Bloom’s Taxonomy

The classification of learning into six different levels of achievement: remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating.

First proposed by American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom et al. in 1952 as part of three domains of learningcognitive (knowledge), affective (emotions) and psychomotor (physical skills).

‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ has become shorthand for the cognitive domain.

As Krathwohl (2002) explains, Bloom’s classification “represented a cumulative hierarchy, so that mastery of each simpler category was prerequisite to mastery of the next more complex one.”


Bloom’s original version included the following categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation. These were later revised by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001. Their revisions included simplifying the terminology (e.g. creating instead of synthesis), changing nouns to action words (e.g applying in place of application) and a slight change of order of the last two items (i.e. evaluation/evaluating before synthesis/creating).

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is further divided into 19 subcategories. Each subcategory represent a distinct cognitive process.


1. Remembering

Memorisation of basic facts, figures or concepts. Simple rote learning.

Classification subcategories: recognising, recalling

Action words: define, find, identify, indicate, list, locate, memorise, name, quote, recite, recognise, select, state, what, when, where, who, why

In essence, this cognitive level involves learners’ retention of information imparted during instruction.

As Mayer explains (2008, p. 228),


Remembering involves retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory. Remembering knowledge is essential for meaningful learning and problem solving when that knowledge is used in more complex tasks.”

Examples of ways student’s can demonstrate remembering is by:

  • Recognising (or identifying)being able to draw on memory to identify key components learnt. Example activity or assessment: basic multiple choice quizzes.

  • Recalling (or retriving)being a remember knowledge about basic facts, figures, formulas, etc. Example activity or assessment: who, what, when short answer questions.

2. Understanding

Explaining concepts in the learner’s own words

Classification subcategories: interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarising, inferring, comparing, explaining

Action words: classify, describe, discuss, explain, generalise, give an example, illustrate, paraphrase, rephrase, rewrite, summarise

Understanding is first of the cognitive levels where learners begin to assimilate and put to use what they have learnt. As Mayer (2002, p.228) observes,

“Students understand when they build connections between the new knowledge to be gained and their prior knowledge.”


Examples of ways learner’s can demonstrate understanding is by:

  • Interpreting—being able to transpose one’s understanding into new words.
    Example activity or assessment: a paraphrasing activity.

  • Exemplifying (or illustrating)—learners finding their own example to illustrate something.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Describe a example of cognitive bias from the news’.

  • Classifying—being able to place what is read, heard or seen into categories.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Place the following threats in order of highest to lowest risk.’

  • Summarising (or abstracting or generalising)—condensing material down to its most essential elements.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Briefly describe Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar’.

  • Inferring (or concluding, extrapolating, interpolating, or predicting)—deriving logical conclusions from the material presented.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Given the patient’s history, what is the most likely diagnosis of their presenting illness?’

  • Comparing (or contrasting)—looking for similarities and differences between two things.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Compare and contrast how alienation is dealt with in two films we have covered this semester.’

  • Explaining—describing things in terms of cause and effect.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘How has public political discourse been affected by social media ‘filter bubbles’?’.

3. Applying

Putting things into practice.

Classification subcategories: executing, implementing

Action words: apply, calculate, choose, develop, employ, illustrate, show, solve, use, write

Applying is about putting knowledge into action, most often involving the application of processes and procedures to ‘real world’ problems.


Learners can demonstrate the application of knowledge by:

  • Executing (or carrying out)—carrying out a procedure.
    Example activity or assessment: Doing an equation or following a simple process.

  • Implementing (or using)—applying a procedure to an example or situation unfamiliar to the learner.
    Example activity or assessment: .

4. Analysing

Breaking things down and/or conceptualising.

Classification subcategories: differentiating, organising, attributing

Action words: analyse, break-down, categorise, classify, compare, contrast, deconstruct, examine, examine, research

Analysing means deconstructing material down to its essential components and exploring it in terms of meaning and structure.

There are three processes associated with analysing:

  • Differentiating —distinguishing relevant and irrelevant components.
    Example activity or assessment: A multiple choice where learners have to eliminate incorrect or non-essential material.

  • Organising (or outlining, or structuring)—identifying a useful, logical or workable order of things.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Outline the chain of evidence the author presents in their article.’

  • Attributing (or deconstructing )—carefully considering the material in terms of its purpose and underlying assumptions.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘…’

5. Evaluating

Making a judgement.

Classification subcategories: checking, critiquing

Action words: argue, assess, choose, compare, critique, determine, evaluate, judge, justify, propose, recommend, support

Evaluating involves making assessments against criteria or set of norms, either defined externally or determined by the learner themselves.

According to Mayer (2002, p.228):


“The criteria most often used are quality, effectiveness, efficiency, and consistency.”

This cognitive level can be divided into two distinct areas:

  • Checking (or testing)—making assessments about the internal consistencies and judging effectiveness.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘.’

