Taxonomies of Learning

by | Nov 29, 2021 | Instructional Design

Creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent.  

 — Benjamin Bloom 

In this article, I want to clarify some misconceptions and add a layer of understanding to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. If you’re like me, you probably heard about Bloom’s Taxonomy over the years and have had a general sense of how it could inform the instructional design and learning process.  

Let me start with a bit of background.  

A learning taxonomy is a classification system. It’s the science of listing and describing something to organize information. Often, taxonomies are arranged hierarchically and reflect an order.  

Timeline

The first misconception I’d like to clarify is that “Bloom’s Taxonomy” is not the most up-to-date learning taxonomy, nor is it the most complete. It’s become like ‘Kleenex’ – the brand or name has become equivalent to the product itself.  

Here’s a timeline that illustrates the evolution of learning taxonomies. 

taxonomies-of-learning-timeline

Why does this matter? A lot of work goes into this type of thinking, and I believe it’s important to have the correct attribution. Benjamin Bloom met annually with four other measurement specialists from 1949 to 1956 to create the original taxonomy1. That’s seven years of thinking, discussing, and working! 

I also think it’s important to recognize that thinking evolves. New ideas emerge out of previous people’s ideas and the original work is changed. 

Description   

Now that I’ve defined taxonomy and shared the history, let me describe the Revised Taxonomy and add some layers of understanding.  

The taxonomy below focuses on the Cognitive domain. The six categories move from Remember to Create and reflect a sequence from simple to complex and concrete to abstract. 

taxonomies-of-learning-cognitive-domain

Another layer of understanding  

Within this Cognitive domain, there are also subcategories. These categories and subcategories represent two dimensions, which reflect the difference between (a) knowledge and (b) the mental and intellectual operations performed on, or with, that knowledge. One of the criticisms of the original taxonomy is that the cognitive processes and the subcategories combined nouns and verbs. It was inconsistent, which after seven years of work, you’d probably want your work to be pretty solid.  

Anderson and Krathwohl reworked the original taxonomy to address this inconsistency and align it with the latest thinking in learning.  

Let me summarize the two dimensions here.  

  • The verbs in the triangle image above reflect the cognitive process dimension – the mental and intellectual processes. They are categories in the cognitive domain.  
  • There are also nouns, outlined in the table below, which are the sub-categories within the cognitive domain. This is the knowledge dimension within the cognitive domain.  
taxonomies-of-learning-two-dimensions

Within each cognitive process, you can have different levels of knowledge.  

taxonomies-of-learning-cognitive-process-two-dimension

David Krathwohl’s article, A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview1, provides additional details and examples of how these two dimensions can inform the design process.   

How to use taxonomies 

So, what do we do with all this theory and how can it inform our learning design process? There are three places where Learning Taxonomies can support learning and development. I’ll touch on the first two – learning objectives and activities. The third, evaluation, is worthy of a newsletter unto itself so I will cover it another time. Stay tuned! 

Taxonomy and learning objectives 

Learning objectives are the foundation of a training course. After we have analyzed the need and confirmed that training will address the problem, the objectives identify what the individual needs to learn and do differently.  

Learning objectives describe what people will learn. They have these characteristics: 

  • They describe the intended outcome, not the process, of the program.  
  • They are specific and measurable, rather than broad and intangible.  
  • They are focused on what the participant will learn as opposed to what the facilitator or designer is presenting in the course. 

When we create our learning objectives, consider the Learning Taxonomy. If you want participants to understand a concept, the verb you use needs to illustrate that understanding. Or, if you want participants to apply what they learn, you would use a different verb in the objective. And, if you wanted participants to evaluate something, you would use a different verb yet again.  

Here’s an example of setting up a new bank account in a financial institution’s system. 

taxonomies-of-learning-setting-up-of-new-bank-account-in-a-financial-institution-system

To make this even more robust, we can layer in the second dimension – The level of Knowledge. This is how I would identify each of the objectives.  

taxonomies-of-learning-the-level-of-knowledge

Taxonomy and learning activities 

Once we have defined the learning objectives, they guide the process to create the learning activities.  

taxonomies-of-learning-process-to-create-the-learning-activities

In reality, I find creating objectives and designing the course iterative. I start with objectives, then do some design, then tweak the objectives.  

1 Krathwohl, D. R. (2002) A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy. (PDF) in Theory into Practice. V 41. #4. Autumn, 2002. Ohio State University. 

2 Wilson Owen, L. (2016) Anderson, and Krathwohl Bloom’s Taxonomy Revised: Understanding the New Version of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Accessed online Nov 25, 2021, https://thesecondprinciple.com/essential-teaching-skills/blooms-taxonomy-revised/  


In summary 

There is so much depth within the learning taxonomies, especially when you incorporate both dimensions. Admittedly, when I set out to write this newsletter, I thought I knew it well and it would be quite straightforward. I added to my learning in this process! The challenge and the opportunity are to not get lost in the theory but to use this model as a way to inform our instructional design process.  


A favour and a question 

In close, I have a favour and a question for you.  

A favour – change your language and refer to this as a Learning Taxonomy, Revised Taxonomy, or even Anderson and Krathwohl’s Taxonomy. 

A question – Is this helpful? How might you use this taxonomy to inform your instructional design? 

In case you missed it

I’ve shared some additional posts online. Here they are in case you missed them.  

  • Learning objectives – who cares and how are they measured – (video post
  • Learning Taxonomy throughout the training design process – (video post
  • Learning strategy to retain employees – (link
  • How small groups can report back online – (video post
  • Types of Participant’s material – (link

Curious to learn more? 

I specialize in learning design and learning strategy. Here are some resources to learn more: 

  • Learning Design webinars – free 60-minute sessions with online design tips and ideas to elevate your online programs (link) 
  • Design for a Digital Age program – 2 month self-study and online program to design an online course for your organization (link) 
  • Facilitate in a Digital Age program – 1 month self-study and online program to integrate adult learning best practices and the latest technology to deliver a seamless online course. (link
  • Learning Strategy webinars – free 60-minute sessions with models to get started with creating a learning strategy (link
  • Learning Strategy consulting – email me! info@performancematters.ca