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Benjamin Bloom: the man who changed education
Benjamin Samuel Bloom (February 21, 1913 – September 13, 1999) was an American educational psychologist who examined and then restructured the way teaching should be approached, to maximise learners’ performance. His book, The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals (1956), set out a series of learning objectives that became known as Bloom’s taxonomy. It continues to impact the way educational curricula are structured to this day. Bloom’s taxonomy divided learning into three psychological domains – cognitive (processing information), affective (attitudes and feelings) and psychomotor (physical skills).
Within those domains, his taxonomy progressed from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), through six levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and then evaluation. Essentially, Bloom’s model evolved education from being a case of learners just memorising information they had been taught to first remembering it; then understanding it; then applying it (in exercises); then analysing it and, finally, being able to evaluate it at a complex level. Bloom’s taxonomy was updated by former students of his in 2001, and the updated version is now widely used in all spheres of education. In 2008, a variation of Bloom’s was created for use specifically in the modern, digitally-enabled classroom.
Bloom’s taxonomy: what is it, and how is it used?
Bloom’s taxonomy is a multi-layered model for encouraging learning by progressing through six levels of increasing complexity. The six levels include Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analysing, Evaluating and Creating. Bloom’s taxonomy encourages learners to engage with knowledge at a deeper and more interactive level, working with what they are learning in the real-world sense, rather than just passively taking information on board. Here is how Bloom’s updated taxonomy structures the learning process, from the most basic up to the most complex level:
Bloom’s taxonomy (revised) – Lorin Anderson and David Karathwohl (2001)
Putting elements together to form a new, coherent and functional whole.
|Evaluating||Making judgements based on criteria and standards by checking and critiquing.|
|Analysing||Breaking information into constituent parts and establishing how they relate to one another.|
|Applying||Implementing what was learnt in the Remembering and Understanding phases.|
|Understanding||Constructing meaning by interpreting and summarising information.|
|Remembering||Recalling information from long-term memory.|
Bloom’s taxonomy as an interdependent learning process
While Bloom’s taxonomy arranges learning into six cognitive levels in order of hierarchy and complexity, it also sees each level as being interdependent on the other levels, with all levels contributing to the final, holistic learning outcome. This is why, while Bloom’s taxonomy is traditionally rendered as a pyramid or even an inverted pyramid, it is also rendered in other forms that place more emphasis on the interdependence of the levels:
The interdependence of Bloom’s different learning levels can be articulated through logic:
- Before we can understand a concept, we must be able to remember it.
- Before we can apply the concept, we must be able to understand it.
- Before we analyse it, we must be able to apply it.
- Before we can evaluate its impact, we must have analysed it.
- Before we can create something based on the concept, we must have remembered, understood, applied, analysed and evaluated the concept.
The non-pyramid forms for expressing Bloom’s taxonomy indicate that learning may not always progress linearly up through the six levels. Rather, learners might move back and forth between different levels depending on the learning situation, or they might spend more time in some levels of the taxonomy than in others. The human brain, by nature, tends to behave in a lateral manner rather than a set linear manner.
The six cognitive levels of Bloom’s taxonomy
Now let’s examine the six cognitive levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in more detail, with examples of their application in the classroom. Certain verbs are ascribed to the different levels, to clarify further the kind of thinking involved at each level.