The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Bloom’s Taxonomy

2019.04.09 Jonathan Deller
Affective

This ultimate guide to understanding Bloom’s taxonomy will help you gain a comprehensive understanding of what it is, how it works, and how to apply it training and the training evaluation process. Bloom’s taxonomy has evolved significantly over the decades and offers a number of positive benefits for both learners and educators.   

This guide will explain: 

  • Bloom’s six levels of thinking.
     
  • The three key domains; Cognitive, Psychomotor and Affective.
     
  • How to apply Bloom’s taxonomy when designing a lesson or course.
     
  • How to use Bloom’s for both formative and summative assessments, to aid in active learning.  

Lastly, you’ll discover some of the main criticisms of Bloom’s taxonomy, and how to address them. 

Contents 

  1. An introduction to Bloom’s taxonomy 
  2. The original Bloom’s taxonomy 
  3. The revised Bloom’s taxonomy 
  4. Bloom’s taxonomy’s levels of thinking explained 
  5. How to use Bloom’s levels of thinking 
  6. Understanding Bloom’s taxonomy learning objectives 
  7. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in course design 
  8. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in assessments and evaluations 
  9. Criticisms of Bloom’s taxonomy 
  10. Further reading 

 1. An introduction to Bloom’s taxonomy 

Bloom’s taxonomy is based on the belief that learners must begin by learning basic, foundational knowledge about a given subject before they can progress to more complex types of thinking such as analysis and evaluation. Bloom’s framework is often presented in the form of a pyramid – much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – to show that higher levels of thinking can only be attempted once lower levels have been mastered.  

The six levels of the original Bloom’s taxonomy are as follows:  

  1. Basic knowledge  
  2. Comprehension 
  3. Application 
  4. Analysis  
  5. Synthesis 
  6. Evaluation 

For any given course or topic, learners must work through these levels in order and master one level before they can progress to the next.  

Teachers, course designers, and instructors regularly use Bloom’s taxonomy to help ensure that they are asking appropriate questions and delivering appropriate assignments and assessments during each stage of the learning process. For example, learners must have mastered basic knowledge about a subject before they can start applying their knowledge. Each level acts as a crucial building block for the following level.  

2. The original Bloom’s taxonomy 

In the early 1940s, Benjamin Bloom identified the need for educational goals to be placed in specific categories and believed that by doing so, it would be possible to more accurately predict the performance of college students. Bloom collaborated with a number of other experts and spent 16 years refining and revising this framework. The final version, published as the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956, offered a framework for education attainment through six orders of learning.  

Since its introduction, Bloom’s taxonomy acted as the foundation of many teaching philosophies. Although it was initially intended to aid student assessment, it soon found favor among teachers who needed to create curriculums, set learning objectives and devise classroom activities. Over the years, Bloom’s taxonomy has been adapted for use in classes ranging from kindergarten to college level.  

3. The revised Bloom’s taxonomy 

In 2001, Bloom’s taxonomy was given a major revamp by a former student of Bloom’s, Lorin Anderson, who led a group of assessment specialists, curriculum theorists, and psychologists. The key aim of the revamp was to replace the one-dimensional levels of the original classification system with more dynamic concepts that made it easier for learners to understand what was expected of them at each level.  

Compare the original Bloom's taxonomy with the revised version:
Image credit: Don Clark


In the revised version, the final two levels were switched, making ‘Create’ the ultimate level of thinking. All of the levels of learning noted above make up the cognitive domain, but the revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy separates cognition into found distinct types.  

These are: 

  • Factual knowledge 
    This type of cognition concerns facts and terminology.  

  • Conceptual knowledge 
    Characterized by models, theories and principles, this type of cognition involves looking at relationships between various elements within a larger structure.   

  • Procedural knowledge  
    Procedural knowledge is the specific methodology, process or technique required to do something. 

  • Metacognitive knowledge 
    This type of knowledge concerns a students’ awareness of their own cognition. Are they able to self-evaluate their knowledge and ability in different skills and techniques? 

