Friday, November 20, 2009

Why Bloom's Taxonomy?

Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on De...Image via Wikipedia

I read a comment on an education blog about "Bloom's Taxonomy": "Why should we use that old thing?" was the basic tone. Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, simply put, classifies knowledge from lower to higher order of objectives from knowledge (memorization), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. I wanted to put up a brief note on this because speaking as an instructional designer and erstwhile teacher, there is no better tool for organizing content for in-depth learning and reflection. Is it an accurate description of the "cognitive domain"? Is there really such a thing as the "cognitive domain"? Speaking as a Buddhist, maybe, but you can't get there from here. Seriously though, Bloom's taxonomy recognizes that there are different ways of knowing and understanding. If it is not an accurate description of the mind, it is because it never claimed to be the Master Key to All Human Cognition. NASA scientists know that Einstien's description of gravity and time are more accurate than Newton, but they still use Newtonian principles and math to orbit satellites or to send something to the moon. Bloom's Taxonomy is like this. It is not a Unified Field Theory, but a tool that does specific things. What Bloom's Taxonomy will do very well is fix a test or an assignment.

Every once in a while, I will get a faculty member who will ask me to look at a test. Sometimes the test is too difficult or too easy or the students seem not to be able to demonstrate what they have learned. Invariably, it is because the questions that they are asking rely too much on one particular section of Bloom's Taxonomy. In other words, the instructor will write a test that he or she thinks will demonstrate a student's ability to apply knowledge and what the test really relies on is memorization or comprehension. There is a whole list of verbs applied to each domain that can help in re-writing or creating tests. I can demonstrate quantitatively that this method works. I have seen it work in grades, retention, longitudinal studies, etc. I have not seen anything coming close to that coming from any other school of thought on education, constructivist, connectivist or what have you. There are a lot of new ideas about how Bloom's Taxonomy can work in social media and I think that these should definitely be tested, explored and used.

There are many great explorations of these ideas on the web and I want to encourage you to look at some of them. A summary of the work is at Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, but there is a lot of interesting things being done with these ideas elsewhere too.

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