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How Courseware Developers can Utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to Improve Learning Quality

TL;DR

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain is a psychological model describing how humans learn. According to the taxonomy, learning is a developmental process divided into 6 hierarchical stages. These stages are:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Synthesis

Creating technical courseware according to the 6 stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy improves the quality and effectiveness of the overall learning experience. Following the structure of the taxonomy also makes the work of the courseware developer easier.

Furthermore, separating the 6 stages of the taxonomy into two parts in which content for the lower three stages is delivered using a self-paced, interactive, online platform such as Instruqt while content for the upper three stages is presented in instructor-led sessions optimizes the cost and benefits of using both self-paced and instructor-led learning environments.

Prefer videos? Check out the video version of this blog below!

 

The Basics of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Creating courseware to facilitate an effective learning experience for IT professionals is more than just gathering information and presenting it in a slide deck. How the information is organized and presented matters… a lot.

Creating effective courseware is not something you can make up as you go along. Understanding how human beings learn is an important aspect of the work involved. It’s a known science used by educational professionals who do such things as design textbooks and create curriculum for school systems.

The process by which humans learn falls into the realm of educational psychology. An important principle among educational psychologists is that learning is developmental, that learners go through well-defined stages toward a particular educational objective. The thinking goes that once you understand the stages of learning, you are better equipped to create courseware that supports these stages in a targeted manner.

One approach to the developmental learning model is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy, formally called Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, was published in 1956.

Bloom divides the taxonomy into three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. The one relevant to courseware design in the scope of this article is the cognitive domain.

The purpose of this article is to explain the stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain in a way that helps technical courseware developers create content that is conducive to an optimal learning experience.

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain describes a developmental model for learning which is divided into hierarchical 6 stages. Figure 1 below illustrates these stages.

6 stage in bloom’s taxonomy

Figure 1: The 6 Stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Learners move up through the taxonomy’s hierarchy starting at the bottom stage: Knowledge. Learners acquire skills and sensibilities in one stage before moving on to the next.

In the Knowledge stage, learners are presented with the information they are expected to absorb and remember. The Comprehension stage is where learners demonstrate an understanding of the information presented in the Knowledge stage. In the Application stage, learners apply the information and skills acquired in the Knowledge stage to concrete situations.

The Analysis stage is the one in which learners develop the ability to decompose what they’ve learned and, in doing so, identify abstract patterns. In the Synthesis stage, learners can create new ideas and knowledge by tying together information from other parts of their knowledge ebase. Finally, in the Evaluation stage, the learners make judgments about what they’ve learned and can form opinions based on what they know.

stage in bloom’s taxonomy

Figure 2: The characteristics of each stage in Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain

The following table provides both general and IT specific examples for each stage in the taxonomy.

 

Stage General Example   IT Example
Knowledge Name three common varieties of citrus fruit. Name the basic data types in JavaScript
Comprehension Describe the general characteristics of citrus fruit. Answer the following question: What is the result of this JavaScript expression: typeof 10
Application  Write a term paper that describes how citrus fruit can prevent scurvy.  Convert the value 10 to a string
Analysis Write an essay that compares and contrasts three ways of making desserts that use citrus fruit and describe the method that is the most healthy Answer the following question: What is the best data type to use when creating an ordered list of US zipcodes?
Synthesis Create a beverage that uses both sparkling mineral water and juice from a citrus fruit Create a custom data type timespan in JavaScript
Evaluation Write a market study report that describes the optimal citrus fruit to sell in supermarkets based on the region in which the supermarket is located. Write a technical article that describes the benefits and limitations of JavaScript’s basic data types?

 

Table 1: A list of examples for each stage of cognition in Bloom’s taxonomy

As you can see, each stage in Bloom’s taxonomy has a well-defined boundary in terms of achieving particular learning objectives. Also, each stage serves as a foundation to the stage that is to follow. This is the essence of a developmental approach to learning. Mastery of one stage is required in order to move on to the next. The developmental approach becomes particularly effective when applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to technical courseware development.