The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy makes it simpler for educators to set clear, achievable learning goals and objectives. It also makes it easier for students to understand the learning expectations. Bloom’s taxonomy makes it easier for learners to understand what they need to accomplish in order to be successful.  

4. Bloom’s taxonomy’s levels of thinking explained 

As we noted earlier, the most common visual representation of Bloom’s taxonomy is a pyramid shape, as shown below.  

Bloom's taxonomy levels of learning
Image Credit: Courtesy of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching 


This image depicts the revised Bloom’s taxonomy framework with educational objectives and the key levels of thinking required at each level.  

  1. Remember 
    Can the learners remember key facts and terminology?   

  1. Understand 
    Students then move up to understanding, using the knowledge they gained in the previous level.   

  1. Apply 
    At this stage, learners are expected to apply their knowledge and understanding in a particular way.   

  1. Analyze 
    Analyzing is a high-level skill that requires more cognitive processing than lower-order skills.  

  1. Evaluate 
    Evaluating material is only possible once the lower-order skills have been mastered.  

  1. Create
    Creating new or original work is the pinnacle of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy. This is the highest level of thinking and requires the deepest learning and the greatest degree of cognitive processing. 

If you're interested in learning more, check out our complete post about the Bloom’s taxonomy levels

5. How to use Bloom’s levels of thinking 

As an educator or course designer, Bloom’s taxonomy is helpful during the course planning process. It acts as a framework to guide the following decisions: 

  • How to structure the course 

  • How quickly to introduce new concepts 

  • When to reinforce concepts 

  • How to assess concepts 

Let’s look at these factors in more detail.  

1. How to structure the course

According to Bloom’s taxonomy, learners must complete each level of thinking before moving to the next. For an educator tasked with planning a course, this framework helps them order the learning materials. You want to introduce basic facts and concepts first, before moving on to more complex tasks such as understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Following Bloom’s taxonomy helps course designers avoid the trap of asking learns to engage in higher-order thinking tasks before they have mastered less complex levels of thinking such as remembering and understanding.  

2. How quickly to introduce new concepts

By separating different levels, Bloom’s taxonomy helps instructors decide how quickly to introduce new concepts. For example, if learner on a particular course can recall facts and concepts and paraphrase certain points, they have probably mastered the first two levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. If they then struggle to use that information in a new situation, this tells the course instructor that the learners are still struggling with the third level – Apply – and need more time before progressing the fourth level – Analyze.  

3. When to reinforce concepts

Bloom’s taxonomy also helps teachers and instructors decide when reinforcement is necessary. To continue the above example, if learners are struggling with the third level of thinking – Apply – it indicates that they need to reinforce their knowledge and understanding of the topic. Therefore, Bloom’s taxonomy acts as a control mechanism that helps instructors identify when certain topics need reinforcement.  

4. How to assess concepts

One of the main reasons for the widespread popularity of Bloom’s among teachers and educators is that it helps them set their assessments at the right level. An instructor for a foundational level college course would likely aim their initial assessments at Level 1 – Remember or Level 2 – Understand. If they targeted higher levels of thinking such as analyze or create, they would risk overwhelming their students. However, an instructor for a post-graduate class could well assume that the students have solid knowledge and understanding of certain foundational topics and could set assessments that target higher-levels of thinking.  

6. Understanding Bloom’s taxonomy learning objectives 

Bloom’s taxonomy has three separate domains of educational activities: 

  • Cognitive
     
  • Psychomotor
     
  • Affective 

These domains are also referred to by the acronym KSA, as follows: 

  • K = Knowledge (cognitive)
     
  • S = Skills (psychomotor)
     
  • A = Attitudes (affective) 

The goal is for all students to have acquired new knowledge, skills, and attitudes about a given subject by the end of the course. Let’s look at these areas in greater detail.   

The cognitive domain 

The six levels of the original Bloom’s taxonomy - Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation – are at the heart of the cognitive domain. Being able to recall and understands concepts, patterns and facts provide the basis for higher levels of thinking.  

The psychomotor domain 

In the psychomotor domain, students develop physical or manual skills, such as the use of motor skills, coordination, and physical movement. Depending on the age group or setting, psychomotor skills can include anything from dressing a wound to operating heavy machinery. These skills are measured in terms of procedures, technique, precision, and speed.  

