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University of Connecticut Assessment

Assessment Primer:
Learning Taxonomies

Beginning in 1948, a group of educators undertook the task of classifying education goals and objectives.  The intention was to develop a classification system for three domains:

  • Cognitive domain (intellectual capability, mental skills, i.e., Knowledge)
  • Affective domain (growth in feelings, emotions, or behavior, i.e., Attitude)
  • Psychomotor domain (manual or physical skills, i.e., Skills)

This taxonomy of learning behaviors can be thought of as the goals of training; i.e., after a training session, the learner should have acquired new skills, knowledge, and/or attitudes.

Cognitive Domain - Bloom's Taxonomy

Work on the cognitive domain was completed in 1956 and is commonly referred to as Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, since the editor of the volume was Benjamin S. Bloom, although the full title was Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain, 1956 by Longman Inc. with the text having four other authors (Max D. Engelhart, Edward J. Furst, Walker H. Hill, and David R. Krathwohl).

Bloom identified six levels within the cognitive domain, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation.

Six Levels Diagram

A description of the six levels is given here (1 page  pdf document).

Bloom, et al indicated …

“[Bloom's] Taxonomy is designed to be a classification of the student behaviors which represent the intended outcomes of the educational process.  It is assumed that essentially the same classes of behavior may be observed in the usual range of subject-matter content of different levels of education (elementary, high school, college), and in different schools.  Thus a single set of classification should be applicable in all these circumstances.

What we are classifying is the intended behaviors of students – the ways in which individuals are to think, act or feel, as a result of participating in some unit of instruction.  (Only such of those intended behaviors as are related to mental acts of thinking are included in the part of the Taxonomy developed in the handbook for the cognitive domain.)

It is recognized that the actual behaviors of the students after they have completed the unit of instruction may differ in degree as well as kind from the intended behavior specified by the objectives.  That is the effects of instruction may be such that the students do not learn a given skill to any degree.

We initially limited ourselves to those objectives referred to as knowledge, intellectual abilities, and intellectual skills.  (This area, which we named the cognitive domain, may also be described as including the behavior; remembering; reasoning, problem solving; concept formation, and to a limited extent creative thinking.)”

In essence, the authors foreshadowed what has come to be known as outcomes-based assessment (Assessment in Higher Education by Heywood 2000)


Examples of learning objectives at each of the Bloom levels:

Example of Learning Objectives at each of the levels of Bloom's taxonomy

(based on Assessment in Higher Education by Heywood 2000 and
Eder, Douglas J., “General Education Assessment Within the Disciplines”,
The Journal of General Education, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 135-157, 2004 )
Bloom's level Learning goal: Students will understand the major theoretical approaches within the discipline
Knowledge Students can list the major theoretical approaches of the discipline
Exam question at this level: Name the muscles of the rotator cuff.
Medical faculty questions at this level: What was the heart rate?  Where is the primary lesion?
Comprehension Students can describe the key theories, concepts, and issues for each of the major theoretical approaches
Exam question at this level: How does the rotator cuff help you to raise your arm?
Medical faculty questions at this level: When would you use that type of hernia repair?  Why is the fracture in the same place it was before?
Application Students can apply theoretical principles to solve real-world problems
Exam question at this level: Why does throwing a curve ball cause rotator cuff injury?
Medical faculty questions at this level: You are watching the patient and she falls – what would you do?  Here is a lady with no vibratory sensation – what problem does this pose?
Analysis Students can analyze the strengths and limitations of each of the major theoretical approaches for understanding specific phenomena
Exam question at this level: How does the throwing motion stress each component, in turn, of the rotator cuff?
Medical faculty questions at this level: What are the most significant aspects of this patient's story?  That is a curious bit of information – how do you explain it?
Synthesis Students can combine theoretical approaches to explain complex phenomena
Exam question at this level: Design a physical therapy program to strengthen each component of the rotator.
Medical faculty questions at this level: How would you summarize this?  What are your conclusions?
Evaluation Students can select the theoretical approach that is most applicable to a phenomenon and explain why they have selected that perspective
Exam question at this level: Evaluate another physical therapist's program to strengthen the rotator cuff.
Medical faculty questions at this level: Why is that information pertinent?  How valid is this patient's story?

The following graphics depict how courses in a curriculum reflect Bloom's levels. Namely, the higher levels of learning are addressed in advanced course work taken by students.

Bloom Lower Division Image

Bloom Upper Division Image

Affective Domain - Krathwohl's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy second domain, the Affective Domain, was detailed by Bloom, Krathwhol and Masia in 1964 (Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Volume II, The Affective Domain).  Bloom's theory advocates this structure and sequence for developing attitude – also now commonly expressed in personal development as 'beliefs'.

Affective Domain Taxonomy Image

Krathwohl's affective domain taxonomy is perhaps the best known of any of the affective taxonomies. A description of the levels is given here (1 page  pdf document ).

Psychomotor Domain

Various people have since built on Bloom's work, notably in the third domain, the 'psychomotor' or skills, which Bloom originally identified in a broad sense, but which he never fully detailed.  This was apparently because Bloom and his colleagues felt that the academic environment held insufficient expertise to analyze and create a suitable reliable structure for the physical ability 'Psychomotor' domain.  As a result, there are several different contributors providing work in this third domain, such as Simpson and Harrow which are described below.

Harrow's Taxonomy

The psychomotor domain taxonomy due to Harrow is organized according to the degree of coordination including involuntary responses as well as learned capabilities.  Simple reflexes begin at the lowest level of the taxonomy, while complex neuromuscular coordination make up the highest level.

Psychomotor Taxonomy Image

Simpson's Taxonomy

The psychomotor domain includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas.  Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures, or techniques in execution.  Simpson's seven major categories listed from the simplest behavior to the most complex are shown here (1 page  pdf document) .