In 1956, a committee of educators led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom developed a system to classify learning objectives. Bloom and his committee recognized that not all learning objectives have equal impact. For example, a learning objective that emphasizes concept memorization may not have the same impact as one that applies that concept to produce a tangible outcome. To address this, the team created what is now known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The Taxonomy (revised several times over many years) is hierarchical, with each level building on the next, and is organized into three domains (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor – more on this below) with each domain having a unique learning progression according to its character. The Taxonomy starts at the most basic conceptual level and progresses steadily through increasing levels of abstraction and complexity.
Learning professionals use Bloom’s Taxonomy to prepare reliable learning objectives, ones that align well with different learning requirements and that can be measured for effectiveness. With its many categories, sub-categories, activities and deliverables, Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a bit overwhelming. Though the experienced taxonomist (aka “Bloomer”) has learned to navigate its complexities and can use this tool with great results, the novice Bloomer might benefit from some guidance.
New to Bloom? Let’s take a (virtual) walk…
Imagine that you are standing in front of a very large building with one large door. The door is marked Domains. You open the door, enter a spacious, semi-circular foyer and then see three more doors. The door on the left has a painting of a human head, under which are the words Cognitive - Knowing. On the middle door is a painting of a heart with the words Affective - Feeling. On the third and final door is a painting of a pair of human hands with the words Psychomotor – Doing.
You walk across the foyer, open the door with the human portrait and then see five very long, very wide steps, each marked with words. On the wall at the bottom of the stairs is a sign (with an arrow pointing up) stating: “This Way to Higher-Order Thinking Skills.” On Step One in large, bold letters are the words “Remember / Understand.” Underneath, in a smaller font, is “Recall and Recognition.” Before you leave Step One, you turn to the left and see a door labeled Activities. You open the door and see a large closet filled with words, mostly verbs. The verbs are in constant motion but you are able to read Ask, Match, Discover, Identify, Research, Listen, and Observe before you close the door to prevent any from escaping. These are great words to use to build your learning objectives, and each level provides many specific verbs for the learning task at hand. On the opposite wall is another door marked Products. You open that door, see a similar closet (also filled with swirling words) and read Diagrams, Models, Records, Books, Tapes, Newspapers, Events, People before you close the door to keep all in order. These words represent the many deliverables associated with the active words you just encountered. What you observe can be put in a diagram, what you research can be put in a book, and so on. You then ascend the remaining steps (Steps Two – Apply, Three – Analyze, Four – Evaluate, Five – Create), stopping to look into the Activities and Products doors for each. When you get to the final step, a sign in front of you indicates that “You Have Reached the Highest-Order Thinking Skills.” You have arrived!
After pausing for a moment to enjoy the view, you descend the Cognitive – Knowing staircase, return to the foyer and proceed to open the middle (Affective – Feeling) door. Here there are also five steps: One – Receiving, Two – Responding, Three – Valuing, Four – Conceptualizing, Five – Characterizing, along with associated doors. Climbing these stairs takes you to increasingly higher orders of feeling. After you look into the Activities and Products doors for each step, you descend these stairs, return to the foyer and venture to the third (Psychomotor – Doing) door. Again, five steps: One – Imitation, Two – Manipulation, Three – Precision, Four – Articulation, Five – Naturalization, and the associated doors. Climbing these stairs takes you to ever higher orders of physical mastery. Reaching the top is a notable accomplishment!
After a moment, you descend the stairs, return to the foyer and pause for a moment to catch your breath. This gives you time to reflect. There is a lot of useful information in Bloom’s Rooms – great verbs, great nouns; everything you need to create the right learning objectives and match them with the right learning deliverables. You just need to know which doors to open!
James J. Goldsmith is a senior manager at Accenture. For more than 25 years, he has worked successfully with senior level executives to implement a wide variety of learning and capability solutions, primarily for large, multi-national corporations. Jim earned a Masters of Business Administration degree and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut. He frequently writes and speaks on training and development topics and, for his work adjudicating the Brandon Hall Excellence Awards, was named “Master Judge.”
Written for TrainingIndustry.com