The affective domain 

The affective domain concerns the emotions of feelings that students have a subject and themselves. For example, in a medical setting, the affective domain may assess a student’s ability to demonstrate empathy. In a classroom setting, the students’ ability to participate in discussions may be evaluated.  
 

Measurable learning objectives

 

7. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in course design 

Bloom’s taxonomy is commonly used by educators in a school or college setting to create curricula, set assignments, and plan lessons.  

However, it is also helpful to course designers in four main ways: 

  1. Match course content with learner needs
     
  2. Give clear goals to achieve 
     
  3. Set the correct pace of the course.  

Let’s examine these more closely:  

1. Match course content with learner needs

In a workplace setting, training courses have specific goals against which they will be judged. For example, a company may run a customer service course to improve customer satisfaction rates. The goal of the course is to produce more favorable customer feedback, through training the employees. Course designers and instructors can use the tools of Bloom’s taxonomy to tailor a course to the needs of the participants, ensuring that the learners demonstrate the proper cognitive abilities at each stage of the training before moving on to the next stage.  

2. Give clear goals to achieve

One of the many pitfalls that professional training can fall into is failing to give participants clear goals to achieve. Continuing the above example about a customer service course, the company’s stakeholders may set a broad goal such as ‘Reducing customer complaints’. But this is very vague and doesn’t specifically tell participants what they need to do.  

Following Bloom’s taxonomy ensures that course participants are given clear, concise, and measurable goals to achieve. The 2001 revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy is even more helpful than the original as it gives measurable verbs for each level to help the learner understand specifically they are required to do.  

3. Set the correct pace of the course

Following the six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy for corporate training course design helps instructors set the correct pace for the course. At any given time, participants on a course designed according to Bloom’s taxonomy are only asked to focus on one particular objective, such as ‘Remember’ or ‘Understand’, at any given time. All questions and tasks are based on that particular objective. 

Look: 

Participants asked to ‘compare’, ‘discuss’ or ‘predict’ will understand that the course is focused on the lower levels of thinking. If they are asked to ‘relate’ or ‘investigate’, they will understand that they have moved onto the analysis stage. If instructors constantly measure participants progress, they can determine whether the course is moving too quickly or too slowly and make adjustments accordingly.   

8. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in assessments and evaluations 

Most businesses use some form of training evaluation framework to determine whether their training has been successful. Example frameworks include Kirkpatrick’s taxonomy, the Phillips’ ROI Methodology, and the Stufflebeam model. What all of these approaches have in common is that they try to assess the course participants in some way, be it their knowledge, understanding or skills. Bloom’s taxonomy can help here too. 

Here's the deal:

Using Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide, course designers and instructors can shift the focus to what they want the participants to achieve, rather than what specific activity will contribute towards the overall goal. For instance, the second level of the Kirkpatrick taxonomy – Learning – often calls for the participants to complete some form of test or exam to determine how much they have learned. Bloom’s taxonomy helps ensure that the participants are given clear expectations and that the assessment matches the level of thinking targeted by the training. In other words, it helps to match the assessment and evaluation techniques to the course content.

If you're interested in learning more, our post about how to use Bloom's hierarchy to succeed in evaluating training effectiveness delves deeper into this area.   

9. Criticisms of Bloom’s taxonomy 

As with any taxonomy, Bloom’s is a theoretical construct that is open to interpretation and by no means needs to be followed to the letter! It can be adapted to fit a multitude of teaching philosophies, teaching styles and approaches, across a broad range of age groups.  

However, some curriculum theorists, assessment specialists, and cognitive psychologists have cast doubt over various aspects of Bloom’s. For example, it isn’t necessarily true that students need to start at the lowest level of thinking about a particular subject before working their way up to higher levels such as analysis. Some students can have meaningful dialogue about facts, despite lacking a complete understanding, for example. Others have noted that Bloom’s is better applied for the lower levels of learning – Remember, Understand, Apply – rather than for the full scope.  

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