Bloom’s Taxonomy and Educational Psychology


Today, psychology and education are inextricably linked, and no student with a focus on teaching leaves college without a firm understanding of educational psychology; however, this relationship is a relatively recent development. In fact, it was not until Benjamin Bloom published his Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956 that a system of classifying learning behaviors and goals in terms of psychological development was introduced. Since its inception, the Taxonomy has been considered a foundational element within the educational community and has influenced how curricula and tests are designed.

Bloom’s Taxonomy in a Nutshell

Actually developed by dozens of specialists over a series of conferences between 1949 and 1953, Bloom’s Taxonomy splits learning behaviors into the areas, or domains, known as cognitive, affective and psychomotor development. An understanding of what each of these categories entails is helpful when applying Bloom’s theories in the classroom.

Cognitive

Cognitive learning involves the development of mental skills, and it is traditionally divided into six subcategories, each increasing in complexity. At its simplest level of knowledge, cognitive learning is recognizing and recalling facts and other forms of information. As the learner ages and their mental skills develop, at the comprehension level, they understand and can even interpret information. Next, at the application level, the learner can apply a learned idea in a new situation. The fourth level is analysis, and at this stage, the learner is able to break down a problem and develop a solution. At the penultimate level, synthesis, the learner creates their own structure from diverse materials. The final step, evaluation, occurs when the learner appraises information and is able to judge and justify a conclusion or decision.

Affective

Affective learning occurs when there is a growth in attitude or emotion. Again, this domain is also subdivided into levels of increasing complexity. The initial level is reception, where the affective learner is aware and wants to listen. The next level is called response; here, the learner is attentive and also reacts to what is being presented. At the third level, value, the learner attaches value to the phenomena presented. The fourth step is called organization, and here the learner compares the relative values of differing phenomena and prioritizes them. Finally, the last affective learning level is characterization; at this highest step, the learner shows consistent behaviors that reflect their value system.

Psychomotor

When instruction results in the development of new manual or physical skills, this is referred to in Bloom’s Taxonomy as psychomotor learning. Again, a series of levels of increasing complexity is used to describe the stages of this learning behavior. Beginning at the lowest with perception, the learner’s physical actions are guided by their perception of phenomena. The next level, known as set, is related to the response level of the affective domain; it reflects the learner’s readiness to take necessary or desirable steps. The third level, called guided response, occurs where the learner is imitating a skill and becomes competent at it through practice. The mechanism level is the next stage, and here the learner becomes proficient with a particular manual skill. At the next level, known as complex overt response, the learner is so highly proficient with a physical skill, he performs it quickly, accurately and well. The second-to-last psychomotor stage, adaption, is seen where the learner can adapt quickly and effectively to unexpected phenomena. With the final stage, origination, the learner can create new physical actions and patterns to fit a new problem.

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Classroom

The Taxonomy was well received by many educators just about as soon as it was published. Those who favored programmed instruction used Bloom’s perceived cognitive behavior levels as the framework around which their work was structured. Others who focused on evaluating educational goals relied on the Taxonomy‘s distinct levels when writing precisely stated educational goals. Building on this, when standardized testing as a means of evaluation became the rage, most tests relied on Bloom’s cognitive behavior levels when defining the assessed skills.

Nonetheless, by the 1980s, developments in the field were driving some educators to push to revise the Taxonomy. Many noted that higher-level thinking was not being taught effectively in America’s schools, and they partially blamed Bloom’s. A number of revisions were proposed, including one by his co-author, Lorin Anderson, in 2001. Still based on the same hierarchy, Anderson’s revision re-states the cognitive levels, from simplest to most complex, as remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.

Regardless of the revisions, Bloom’s cognitive behaviors can be seen every day in the 21st century classroom. When students label diagrams and answer simple questions, they demonstrate knowledge (or in the revision, remembering). When students explain in their own words the meaning of an abstract symbol, they demonstrate comprehension (understanding). Students using different mathematical techniques to produce the correct answer to a word problem demonstrate application (applying), and those taking analytical geometry, at least the successful ones, demonstrate the next behavior, analysis (analyzing), every time they solve a proof.

The Taxonomy‘s contribution to modern education cannot be understated; by applying psychological theory to pedagogical principles, 20th century schools taught a wide variety of subjects systematically and efficiently. Despite its shortcomings, Bloom’s hierarchy continues to help teachers and administrators articulate and evaluate their lesson plans across to this day.