Linda Suskie

  A Common Sense Approach to Assessment in Higher Education

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I'm not a fan of Bloom's

Posted on November 13, 2018 at 6:50 AM

I’m mystified by how Bloom’s taxonomy has pervaded the higher education assessment landscape. I’ve met faculty who have no idea what a rubric or a test blueprint or a curriculum map is, but it’s been burned into their brains that they must follow Bloom’s taxonomy when developing learning goals. This frustrates me no end, because I don’t think Bloom’s is the best framework for considering learning outcomes in higher education.


Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives is probably older than you are. It was developed by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s. It divides learning goals into three domains: cognitive, affective (attitudinal), and psychomotor. Within the cognitive domain, it has six levels. Originally these were knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. A 2000 update renamed these levels and swapped the positions of the last two: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. The last four levels are called higher order thinking skills because they require students to do more than understand.


So why don’t I like Bloom’s? One reason is that I’ve seen too many faculty erroneously view the six cognitive levels as hierarchy of prerequisites. Faculty have told me, for example, that first-year courses can only address knowledge and comprehension because students must thoroughly understand a subject before they can begin to think about it. Well, any elementary school teacher can tell you that’s bunk, but the misperception persists.


Even more important is that Bloom’s doesn’t highlight many of the skills and dispositions needed today. Teamwork, ethical judgment, professionalism, and metacognition are all examples of learning goals that don’t fit neatly into Bloom’s. That’s because they’re a combination of the cognitive and affective domains: what educators such as Costa & Kallick and Marzano and his colleagues call habits of mind.


I’m especially concerned about professionalism: coming to work or class on time, coming to work or class prepared to work, completing work on time, planning one’s time, giving work one’s best effort, self-evaluating one’s work, etc. Employers very much want these skills, but they get short shrift in Bloom’s.


So what do I recommend instead? In my workshops I suggest five categories of learning goals:

  • knowledge and understanding
  • career-specific thinking and performance skills
  • transferrable thinking and performance skills (the kinds developed in the liberal arts)
  • attitudes and values
  • habits of mind

But I also like the taxonomies developed by Dee Fink and by Marzano et al.


I wouldn’t expect every course or program to have learning goals in all five of these categories, of course. But I do suggest that no more than half of a course or program’s learning goals be in the knowledge and understanding category.


For more information, see Chapter 4 (Learning Goals: Articulating What You Most Want Students to Learn) in the new 3rd edition of my book Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide.

