Category

Category/Goals Questions to help develop learning outcomes

Foundational Knowledge
What key information (e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and remember in the future? 
What key ideas (or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course? 

What kinds of thinking are important for students to learn? 
Critical thinking, in which students analyze and evaluate 
Creative thinking, in which students imagine and create 
Practical thinking, in which students solve problems and make decisions 
What important skills do students need to gain? 
Do students need to learn how to manage complex projects? 
IntegrationWhat connections (similarities and interactions) should students recognize and make…: 
Among ideas within this course? 
Among the information, ideas, and perspectives in this course and those in other courses or areas? 
Among material in this course and the students’ own personal, social, and/or work life? 
Human DimensionWhat could or should students learn about themselves? 
What could or should students learn about understanding others and/or interacting with them? 
CaringWhat changes/values do you hope students will adopt? 
Feelings? Interests? Ideas? 
Learning How to LearnWhat would you like for students to learn about: 
how to be good students in a course like this? 
how to learn about this particular subject? 
how to become a self-directed learner of this subject, i.e., having a learning agenda of what they need/want to learn, and a plan for learning it? 
Download a List of Learning Outcome Verbs appropriate for the Taxonomy of Significant Learning.

Learn More

Want to learn more and be guided through the Integrated Course Design process step-by-step?

Take the only online course authored by L. Dee Fink, Significant Learning by Design!