Bloom’s Taxonomy is a well-established pedagogical framework for helping teachers effectively meet the needs of their students – but can course creators and entrepreneurs leverage the same framework for their business? We certainly think so.
When you were in school, where did you thrive: numbers or words? Were Maths and Science your favorite subjects, or did you wait eagerly for English class?
Have you ever stopped to think about how you reached that point? You learned to count, then to add, and that led you to Physics and Calculus. You didn’t arrive in Grade 1 with a volume of Shakespeare under your arm; someone taught you about letters, and how they combine into the words on the page of your favorite novel.
Our brains learn incrementally, layering concept upon concept with growing complexity. From Kindergarten to the halls of the Ivy League, Educators rely on building-block principles to disseminate knowledge. They rely on pedagogical approaches – theories and practices of teaching – to systematically sow concepts into their students.
Beyond the classroom, understanding how people learn can help course creators to build better courses. Armed with a solid understanding of how the brain forms knowledge, you can strategically build courses that will more effectively deliver solutions to your students. This will keep them coming back for more, encourage them to recommend your course to others, and help your business to grow.
What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Benjamin Bloom originally published his taxonomy in 1956. He designed this pedagogical approach to measure the cognitive development of students. By creating a hierarchical structure to track a student’s depth of understanding, Bloom created a way to ascertain the ever-elusive question every Educator asks themselves: are my lessons working?
Bloom’s hypothesis was simple: if you cannot remember a concept, you do not understand it; if you do not understand something, you cannot apply it. You cannot distinguish between correct and incorrect answers, or argue the benefits and downfalls; any expertise or depth of argument is impossible without first establishing foundations of remembering and understanding.
With that in mind, he developed a continuum of cognition, divided it into six stages, and designated each with a noun to describe the skill or level of cognition a student should master before moving on to the next level.
This continuum is often presented as a pyramid to illustrate the levels’ dependency upon one another:
- a student cannot apply before they understand,
- and they can’t evaluate before they learn to analyze.
Bloom referred to this process as scaffolding, and the metaphor is effective: as builders construct a tall building, they erect scaffolding to support their workspace from the ground up. In the same way, each level of the taxonomy is built upon the foundation of the level before. If there are cracks in the foundation – a cognitive skill was skipped or inadequately reinforced – the next level up will find itself on shaky ground.
Not every learner will start at square one and work their way up. Some students will have already cemented certain skills, allowing them to jump in somewhere in the middle and begin climbing from there.
Your students move through six stages of learning, from newbie to top of the class. You can actually structure your course content to help them move through these stages and seal the desired learning outcomes.
What are the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy comes with a series of verbs to describe the actions a student should be able to complete by that stage. Once someone masters the verbs on one level, they move on to the next, and so on.
The levels also include learning objectives, which are particularly useful when thinking about how to apply these to your course outline. As the modules of your course progress, you might use more and more advanced learning objectives as you can expect greater levels of expertise from your students.
Finally, we’ve included special applications for course creators and educators in a digital classroom. When looking for practice activities and assessments to flesh out different lessons and levels of your course outline, this list is a great place to start.
Stage 1: Remember
Remembering is simple: this is simply the basic retention of new facts. It’s a memory game, and there’s a reason it’s at the bottom of this pyramid – it’s both the simplest, most basic building block of learning, and also the most essential, because nothing else can be achieved until you can hold a critical mass of facts in your working memory.
Students who have mastered this level should be able to recall information, or define important terms. They can write a bullet point list of key concepts, label a diagram, and they understand enough about the subject matter that they know which search terms to plug into Google in their search for more information.
Put it to the test:
- Send students on an online scavenger hunt. Ask them to curate a bookmark or favorites list of relevant sites, or find Facebook groups and social accounts where this topic is featured. They can contribute their findings to a resource list to share with their fellow students.
Stage 2: Understand
At this level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, students have progressed beyond merely remembering, and they demonstrate a contextual understanding of facts.
They show this in their ability to explain facts to someone else; they can paraphrase or summarize news articles, blog posts, and other pieces of information accurately. They can perform more advanced web searches now – using Boolean terms and digging into academic journal databases – and use their new-found understanding to correctly identify and tag various online resources that support the topic.
Put it to the test:
- Start a topic thread on your Facebook group or community site, and assign students the task of contributing meaningfully to the group discussion. By explaining and discussing the topic together, students will deepen their understanding and help one another progress to the next level.
- Ask students to write a sample blog post, record a vlog, post a social status, or go live on social to explain this concept simply and concisely to others. It doesn’t matter if they do this live, or only produce the content and submit it privately to the group – the important part is producing content with a simple explanation.
- Assign students a blog post or article to read, and ask them to annotate the article with notes to explain how it relates to the topic.
Stage 3: Apply
Students who have reached this stage have mastered the ability to take information and apply it to different situations.