Categories: Learning goals

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Reply carmen tomas
12:34 PM on November 15, 2018 
Hi Linda - I am really gald to see someone else say something I have thought for a long time! thanks!
Carmen
Reply ★ Owner
9:27 AM on November 14, 2018 
Thank you for this info, Kevin! I also haven't looked at the affective and psychomotor in a while, but I found a cheat sheet on the psychomotor domain: http://www.humber.ca/centreforteachingandlearning/assets/files/Te
aching%20Resources/Psychomotor%20Domain.pdf
What's interesting is that some of the examples in the cheat sheet aren't strictly psychomotor ("Constructs a new theory.") That seems to support my contention that some learning goals overlap two or three of the domains. I agree that the psychomotor domain would include some career-specific learning goals (such as using lab equipment) and some transferrable learning goals (such as public speaking).
Kevin R. Guidry says...
Just a quick note that this taxonomy was not developed by (just) Benjamin Bloom but by "A Committee of College and University Examiners." Bloom edited the publication that formally described the taxonomy but there were four (other) authors and thirty other people credited with working on this. Additionally, the committee developed three taxonomies: the cognitive domain, the one most cited and developed; the affective domain which has received less attention and development but has still been used; and the psychomotor domain which has been used and developed very little (I don't think it ever had a formal handbook published). I haven't looked at the other two taxonomies in quite a while but I wonder if some of your concerns are addressed by them particularly the affective domain. It seems that some of your "career-specific thinking and performance skills" would also fall into psychomotor domain for some disciplines e.g., methodology and instrumentation skills.
Reply ★ Owner
9:19 AM on November 14, 2018 
Thanks for sharing these resources, Claudia!
Claudia Stanny says...
I use Bloom's to help faculty write measurable learning outcomes. I agree, too often they treat this as a system that disctates how many SLOs from each category they should write for, say, an advanced undergraudate course or a graduate course.
Verbs alone don't determine the level of thinking skill, although they do determine whether something is measurable.
Adelamam (2015) wrote a nice critique of the use of Bloom verbs to write SLO (NILOA Occasional Paper $24).
I analyzed where verbs land in taxonomies of Bloom verbs and found that verbs frequently land in different (and sometimes multiple) categories of Bloom. Take-home message: context matters.
For those interested, the analysis appears in Education Sciences (http://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/6/4/37/html)
Reply Stephanie
7:56 PM on November 13, 2018 
Thank you! I am an assessment professional and I don?t use Blooms. I see learning as growing complexity in all areas. You are developing analytical skills while gaining knowledge, and so on. At George Mason University, we have been developing rubrics focused on learning outcomes. It is challenging! But the work goes way beyond Blooms.
Reply Claudia Stanny
12:51 PM on November 13, 2018 
I use Bloom's to help faculty write measurable learning outcomes. I agree, too often they treat this as a system that disctates how many SLOs from each category they should write for, say, an advanced undergraudate course or a graduate course.
Verbs alone don't determine the level of thinking skill, although they do determine whether something is measurable.
Adelamam (2015) wrote a nice critique of the use of Bloom verbs to write SLO (NILOA Occasional Paper $24).
I analyzed where verbs land in taxonomies of Bloom verbs and found that verbs frequently land in different (and sometimes multiple) categories of Bloom. Take-home message: context matters.
For those interested, the analysis appears in Education Sciences (http://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/6/4/37/html)
Reply Kevin R. Guidry
12:38 PM on November 13, 2018 
Just a quick note that this taxonomy was not developed by (just) Benjamin Bloom but by "A Committee of College and University Examiners." Bloom edited the publication that formally described the taxonomy but there were four (other) authors and thirty other people credited with working on this. Additionally, the committee developed three taxonomies: the cognitive domain, the one most cited and developed; the affective domain which has received less attention and development but has still been used; and the psychomotor domain which has been used and developed very little (I don't think it ever had a formal handbook published). I haven't looked at the other two taxonomies in quite a while but I wonder if some of your concerns are addressed by them particularly the affective domain. It seems that some of your "career-specific thinking and performance skills" would also fall into psychomotor domain for some disciplines e.g., methodology and instrumentation skills.
Reply ★ Owner
9:06 AM on November 13, 2018 
Catherine, thank you for your kind words! You're exactly right--and I should have included this in my blog post--that there are charts that give faculty the wrong impression that, if they choose a certain verb for a learning goal, they'll automatically be at a certain Bloom's level...when they're often not. "Contrast," for example, might be at the comprehension or analysis levels.
Reply Teresa Milligan
9:04 AM on November 13, 2018 
This is a fantastic point -- one I'd not thought of before but seems to make perfect sense. Higher education has traditionally been focused on the cognitive, but the "education" part is so much more now. Yes, it has become more oriented toward preparing students for jobs, but that is a much larger, much more complex task than information dumping. If we're going to redefine "higher education," then we must redefine how we assess learning outcomes accordingly.
Reply Catherine Wehlburg
8:32 AM on November 13, 2018 
Linda -- as always, a thought provoking post! I agree that faculty often mis-use Bloom's as a "system" rather than a tool. And, I also think that your categories of learning goals are incredibly useful and blend together some of the affective and cognitive areas of Bloom's. And (not but), I don't want to throw out the use of Bloom's taxonomy -- faculty do like the categories and it does give us some useful ways to talk about student learning beyond "understanding" and "demonstrating."

I think that we (in higher education) have become relatively lazy by only using Bloom's verbs/categories and not looking more fully at what we're really trying to assess. Bloom's taxonomy can be useful but it shouldn't be the end of the process. We do need to think about the other categories that you mention (professionalism, teamwork, ethics, etc.).

Thank you!!