Learning Objectives – A Discussion of Bloom’s Taxonomy


How many of you create objectives that look like this?
“The learner will know how to format text.”

How do you test this? How do you know if a learner knows how to format text? What you really want to know is if the learner CAN format the text. They need to be able to apply the proper formatting if someone directs them to “italicize” and “center” a paragraph of text. You really don’t care if they can recite the steps to do this…you want them to do it. I have actually known peopel that “know” how to do lots of stuff, but can’t actually DO any of it. If they can, it isn’t very well. This is the issue with the DIY channels and Food channels. You can “know” how to do the stuff they show, but you probably aren’t “doing” much of it. This is also where “teaching to test” starts to come under fire – you are typically “knowing” or “understanding” rather than really comprehending, being able to apply, or analyze the information you “know”.

This post is going to discuss what Bloom’s Taxonomy is and share some objective key words you can use to steer your course development in the direction that meets this methodology.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has six cognitive objectives.

  1. Knowledge – Can the learner recall material they previously learned?
  2. Comprehension – Does the learner grasp the meaning of an idea? Can they restate it? Can they explain the idea?
  3. Application – Can the learner use the material they have learned in a new situation?
  4. Analysis – Can the learner separate the content into its separate parts and show a relationship between those parts?
  5. Synthesis – Can the learner put the separate ideas together and create a new whole, thus creating a new relationship between the parts?
  6. Evaluation – Can the learner judge the worth of material against some stated criteria?

As you can see, developing ideas around creating learning content is a lot more than just does someone know how to do something. Higher learning comes when you challenge a learner to take the idea they have learned and manipulate it in some way to create something new from that. Ever had to take content you just learned and re-explain it to someone new? You have to perform analysis, synthesis, and evaluate that content, rather than just recall it. This is the exact reason you learn content better when you have to share it with someone else.

By redirecting your learning objectives to include keywords that work well with Bloom’s taxonomy, your learning content can be more robust for the learner.

Omit words like “know” and “understand” from your objectives and consider replacing them with a few of these targeted keywords. Get them away from “knowing” and get them “doing”!

Knowledge Keywords

  • Define – Define the term “per diem”
  • Identify – Identify the statement that best defines the term “mortgage”
  • List – List the cognitive objectives of Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Name – Name the AOE’s that make up the ASTD Competencies.
  • Recall – recall the dates of the Civil War
  • Recognize – Recognize, from a list, the correct statement about how to pass the CPLP
  • Record – Record the primary music style heard in cop television shows in the 1980’s.
  • Relate – Relate the ASTD Competencies back to provided job roles
  • Repeat – Repeat, in printed form, the steps needed to format text in Microsoft Word 2010.

Comprehension Keywords

  • Choose – Given a choice of three processes, select the one that will work best in the given situation.
  • Cite examples – Search the web and find three examples of gamification in eLearning
  • Determine – Given an image of a famous piece of art, determine if its style is Modern art
  • Differentiate between – Given a series of situations, differentiate between the ones that could create security risk and those that are safe.
  • Discuss – Discuss the difference between a first mortgage and a second mortgage.
  • Give in your own words – Give in your own words, the definition an IRA account.
  • Locate – Given a map of a country, locate the capital city
  • Pick – From a list of application screen shots, pick the one that allows you to enter the account owner and their relationship to the account.
  • Restate – Restate the definition of Performance Support
  • Simulate – Simulate the process of entering a customer’s beverage order

Application Keywords

  • Demonstrate – Demonstrate the proper way to greet a customer
  • Employ – When interviewing a potential new hire, employ the process of “leading questions”
  • Illustrate – Illustrate the process of designing an eLearning course
  • Initiate – Initiate the process of rebooting of the main server
  • Interpret – Interpret the actual meaning behind the statements about the complexity of a situation
  • Operate – Given an airline dashboard, operate the simulator as if you were taking off from the local airport
  • Practice – Practice the steps needed to properly take a patient’s blood pressure
  • Use – Use a heart rate monitor to identify your standing and active heart rate