They might use their newfound knowledge to solve a problem. When presented with a hypothetical roadblock, they can apply information to plan basic solutions. They might be able to practise their skills with a simple project or assignment. At this stage, these projects are akin to fill-in-the-blank exercises, where students are given a basic framework and they have to apply their knowledge to complete the big picture; but they’re starting to deepen their understanding of the subject matter and they’re well on their way to being able to use these skills in a more abstract way.
Put it to the test:
- Provide students with basic problems and ask them to come up with solutions using the subject matter
- Give students a diagram or piece of writing with some terms missing, and have them fill in the blanks with the correct terms
- Students already know how to explain this concept; now ask them to come up with a hypothetical assignment or practice exercise they would give to someone in order to test their understanding.
Stage 4: Analyze
At this stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy, students can break information down into smaller parts to explore relationships between complex ideas. This also represents the point where students can make judgement calls about the subject matter. They can evaluate information, compare and contrast concepts, and find evidence to support their assertions.
Put it to the test:
- Give students a jumbled list of terms or facts, and ask them to sort the information. They can rank it by importance, split into categories, or create compare/contrast lists with explanations.
- Ask students to create a pro/con list based on their understanding of the topic and how to apply it to a particular problem or situation.
- Provide students an open-ended thesis statement, and ask them to state their opinion or solution. The key here: they need to provide evidence for their solution, to show they know how to critically assess the topic.
Stage 5: Evaluate
This stage marks the point where students have gained a new level of independence with the subject matter. They not only know how to explain, apply, and organize information provided to them; now they can use everything they’ve learned and rearrange the pieces into new ideas that can be tested, debated, and measured.
At this point, you can expect students to be able to intelligently debate one another over a thesis question. They can come up with new ideas or suggestions, and design tests to measure their effectiveness. Students at this stage have such a firm grasp of the subject matter, that they should be able to draw on it on the spot to have spontaneous conversations and solve ad hoc problems.
Put it to the test:
- Put students into groups and hold a debate over a thesis statement chosen by you.
- Ask students to design a detailed project to solve a particular problem. They could even produce a slide deck, webpage, or some other content to demonstrate their project.
- Ask students to contribute to a thread discussion on your group or community site; part of the group exercise will be to comment actively, moderate one another’s discussion, and critically review information presented in comments
- Present students with a problem, and ask them to design a test to measure or solve that problem. Students can present their solutions in a group setting, as if giving presentations before a board. Their ability to present, justify, and defend their solutions will determine the depth of their understanding of the subject matter.
Stage 6: Create
This is it – the training wheels have come off, the cord has been cut, and your work here is done. You’ve taught your students so well that they can go out and apply this information to a myriad of new situations, and create brand new resources to educate and entertain others. They’ve reached the top of the Bloom’s Taxonomy scaffold and they’re ready to succeed and grow independently. Are you proud? You should be!
Put it to the test:
- Ask students to produce a video or blog post where they use a creative approach of their choosing to explain the topic in a compelling way
- Put students in groups to plan and record a series of podcast episodes on the topic. They can work as a class to decide what topics should be covered in the series, and each episode can build on the one before.
- Ask students to design, edit, and contribute to a wiki on the subject
How to apply Bloom’s Taxonomy
Know your students. What kinds of questions do your students engage with? What activities and projects do they respond to? Are they motivated to engage in class discussions?
Early in a lesson unit, ask questions from a variety of the Bloom’s taxonomy levels to ascertain a baseline of understanding for your students. Pay attention to their answers and level of engagement – students will engage less as you ascend through the levels they are unfamiliar with, and this will reveal the depths of their understanding. Now you can build a strategy to help them climb to the higher levels.
Determine the cognitive goals of your course. Is this course designed to give students an introduction? A revision of previously learned concepts? Is there a skill they need to master, or a level of theory they need to attain? Not all Bloom’s taxonomies are created equal; the application of each level will differ according to your subject matter and the level of expertise you are aiming for.
Use Backward Design to plan an assessment strategy that helps students move through the levels of your course taxonomy. Once you decide where you want to end up, you can plan the pit stops along the journey, using Bloom’s Taxonomy to help you ensure you hit every point.
In a single unit, move from lower order to higher order thinking questions. These levels of questioning should form part of your lesson planning, and they can be scattered strategically throughout the lesson, moving from lower-order questions at the beginning of class and ending with higher-order questions nearer the end of the lesson. This way, you can check if students are keeping up with the content, and you have the opportunity to address any roadblocks or assist struggling learners before moving on to the next level.
Learning outcomes for online course success
Now that you have the keys to pedagogical success, you’re all set to build a course outline that packs a punch. It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching someone how to play the piano or launch a small business; our brains learn the same way, along the same patterns, regardless of the subject matter. Your ability to leverage that is the key to building a course that delivers – and keeping your students coming back for more.
This article was originally published September 2020, and was updated in March 2023 to be even more useful.