Bloom’s taxonomy , as a framework for learning that supports effective learning strategies, is a classification system that organizes learning into a hierarchy of cognitive skills, from the simplest (e.g., remembering facts) to the more difficult, higher forms of thinking (e.g., analyzing facts). It was developed by educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom, and his team of scholars, in 1956 to promote higher forms of thinking in education. As will be discussed, it was later revised in 2001 to reflect more applicable verbiage (e.g., using verbs instead of nouns to demonstrate the learner’s cognitive processes). While it was retitled “A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment,” it is most often referred to as the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.
Bloom’s taxonomy (both the initial and the revised) is still considered in learning environments to be a key way of organizing instruction to help students more efficiently develop effective and accurate schemata, as well as construct cognitive maps that can often connect schemata. By better understanding this cognitive hierarchy, a person can better develop training for others and be more mindful in one’s own learning.
Excerpts from “Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning Objectives”
By N. E. Adams
As learners, we know from experience that some learning tasks are more difficult than others. To take an example from elementary school, knowing our multiplication tables by rote requires a qualitatively different type of thinking than does applying our multiplication skills through solving “word problems.” And in both cases, a teacher could assess our knowledge and skills in either of these types of thinking by asking us to demonstrate those skills in action, in other words, by doing something that is observable and measurable. With the publication in 1956 of the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, an educational classic was born that powerfully incorporated these concepts to create a classification of cognitive skills (Bloom, 1956). The classification system came to be called Bloom’s taxonomy, after Benjamin Bloom, one of the editors of the volume, and has had significant and lasting influence on the teaching and learning process at all levels of education to the present day.
Categories of Cognitive Skills
Bloom’s taxonomy contains six categories of cognitive skills ranging from lower-order skills that require less cognitive processing to higher-order skills that require deeper learning and a greater degree of cognitive processing (Figure 2.9). The differentiation into categories of higher-order and lower-order skills arose later; Bloom himself did not use these terms.
Figure 2.9: Bloom’s taxonomy
Bloom’s taxonomy supports learning by identifying instructional strategies that encourage levels of learning in hierarchical stages of simple to more difficult.
A pyramid that illustrates the relationships between the categories of cognitive skills identified in Bloom’s taxonomy. From the bottom of the pyramid to the top, the categories are as follows: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Adapted from “Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning Objectives,” by N. E. Adams, 2015, Journal of the Medical Library Association, 103(3), 153. Copyright 2015 by N. E. Adams. Adapted with permission.
Knowledge is the foundational cognitive skill and refers to the retention of specific, discrete pieces of information like facts and definitions or methodology, such as the sequence of events in a step-by-step process. Knowledge can be assessed by straightforward means, such as multiple choice or short-answer questions that require the retrieval or recognition of information, for example, “Name five sources of drug information.” Health professionals must have command of vast amounts of knowledge such as protocols, interactions, and medical terminology that are committed to memory, but simple recall of facts does not provide evidence of comprehension, which is the next higher level in Bloom’s taxonomy.
Learners show comprehension of the meaning of the information that they encounter by paraphrasing it in their own words, classifying items in groups, comparing and contrasting items with other similar entities, or explaining a principle to others. For example, librarians might probe a learner’s understanding of information sources by asking the learner to compare and contrast the information found in those sources. Comprehension requires more cognitive processing than simply remembering information, and learning objectives that address comprehension will help learners begin to incorporate knowledge into their existing cognitive schemata by which they understand the world (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). This allows learners to use knowledge, skills, or techniques in new situations through application, the third level of Bloom’s taxonomy. An example of application familiar to medical librarians is the ability to use best practices in the literature searching process, such as using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms for key concepts in a search.
Moving to higher levels of the taxonomy, we next see learning objectives relating to analysis. Here is where the skills that we commonly think of as critical thinking enter. Distinguishing between fact and opinion and identifying the claims upon which an argument is built require analysis, as does breaking down an information need into its component parts in order to identify the most appropriate search terms.
Following analysis is the level of synthesis, which entails creating a novel product in a specific situation. An example of an evidence-based medicine–related task requiring synthesis is formulating a well-built clinical question after analyzing a clinician’s information gaps (Blanco, Capello, Dorsch, Perry, & Zanetti, 2014). The formulation of a management plan for a specific patient is another clinical task involving synthesis.
Finally, the pinnacle of Bloom’s taxonomy is evaluation, which is also important to critical thinking. When instructors reflect on a teaching session and use learner feedback and assessment results to judge the value of the session, they engage in evaluation. Critically appraising the validity of a clinical study and judging the relevance of its results for application to a specific patient also require evaluative skills. It is important to recognize that higher-level skills in the taxonomy incorporate many lower-level skills as well: To critically appraise the medical literature (evaluation), one must have knowledge and comprehension of various study designs, apply that knowledge to a specific published study to recognize the study design that has been used, and then analyze it to isolate the various components of internal validity such as blinding and randomization. For an illustrative list of learning objectives from evidence-based medicine curricula at U.S. and Canadian medical schools categorized according to Bloom’s taxonomy, refer to the 2014 Journal of the Medical Library Association article by Blanco et al. (Blanco et al., 2014).
Changes in Bloom’s Taxonomy
Based on findings of cognitive science following the original publication, a later revision of the taxonomy changes the nomenclature and order of the cognitive processes in the original version. In this later version, the levels are remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. (See Figure 2.10.) [. . .] This revision adds a new dimension across all six cognitive processes. It specifies the four types of knowledge that might be addressed by a learning activity: factual (terminology and discrete facts), conceptual (categories, theories, principles, and models), procedural (knowledge of a technique, process, or methodology), and metacognitive (including self-assessment ability and knowledge of various learning skills and techniques).