Bloom's taxonomy for education

Use Bloom’s Taxonomy for Amazing Online Learning Objectives

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification structure for defining the learning objectives that teachers set for their students. The taxonomy is hierarchical in nature, which means the the higher skills in the pyramid are dependent on the student first achieving proficiency in the lower skills.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is frequently displayed as a leveled pyramid, with associated verbs attached to the pyramid levels to demonstrate the actions learners are taking at each level in the taxonomy.

As school districts and educators continue to accelerate their use of online learning tools and strategies in the wake of the Coronavirus school closures, there is an increasing need to assess the application of Bloom’s Taxonomy in blended or exclusively online learning environments.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Overview

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist at the University of Chicago, first proposed using the taxonomy as a way to classify the skills and learning objectives that educators set for their students.  The original version of the taxonomy broke down student learning into six levels of objectives: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

In 2001, Bloom’s taxonomy was revised to better support the progression of skill and learning objectives.  The current version of Bloom’s Taxonomy includes the following levels:

  1. Remember:  Demonstrating an ability to recognize or remember data, facts, terms, basic concepts, or answers without necessarily knowing what they mean.
  2. Understand:  Drawing meaning from messages (written, oral, and graphic) by categorizing, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining relationships in the information.
  3. Apply: Using acquired knowledge to solve problems in new situations by using rules, tools, and techniques.
  4. Analyze: Examining and breaking down information into component parts, demonstrating an ability to analyze elements, relationships, and organization of the component parts.
  5. Evaluate: Assessing and assigning value based on criteria and being able to justify a stand or decision.
  6. Create: Utilize the understanding of the concept to create a new or original work derived from subject understanding.

The presentation of the taxonomy as a pyramid reinforces the understanding that higher level skills are dependent on learners first achieving proficiency in the wider base skills underneath.  The learner’s progression through they pyramid sees a transition from first exposure and awareness of a learning object, to a deepening understanding of the learning object, and finally resulting in the ability for the learning to independently create their own creative works using the skills, techniques, and processes they have learned.

One of the enduring qualities of Bloom’s Taxonomy is that it can be applied to both short course learning objectives, such as a third grade class understanding basic poetry, or to long-course learning objectives, such as a Master’s program in software engineering.  The educator is responsible for determining the final learning objectives for the students, then working through the exercises and activities at each level in the Taxonomy to ensure students are achieving the required learning skills along the way.

Bloom's taxonomy for education

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to Online Learning Objectives

Considering the sudden and extreme shift to Online Learning environments following the school closures, educators are finding themselves at an inflection point as they determine how to apply traditional classroom frameworks like Bloom’s Taxonomy to online learning environments.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is effective in traditional learning environments because it helps educators guide students through the natural process of learning:

  • Remembering a learning object is a requirement for understanding it.
  • Understanding a learning object is a requirement for being able to apply it.
  • If you can’t apply a concept, you can’t analyze the concept.
  • Without being able to analyze a learning object, you cannot evaluate it.
  • If you are unable to evaluate a concept, you can independently create variations of it accurately.
In both Online and traditional learning environments, it is expected that students will have varying degrees of existing understanding of the subject, and will not necessarily be starting from the bottom of the pyramid on all concepts.  Therefore, it is important for the educator to be able to accurately determine the starting point of the students in relation to the Taxonomy.  Understanding that everything is relative to the situation it is being applied to, there are a number of variables educators should consider when evaluating their learning objectives via Bloom’s Taxonomy.

What is the Starting Point?

Educators using Bloom’s Taxonomy as an approach to setting learning objectives should take into consideration a number of factors, including:
  1. Age range of the students: Are the students all grouped tightly in an age range (i.e. PreK-12 schooling), or are their ages more diversified, as would be found in Higher Education and continuous learning programs?
  2. Prerequisite learning: Have the students completed prerequisite courses to qualify to the current course?  Are the students beginning their learning on the subject from scratch?  Is understanding of the learning objects in the content something that life experiences would impact?
  3. Qualitative factors: What are the qualitative factors that may come from life experiences from learners that can related to existing understanding of the learning objectives?  Can the teacher adapt the learning objectives to suit the experiences of learners when concepts are first introduced.
  4. Post-completion: Will learning outcomes from the concepts being studied lay the foundation for the next step in a sequence of related courses?

What are the Learning Environments?

