To Bloom or Not to Bloom

It’s something that almost all teachers learn at some point in their training. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Bloom’s taxonomy is a system of organizing educational objectives into a hierarchical model based on their complexity. The basic premise is that some kinds of learning are different from others and those differences are worth acknowledging. However, this taxonomy has faced some strong criticisms, especially in recent years.

One of the most common criticisms is that it oversimplifies learning, which is true. Cognition is complicated, and reducing it to a six-category, hierarchical structure does not acknowledge that complexity.

It is also criticized as not necessarily being a hierarchy. Originally, the different levels of cognitive processes it presented (in order of complexity from lowest to highest) were Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation. However, many have pointed out that the “highest” category, Evaluation, could be a stepping stone to the “lowest” category, Knowledge. A rigid hierarchical structure doesn’t match the complex and interrelated reality of learning processes.

In 2001, Bloom’s taxonomy was revised by Anderson et al. It now looks like this: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating. This revised version seems to work a lot better for what it is used for, though it does not negate the aforementioned criticisms.

Yet, in the end, Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework, not a model or a theory. It lacks predictive power because it is not meant to. Instead, it just describes characteristics of a system and allows teachers to consider their learning objectives as a part of a larger structure.

It does have a particular usefulness for teachers at a basic level. Being able to recite the definition of a word and being able to use that word in a sentence are two different skills, and being able to recognize and apply this distinction to a curriculum is inherently valuable.

It’s also particularly useful for assessment. Many assessments only test the lower levels of the taxonomy. The fact that there are another 4-5 levels beyond what a teacher is assessing can indicate that the teacher needs to look at more than just what a student can memorize.

Though it is simple, complicating it much further would reduce its usefulness. There isn’t enough time for an educator to consider every cognitive process involved in every step of every stage of a learning process. Considering just six broad categories is enough to find valid distinctions, but not too much to work with.

Though the hierarchy does not apply to learning universally, it is useful in considering the taxonomy as a framework. Usually, learning objectives can be classified into this structure usefully.

In the end, criticisms of Bloom’s taxonomy are valid, but so is the taxonomy itself. It is useful in specific ways (such as forming objectives that meet a variety of cognitive requirements) but isn’t an end-all solution to all of teaching.

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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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