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The Beginner’s Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels of Learning - HRDQ

The Beginner’s Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels of Learning

When you implement a training program in your workplace, you are working to improve the knowledge and skills of your team in a way that helps boost both their abilities and confidence. However, anyone who has participated in or overseen training programs will know that the efficacy of employee training programs can range widely.

Understanding the stages people go through when learning can ensure that your training programs fulfill your objectives.

One model commonly used in educational settings to understand the learning process is Bloom's taxonomy. While much of the literature about this set of models is about learning in the classroom, it also has a lot of possible applications in the workplace.

Let's dive in and look at what you'll need to know about the levels of learning in Bloom's taxonomy, including how it can be used in business and common criticisms of the model.

What Is Bloom's Taxonomy?

Bloom's taxonomy is used to organize educational learning objectives into different levels of specificity and complexity. Made up of three hierarchical models, Bloom's taxonomy is based on the notion that learning is a process that begins with foundational knowledge and progresses to more complex kinds of thinking.

You will often see Bloom's taxonomy visualized in the shape of a pyramid in a way that is similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of the period are lower levels of thinking that must be mastered before moving up each step in the pyramid.

Explaining Blooms Taxonomy

These models were named after Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist. Not only did he chair the committee that created the taxonomy, but he also edited the first volume of Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals.

Preceding the publication of this first volume was a series of conferences that ran between 1949 and 1953. These were held to improve the design of exams and curricula, and communication between educators about these topics.

Volume I was published in 1956, and volume II was published in 1964. Nearly half a century later, a revised version of Bloom's taxonomy was released in 2001.

A Look at Bloom's Taxonomy

Benjamin Bloom didn't create the taxonomy independently but instead had help from collaborators such as Edward Furst, Max Englehart, David Krathwohl, and Walter Hill. The taxonomy was created to help categorize educational goals. The hope here was that classifying educational goals could make assessing student performance more straightforward and effective.

Researching Blooms Taxonomy

It's worth noting that Bloom's taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models. While the cognitive model is the one that is primarily used to help structure curriculum assessments, learning objectives, and activities, it is technically only one piece of the taxonomy.

The three hierarchical models in Bloom's taxonomy cover the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains. The revised 2001 edition of the taxonomy gives slightly different names to the cognitive (knowledge-based) domain levels.

The Cognitive Domain (Knowledge-Based)

When you hear a discussion about Bloom's taxonomy, there's a good chance the focus is mainly on the cognitive domain. It's worth understanding that the original taxonomy version in 1956 had slightly different names and a different order than the revised 2001 edition.

Blooms 1956 and 2001 Taxonomy

The original cognitive taxonomy included, from lowest to highest:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

The revised taxonomy is organized as follows:

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyze
  • Evaluate
  • Create

For the most part, the new version simply changes the names of the already-existing taxonomical levels. However, the revised edition does lower the position of the "evaluating" step in the pyramid one rung. Rather than having "synthesis" be the fifth step in the pyramid and "evaluation" the sixth, evaluation becomes the fifth level and creation the sixth.

The Cognitive Domain

So what do each of these levels mean?

  • Remember: At the bottom rung of the cognitive domain of Bloom's taxonomy, we have the ability to recall facts and ideas. This level is when individuals are challenged to remember the most basic information about a topic or text.
  • Understand: This level refers to the individual's ability to understand the material and comprehend its meaning.
  • Apply: At the application level, the individual can use the information they have learned to solve problems.
  • Analyze: The analysis level refers to a person's ability to recognize patterns, make connections, and grasp deeper meanings from the information they have learned.
  • Evaluate: At the fifth level, people can develop judgments and opinions that they are capable of defending with evidence and reasoning.
  • Create: The final level, creation, is when people can make something new from what they have learned.

The cognitive domain is a model to describe the cognitive processes which occur when a person learns something new. Organized in a hierarchical relation to one another, the idea is that the lowest levels must first be obtained to move up the pyramid.

The Psychomotor Domain (Action-Based)

The psychomotor domain focuses on skills that involve physically manipulating an instrument or a tool. The objectives in this domain are often geared towards developing or changing a student's skills and behavior.

There weren't ever any subcategories created in the psychomotor domain by Bloom and his colleagues. However, taxonomies in this model have been created by other educators in the years since Bloom's taxonomy was first developed.

The Psychomotor Domain

One hierarchy of the psychomotor domain, as proposed by Elizabeth Simpson, breaks down the model into:

  • Perception: At this stage, the student or individual can guide their motor activity using sensory cues.
  • Set: The second level involves a student's readiness to act. This level includes sets that are physical, mental, and emotional. This subcategory is closely related to the subdivision of the affective domain known as "responding to phenomena."
  • Guided Response: These are the beginning stages of learning a complex skill. Including trial and error and imitation, practice is necessary for the student to begin to perform the skill adequately.
  • Mechanism: This is considered the intermediate stage of learning a complex skill. At this point, the student can perform the necessary movements with some proficiency and confidence, and, to some extent, the responses have become habitual.
  • Complex Overt Response: At this stage, the student can perform the complex task through accurate, quick, and highly coordinated movements. Because of their competency at this level, only a minimum amount of energy is required even though the skill is complex.
  • Adaptation: An individual in this phase of learning is skilled enough that they can modify their movement patterns to meet the needs of specific circumstances.
  • Origination: Finally, the final stage is the origination level. This level is when the student can create new movement patterns to solve a particular problem or fit a specific situation. With highly developed skills, the student can creatively deviate from what they have learned.

