A Model for Learning at the Right Level
Are you an expert at everything?
You're not, of course – and you don't need to be! Some tasks require only a minimal amount of knowledge. And others are best left to people with the relevant expertise.
But it is good to be aware of what you know about something, and how well you know it. That way, if your knowledge isn't sufficient, you can take steps to improve it.
And when you're managing others, you can use the same approach to check that they have the knowledge they need to do their job.
Bloom's Taxonomy can help with this. It's a way of understanding the different types of knowledge we can have, and the different levels of knowledge that we can achieve. What's more, it can guide us all to widen and deepen our learning.
What Is Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning?
Bloom's Taxonomy is a famous model of learning, or "educational objectives," first published in 1956 by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom.
It was revised in 2001 and remains an influential way of explaining how learning works – and how it can be improved – in education and at work.
What Are Bloom's Three Domains?
Bloom's Taxonomy is actually a set of three different models, exploring three separate aspects (or "domains") of thinking and learning.
These domains are:
- Cognitive – knowledge-based learning.
- Affective – emotional learning, including how we handle feelings and develop attitudes.
- Sensory – physical learning: sensing, moving and manipulating.
All three domains are important for our development. But it's the cognitive domain that is now widely referred to as Bloom's Taxonomy.
Bloom's Taxonomy Revised
In 2001, a team of psychologists and educational experts published a revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy. They retained Bloom's focus on the cognitive domain, but redefined the different types of knowledge – and updated and reorganized the levels of knowledge.
The Four Types of Knowledge
In the revised taxonomy, there are four types of knowledge in place of Bloom's original 12. They are:
- Factual – information that provides the building blocks for learning.
For example, imagine you are at a learning event about interview techniques. This type would include knowledge of what makes a good first impression – such as punctuality, appropriate clothing, and confident body language.
- Conceptual – including categories, structures and theories.
Continuing the above example, conceptual knowledge here might involve understanding the typical features of a competency-based interview question, as well as the theory behind this approach.
- Procedural – how to use specific techniques and methods, and when they're appropriate.
This could mean knowing something like the STAR Method for answering competency questions (by describing a Situation, Task, Action, and Result).
- Metacognitive – strategy decisions, self-knowledge, and "thinking about thinking."
Completing our interview techniques example, metacognitive knowledge might include how to tackle unexpected questions, and how to gauge the quality of your chosen approach.
How Do the Levels Work in Bloom's Taxonomy?
According to Bloom's Taxonomy, whatever type of knowledge you're working with, you can think about it in different ways – from just knowing the basic facts, to exploring possibilities in highly complex ways.
You won't always need to, though. Even the most basic level will be adequate for many tasks. But when you do need to explore a subject more deeply, Bloom's model can show you how.
The original version of Bloom's Taxonomy defined the ascending levels as Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
Bloom's Taxonomy Verbs
In the revised taxonomy, there are still six levels of learning, but they're given more active names – describing what learners have to do. And the final two levels have been swapped. The levels are traditionally shown as a pyramid (see figure 1, below). The basic levels are wider than those above because more people stay at these lower levels of knowledge.
Figure 1 – Levels of Learning Pyramid in the Revised Version of Bloom's Taxonomy.
The Bloom's Taxonomy verbs for each level are:
- Remember. This is learning at its most basic (although it can involve complex information). At this level, people likely know the key terminology for a particular subject, relevant facts and figures, or systems and theories that others have developed.
- Understand. Here, people know more about what the information actually means. They can start organizing, comparing and interpreting it themselves.
- Apply. At this level, knowledge is used in new ways, and applied to solve more complex problems.
- Analyze. This involves breaking information into parts, to examine them individually and to see how they relate to each other.
- Evaluate. Here, people make judgments about what they've discovered so far, allowing them to make confident recommendations and suggest innovative ideas.
- Create. At this final level, people are able to reorganize the information they're working with, or combine it with knowledge from elsewhere, to create new possibilities.
How To Use Bloom's Taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy shows you what types of knowledge you currently have, so that you can use them to the full – or work on gaining new types of knowledge as necessary.
For example, your conceptual knowledge about a particular management practice may be strong, because of a course you took at college. But if you're struggling to know when to use certain methods, you may need to devote time to boosting your procedural knowledge.
It also shows you what level of knowledge you're at – and how you could progress your learning from there.
For instance, you might analyze your level of knowledge about an aspect of leadership and realize that you're stuck at Understand. To advance your learning and achieve more, you should then find ways to Apply what you know – the next level of Bloom's taxonomy.
Using Bloom's Taxonomy With Your Team
As well as guiding your own thinking and learning, Bloom's model can also show you how to support others.
Maybe one of your people is struggling to develop enough conceptual knowledge, and you could help them to gain the factual knowledge they're missing.
Another team member might show particular prowess when they Evaluate sets of metrics. How could you support them to take this a step further, so that they start to Create new opportunities from the data they explore?
Bloom's Taxonomy for Trainers
When you're organizing a learning event, you can use the taxonomy to gauge what your participants likely know already, and to highlight what you want them to learn.
If you realize that you're introducing new types of knowledge, do so gently and with high levels of support.
On the other hand, you'll be able to move faster and include more complexity if you're building on what people already know.
Also consider the level of learning people are at – and where you want them to be. For example, are they ready to Apply the information you're working with yet? Or will you achieve more by helping them just to Remember key facts and ideas?
Bloom's Taxonomy is an influential learning model from the 1950s, focusing on knowledge. It shows the distinct types of knowledge that we can gain, and the different levels of knowledge that we can reach.
The original taxonomy was revised in 2001. This reduced the number of knowledge types from 12 to four: Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, and Metacognitive.
The knowledge levels were also revised. They are: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and finally Create.
With Bloom's Taxonomy, you can see what type of knowledge you have, and what level of knowledge you're at, in any given area. You can then take steps to widen or deepen your knowledge as necessary.
It also shows you how to support other people's learning – to ensure that they have the knowledge they need now, and to identify areas where they may need a boost to progress.
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