An Approach for Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

A significant benefit of Bloom’s Taxonomy is that it provides a structured framework by which to develop technology courseware. The key to applying the taxonomy is to adhere to its developmental foundation. This means no jumping around among stages. Rather, courseware content for a particular knowledge domain should be segmented in a structured, sequential manner, according to the boundaries of the given stage in the taxonomy.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Figure 3 below shows an opening screen and a set of lessons for an Instruqt track intended to teach developers about jq. jq is a command line tool for processing data formatted in JSON. jq is available in Linux and Windows. 

Bloom's Taxonomy Instruqt

Figure 3: An example of lessons targeted at the lower 3 stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy using Instruqt’s interactive learning environment

The jq example shown above presents information developmentally. First, at callout (1), content appropriate to the Knowledge stage is presented. Then at callout (2), there is a short quiz to ensure that the learner understands the content presented previously. This is the Comprehension stage. The content that follows is relevant to the Application stage of the taxonomy. These lessons show the learner how to apply the information presented in the previous two stages.

Notice that the information about how to use jq is not presented first. This makes sense in that using jq is a topic relevant to the Application stage. To present information about using jq first would violate the basic principle of the developmental model that learners move through stages starting at the beginning.

Also notice there are no lessons in Figure 3 above that are relevant to the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation stages of the taxonomy. In terms of creating a learning experience for those upper 3 stages, while it’s possible to create lessons that have content appropriate to Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation, such content would be wordy and offer learners limited opportunities to take advantage of a self-paced, interactive learning environment. A better way is to take an instructor-led approach when delivering Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation content.

You can take the Instruqt track about jq mentioned in this article below:

 

The learning that goes on in the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation stages tends to involve a lot of spur-of-the-moment activity between instructor and learner. The questions asked vary, and the answers to those questions are not simple responses that can be expressed in a list of choices. Rather, answers in the upper stages fall along a spectrum of a number of possible right answers. Even the testing mechanisms are different. In the lower 3 stages, testing by way of answering multiple-choice questions or solving word problems is typical.

In the upper three stages, testing is much more complex. The testing instruments tend to be essay questions, performance-based examinations, and, as in the case of level Ph.D. learning, a doctoral dissertation and its subsequent defense.

The long and the short of it is, when it comes to creating courseware using the principle defined in Bloom, content appropriate to self-directed, online learning is well suited for the taxonomy’s lower three stages while content intended for instructor-led sessions, either in person or via interactive video conferencing, is better suited to the upper stages. (See Figure 4 below.)

nstructor led and self directed online learning

Figure 4: Separating the 6 stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain between instructor-led and self-directed online learning

In Conclusion

Designing technical courseware according to the stages defined in Bloom’s Taxonomy makes it easier for the learner to absorb and retain skills and information. In addition, applying the principles of Bloom’s Taxonomy makes it easier for those creating courseware. The taxonomy serves as a roadmap for content segmentation. You don’t have to make things up as you go along, the taxonomy provides the guidelines to follow. 

However, caution is needed when it comes to selecting the method by which to deliver content according to the taxonomy. Not all stages should be delivered in the same manner. Rather, the taxonomy should be separated into two parts. The lower three stages of the taxonomy are delivered best using self-paced, interactive learning technologies such as Instruqt. The upper three stages are better suited to instructor-led sessions, either online or in person.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been around for more than a half-century. Yet it’s just as useful today for creating an effective learning experience as it was back when it first appeared, more so given the dramatic growth in the number of interactive learning platforms that have emerged on today’s technology landscape. Used properly, the principles described in Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive Domain can help create technical courseware that benefits not only the learner but the courseware creator as well. 

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Bob Reselman
Bob Reselman is a nationally known software developer, system architect, industry analyst, and technical writer/journalist. He has published hundreds of articles about programming, application design, DevOps and enterprise architecture. Bob is one of Instruqt's premiere development partners. Over a career that spans 30 years, Bob has worked for companies such as Gateway, Cap Gemini, The Los Angeles Weekly, Edmunds.com, and the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, to name a few. He has held roles with significant responsibility, including but not limited to, Platform Architect (Consumer) at Gateway, Principal Consultant with Cap Gemini, and CTO at the international trade finance company, ItFex.

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