In a business setting, this model can be helpful for teams that primarily do manual or physical work. 

The Affective Domain (Emotion-Based)

The skills that comprise the affective domain describe how people can feel the pain or joy of other living things and how they react emotionally to various situations. The objectives of the affective domain typically focus on growth and awareness of emotion, attitudes, and feeling.

According to Bloom's taxonomy, five levels make up the affective domain. They are arranged in a hierarchy, with the first category being the lowest in a pyramid shape and the fifth being the highest.

The Affective Domain

The five categories are:

  • Receiving: This level is necessary for learning to occur. At the receiving level, students are paying attention passively. Memory and recognition are also significant parts of the receiving level.
  • Responding: In the second step of the affective domain, students participate in the learning process activity.
  • Valuing: In the valuing stage, the student associates a value to the information they have learned.
  • Organizing: At this point, the student can organize the information and ideas they have learned.
  • Characterizing: Finally, the student can attempt to build abstract knowledge.

While this model and the psychomotor model are often swept to the side in favor of the cognitive domain model, that doesn't mean the affective domain doesn't have practical information that you can harness to meet your business goals.

How Can Bloom's Taxonomy Be Applied?

While Bloom's taxonomy is often applied in educational settings, there are many ways that this set of models can be used in your business or workplace. For example, you can choose to apply the taxonomy to your existing systems and personalize the learning process for employees in different departments and at varying skill levels.

These models are practical because of the way that they bring knowledge and application together. By applying Bloom's taxonomy, you can help your team understand the learning process and assist them up the hierarchical ladder to develop skills in their occupation.

Applying Bloons Taxonomy

As a business owner or a manager, it can be beneficial to understand the different learning models used in educational and business environments. When you apply Bloom's taxonomy, you can improve employee learning objectives and grasp the stages your team will need to go through to learn new skills and information.

Do you feel like it's a struggle to keep your employees motivated and engaged during the training process? Take a look at this thorough guide to learn more about how to structure your training for the best results.

What Are the Criticisms of Bloom's Taxonomy?

When considering applying any theoretical model to your business, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the criticisms and the praise.

One criticism of the original model argued that the taxonomy wasn't properly constructed. That was because its construction didn't have a systematic rationale behind it.

However, this was acknowledged when the taxonomy was revised in 2001. At this time, the organization of the taxonomy was based on more systematic lines.

Other criticisms that have popped up over the years relate to the cognitive domain model. While there is general agreement that the six different categories exist, there is some question about whether they truly sit in a hierarchical formation in relation to one another.

Criticizing Blooms Taxonomy

Because of the organization of the levels in a hierarchy, there is some concern that the lowest levels are not necessary because of their position in the hierarchy. However, it's crucial to understand that the lower levels are considered essential steps to reach the higher levels of skills in the taxonomy.

Some critics believe that the three lowest levels of the cognitive domain model are, in fact, hierarchical but that the three highest levels exist in parallel relation to one another. Others argue that the learning environment should be problem-based first rather than theoretical in the first place.

Another point of criticism is that cognitive processes are often highly interconnected, meaning that several different processes can be used at one time in relation to any given cognitive task.

Bloom's taxonomy can be very helpful in understanding the general process that occurs when an individual learns. However, as you likely know, people tend to have their preferences regarding learning styles. If you're curious to learn more about the four types of learning styles, check out this guide.

Understanding the Levels of Learning Can Help You Be a More Effective Leader

While there are many valid criticisms of Bloom's taxonomy, this model has been widely used in educational and training settings to structure learning so that it is effective and efficient. When you invest in training programs for your team or your managers, you want to know that it is designed to reach the objectives you are looking to meet.

There is some usefulness in understanding Bloom's taxonomy, but it's also important to recognize that individual people have their unique learning styles. That's why we created What's My Learning Style. As a part of HRDQ's best-selling Style Suite, this program helps individuals recognize their learning styles.

Leader of a Team

When your team takes this assessment, they will quickly learn which of the four learning styles they prefer. Not only will they learn which learning style they are more likely to utilize, but they can also learn how to minimize their weaknesses, improve their strengths, and become more flexible in the face of different challenges.

Do you have any questions about Bloom's taxonomy levels of learning or how you can use the model in your business? Was there anything we mentioned in today's article that you feel could use a little more explanation? If you answered yes to either question, please feel free to drop us a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment and question we receive, and we would love to assist you however possible!

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.