Analysis Keywords

  • Analyze – Given two possible outcomes to a situation, analyze the steps needed to reach those outcomes
  • Calculate – Calculate the cost difference between using Vendor A and Vendor B
  • Categorize – Categorize people into proper roles based on the tasks they perform
  • Conclude – Given a situation and an end result, conclude if the path taken was appropriate
  • Contrast – Given two management styles, compare and contrast them against one another
  • Debate – Debate the benefits of a given industry regulation
  • Determine – Based on a series of facts, determine if a given employee would be a good fit of the position for which they are interviewing
  • Diagnose – Given a series of issues presented by a client, diagnose possible items to troubleshoot
  • Diagram – Given a series of steps for a process, diagram how the process works as a whole
  • Evaluate – Given two similar outcomes to a problem, evaluate the best path to success
  • Identify – Given a problem and a series of steps that led to the problem, identify the incorrect step.
  • Predict – given a series of steps, predict the most likely outcome of the process
  • Relate – Given a situation and outcome, relate it to a situation you are experiencing or have experienced
  • Solve – Several clients come to you with a problem. By interviewing your team members, use their facts to solve the issue

Synthesis Keywords

  • Arrange – Given a series of troubleshooting actions, arrange them in the order you would use to find the problem
  • Assemble – Assemble the pieces to create a functional gear box.
  • Collect – Given a pile of cables, collect the cables that will connect Unit A to Unit B
  • Compose – Compose a list of questions to ask when you interview a Subject Matter Expert for a new course
  • Create – Given a series of images, use the topic and content of this course create a presentation
  • Design – Given a new product description, campaign, and basic market information, design a social media strategy
  • Devise – Given a new product, devise a marketing strategy using a blog, video, and Facebook
  • Manage – Given a set of products, manage an online retail store for a week
  • Organize – Given a series of products, organize a web site to best promote the loss leaders to generate sales
  • Prepare – Given a set of statistics prepare a spreadsheet that demonstrates the results of your current media campaigns
  • Produce – Given a set of photos, video clips, and music, produce a video that sells a product
  • Reconstruct – After reviewing the steps a customer followed to generate the error, reconstruct what they did to confirm the error is actually an error
  • Systematize – Given a series of tasks, systematize the process, thus allowing you to hand it off to another person without much issue

As you can see, all of these tasks are more defined and you can better judge whether a learner can accomplish them.

Before closing this discussion, I want to share a related piece of information. There are two types of objectives:

  • Terminal – This is the high-level task you are trying to get your learner to achieve. For example, given a form from a sales associate, add a customer to the system database.
  • Enabling – These are the low-level tasks you need your learner to accomplish before they can meet the terminal objective.

To meet our terminal objective example, our learners need to accomplish these enabling objectives

  • Identify the software function that allows them to perform this task
  • Launch a function in the system
  • Identify the information needed on a form, which was provided by a sales associate
  • Enter the data into the correct fields on the data entry screen
  • Submit the newly entered data to the system free of errors

As you can see, mixing and matching the different objective types will allow you to provide content and robustly challenge the learner in a much better manner than just saying “The learner will know how to add a customer to the system database.” Your learner might be just fine with this objective – they need to know how to do this for their job. But, for you, the developer, you better know that you need to have the learner demonstrate an acceptable mastery level in each one of these items. If they can’t, there is no way they will meet the terminal objective at the desired skill level.

Push your subject matter experts when you work with them to analyse the needs of the learners. Get them to better define what learners need to do. Work to get them past the “know” and “understand” types of learning objectives. Not only will your learners be more engaged in your course content, but your team members will recognize your skill and your role will be more fulfilling.

What experiences do you have creating objectives and having to dig deeper with your SME’s?


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3 Responses to “Learning Objectives – A Discussion of Bloom’s Taxonomy”

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