In recent years, the emergence of first blended learning environments (part traditional, part online instruction), and now fully online learning environments, have forced educators to take the learning environment itself into consideration when setting the learning objectives for a course.  Over time, and with increased focus and communication on the specific needs of fully online learning environments, frameworks such as Bloom’s  Taxonomy will be amended to better fit the growing needs of online education.

Assessing learning environments for planning learning objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy should include an examination of the following questions:

  1. Learning environment: To what degree will learning instruction be conducted in a traditional learning environment?
  2. Supporting tools: What supporting online and offline tools will be required for students to be able to demonstrate required proficiency in the subject matter?  Do all learners have reliable access to the required tools?
  3. Hardware/software proficiency: Is proficiency in digital tools (online learning platform knowledge, publishing tools, communication tools, etc.) a requirement for students being able to demonstrate knowledge of the subject?
  4. Technical blockers:  Does the learning environment support the requirements for delivering content instruction?  If not, what additional tools or content changes are required to fit the material to the environment?
  5. Environmental blockers: Does the learning environment prevent the student from being able to attain proficiency in some levels of the taxonomy due to a separation of the learner from tools or equipment needed to show or attain proficiency.

Aligning Learning Objectives to Bloom’s Taxonomy

After assessing and understanding the level of subject knowledge students will be starting with, as well as the impacts of online learning on attaining proficiency, the next step is to set specific learning objectives that will alight with each level of the taxonomy.  To help educators properly construct objectives in alignment with the taxonomy, the 2001 rework of includes action verbs that help identify the the types of tasks learners should be doing at each level.

Action verbs in the taxonomy are not necessarily limited to a single level in the taxonomy.  However, the educator should be able to determine appropriate activities for each level in he taxonomy based on the the action verbs recommended.  For example, in the Remember level of the taxonomy, we can see the action verb repeat.  An example of a learning outcome for this level in a Geography context could be “At the end of this lesson, students will be able to repeat the names of all 7 continents.”

The following table shows Bloom’s Taxonomy broken down by level, action verbs for each level, and a sample learning objective along the theme of Geography.

Taxonomy LevelAction VerbsLearning Objective Examples
Createdesign, assemble, construct, conjecture, develop, formulate, author, investigateBy the end of this lesson, the student will be able to design their own contintent which includes the major geographical features learned, and is able to support human life.
Evaluateappraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, critique, weighBy the end of this lesson, the student will be able to critique geographical features of the seven continents which are necessary for supporting human life.
Analyzedifferentiate, organize, relate, compare, contrast, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, testBy the end of this lesson, the student will be able to distinguish between the physical characteristics of all seven continents.
Applyexecute, implement, solve, use, demonstrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketchBy the end of this lesson, the student will be able to sketch the outlines of all 7 contenents.
Understandclassify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, translateBy the end ot the lesson, the student will be able to identify all seven continents from a blank map of the world.
Rememberdefine, duplicate, list, memorize, repeate, stateBy the end of this lesson, the student will be able to repeat the names of all seven continents.

Setting SMART Goals with Bloom’s Taxonomy

As an educator, it is important to be able to measure learning outcomes quantitatively.   Therefore, when considering learning objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy, the outcomes themselves can be converted into a SMART goal format.  With regards to online learning environments, the considerations of the learning environment and the impact of technology on learner interactions needs to be taken into consideration when setting the SMART goals.  When setting SMART goals at all levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is necessary to choose action verbs and quantifying sentences which allow the student’s demonstration of the learning objectives to be measured.

While determining the learning objectives for the lessons and content proficiency, it is important for the educator to consider the assessment tools they have at their disposal.  In a strictly online learning environment, the assessment tools for demonstrating mastery of course content may be limited in many cases.  Therefore, educators should think about how their assessment options will impact the learning objectives that can be set for the students.

Everything is Relative

When utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy for setting and implementing online or offline learning objectives, remember that everything is relative.  The types of learning objectives set for a math class will be very different than those set for a language arts class.  Additionally, the learning objectives set for a full semester course or a year of a program will be very different from the learning objectives set for a chapter or a unit of a single subject.

Bloom’s Taxonomy gives educators a framework that is just as applicable for setting learning outcomes in individual lessons or units as it is in setting learning outcomes in full courses or even degree programs.  Looking to the future, the growth of online learning will continue to accelerate at all levels of education.  And as many innovators are looking to technology to solve Benjamin Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem, we will continue to see innovations supporting solid learning objectives set by educators following frameworks like Bloom’s Taxonomy.

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