When starting work on a course, designers typically start by writing learning objectives. These should be simple, outcome-focused statements that guide both course design and content development. Unfortunately, they are too often forgotten when instinct takes over as development work begins. The temptation to include everything that a person needs to know interferes with building something useful in a timely manner. This proves even more true when more than one person is involved in the process.
Much of the issue lies in creating objectives that are more or less aligned with Bloom’s Taxonomy, a concept that has been around since 1956 and revised by others as learning technologies evolved.
While most of us are aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy, practitioners typically fall into one of two camps. On one side, the taxonomy is seen as a theory or scientific principle backed by extensive research. Those in this camp adhere rigidly to the pyramid (since the taxonomy is often displayed as such, similar to that shown in the accompanying diagram) and refer to the first level as the foundation. On the other side are those who label the taxonomy as baseless and irrelevant. They often refer to those using the taxonomy as buyers of snake oil, buying into a false promise that may or may not work.
In my experience, I find the middle ground the most useful. The taxonomy is not scientific and should not drive or justify design. It does, however, codify common sense and wisdom from many who came before. It can provide a useful guide for design and development. Better, when objectives are created to fall within one or a very few levels of the taxonomy, they can then be effectively used to manage development, more quickly delivering useful learning programs.
Applications Of Bloom’s Taxonomy In eLearning
Bloom’s Taxonomy is most-often represented as a pyramid with foundational levels of knowledge at the base. Higher levels of knowledge or wisdom might then be seen as building on the foundation. While all individuals learn in their own manner, bringing their own knowledge into every learning experience, thinking in these levels can help designers structure programs in a way that makes sense to both developers and participants.
Here are some ways you can apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to your online training.
Organize Learning Programs
Every individual is responsible for his or her own learning. They choose what they want to learn and, even with mandatory training, what they take away from the experience.
That said, almost everyone is looking for learning opportunities at an appropriate level. Colleges do this with 100 series courses as foundational and prerequisites for 200 series courses, which in turn precede 300 or 400 series courses.
Professionals wanting to improve their performance think along similar lines. A high performing professional is more interested in novel applications of what they do or learning what others are doing than in better understanding the basics of what they already know. From those working in science and engineering to banking, to sales, and other sectors, organizing self-selected content into levels helps guide choosing those opportunities to pursue. They may not want to be told what to learn or how to learn it, they do often want to know what courses logically follow others so they can make informed decisions.
In my work, I used four basic levels. Awareness or basic knowledge were at Level 1, reflecting what is labeled as “remembering” in the accompanying diagram. Understanding or knowledge was Level 2, building on the more foundational elements of the program but short of application, which was Level 3. At this level, application implied a hands-on component of the structured instruction. At the conclusion of the course, the participants would be able to do something on their own that they could not do before participating.
The fourth level essentially encompassed everything else, including programs that crossed disciplines and afforded open-ended learning opportunities where employees worked together to learn something new based on their existing knowledge and experience. In practice, there were relatively few of these formal experiences since most of this high-level learning actually happens on the job and in the flow of work on a daily basis.
As stated earlier, all new programs begin with learning objectives, which reflect what a participant should know, understand, or be able to do after participating. At the Remembering level, this would largely involve recall and the objectives would reflect that, measurable by testing. At the Understanding level, objectives would reflect reasoning or possibly the ability to converse competently with others. Of course the Application level involves doing something that could then be observed or measured through accomplishment of a task.
I made a point of focusing objectives for any given course on one level, recognizing that several courses at higher levels might be based on the same foundational course and avoiding unnecessary redundancy. This proved a good discriminator for deciding what should be in a given course or, if important, incorporated into a different course at a lower, higher, or parallel level.
Identify Gaps in Programs
When programs are constructed by level with parallel tracks representing different disciplines or areas, gaps may appear. Learning within a track should progress from one level to another, even if several courses are available to choose from at any given level.
When gaps appear within a track, that can stimulate questions to those who are experts in the field but often unaware of their own learning that brought them to the level where they now operate.
Focus on Foundational Learning
In almost every industry, the bulk of learning takes place on the job, and this is especially true for high performing workplaces. The 70-20-10 rule of workplace learning reflects this, with only ten percent of learning resulting from formal or planned learning interventions. The remaining 90 percent results from working with others or through experience, experimentation, and reflection.
From a workplace learning perspective, this suggests that courses or programs should focus on broad, foundational learning or awareness-building, which is clearly at the lowest levels reflected in Bloom’s taxonomy. In effect, crafting a learning program around the lower levels of remembering, knowledge, and application are an appropriate foundation for higher level learning on the job. Those who already know the fundamentals may be ready to perform, while others can learn what they need.
In order for professional instructors to achieve the best results and add value for the learners, Bloom’s Taxonomy can serve as a useful guide to developing eLearning courses. Following the above suggestions will get your learners closer to achieving corporate learning and performance goals.