  • Critiquing (or judging)—measuring against external criteria and making a judgement.
    Example activity or assessment: ‘Assess the effectiveness of the liberalisation of trade barriers in stimulating the Australian economomy over the last three decades.’

6. Creating

Constructing something new.

Classification subcategories: generating, planning, producing

Action words: adapt, communicate, construct, create, design, develop, hypothesise, improve, invent, make, present, produce, synthesise, theorise, visualise, write

Creating is highest level of cognitive achievement, characterised by drawing together components into a coherent whole.

Mayer (2002, p. 231) divides creating into three phases where learners (1) attempt to understand the scope of the problem and entertain possible solutions; (2) work towards planning a possible solution; and, (3) enacting their plan to produce something.


These three phases match exactly the subcategories associated with the cognitive process of creating; namely generating, planning and producing.

  • Generating (or hypothesising)—considering multiple solutions to a problem. As Mayer explains:

“When generating transcends the boundaries or constraints of prior knowledge and existing theories, it involves divergent thinking and forms the core of what can be called creative thinking” (2002, p. 231).

Example activity or assessment: ‘ ’

  • Planning (or designing)—outlining the necessary steps to complete a task.
    Example activity or assessment: A project proposal or annotated bibliography.

  • Producing (or constructing)—bringing together learnt or independently researched material into a coherent and meaningful whole.
    Example activity or assessment: Writing an individual research report or essay, or a group project or presentation.

Further reading

Bloom, BS, Engelhart, MD, Furst, EJ, Hill, WH, Krathwohl, DR 1956, Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals (Handbook I: Cognitive domain), London, David McKay.

Krathwohl, DR 2002, ‘A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview’, Theory Into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 4, pp.212-218.

Mayer, RE 2002, ‘Rote versus meaningful learning, Theory Into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 4, pp.226-232.



Change (and learning)

Education is fundamentally about change—both in terms of tiny incremental changes in students’ understanding, and sometimes even huge shifts in their self-concept and worldview. As Leo Buscaglia points out,

“Change is the end result of all true learning.”

Biggs (2003) affirms this view, arguing that:

“As we learn, our concepts of phenomena change, and we see the world differently. The acquisition of information itself does not bring about such change, but the way we structure that information and think with it does.

Thus, education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information. (p. 13).”

American psychologist Carl Rogers in his book Freedom to Learn (1983) argues that education must be predicated on an understanding that knowledge in constantly in a state of transition, stating:

“We are, in my view, faced with an entirely new situation in education where the goal of education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of change and learning. The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to adapt and change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security. Changingness, reliance on process rather than upon static knowledge, is the only thing that makes any sense as a goal for education in the modern world (p.104).”

But of course, change can be confronting for students. As Rogers (1969) outlines in his list of principles of learning:

“Learning which involves a change in self-organization in the perception of oneself is threatening and tends to be resisted.”

However, the student's resilience and ability to adapt to shifting and evolving states of knowledge is cruical. As Rogers proposes in the last of his ten principles:

“The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and to incorporate into oneself the process of change.”

Further Reading

Rogers, C. R. (1983). Freedom to Learn for the 80s. Columbus, OH Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.


Communities of practice

Communities of practice involves networks of people all motivated by a common interest, or professional concern.

Originally proposed by Lave and Wenger in the early 90s, communities of practice acknowledges that learning is always situated within social contexts. As Wenger-Trayner (2015) explain:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Furthermore, they explain:

“Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.”

Further Reading

Wenger-Trayner E & Wenger-Trayner B, 2015, Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/ [26 August 2018]


Constructive Alignment

Constructive alignment is a theory of educational design that seeks to ensure that the intended learning outcomes, learning activities, assessments and feedback all work together to enhance the effectiveness of the learners’ attainment of knowledge and skills.


Proposed by Biggs (2003), constructive alignment has two dimensions. The constructive dimension refers to how students draw meaning from the learning activities they engage in. “Meaning is not something imparted or transmitted from teacher to learner,” Biggs explains, “but is something learners have to create for themselves.”

Further Reading

Biggs, JB 2011, Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does, 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (UK).


Eating (as a metaphor for learning)

Biggs (2003), while discussing the need for ‘constructive alignment’ when developing curricula, notes the common occurrence of metaphors in English that make a connection between eating and learning.  The most common of these is the negative association about ‘spoon feeding’ students. Biggs writes:

“Spoon feeding, like the other level one metaphors with their curious affinity to metabolic processes – ‘regurgitating’, ‘chewing it over’, ‘stuffing them with facts’, ‘ramming down their throats’, ‘getting your teeth into’–puts a stranglehold on the student’s cognitive processes. Spoon feeding does the work for the students, so that they have little left to do but obediently swallow.” (p. 27)

To counter this, Biggs recommends that more emphasis should be put on what the student does rather than what the teacher does, meaning a greater emphasis should be put on activities where the student is actively engaged in the learning process.

However, it’s interesting to explore how prevalent eating metaphors are in an education setting. Getting students to ‘ruminate’ on things is not a bad idea. Ideas themselves can be ‘distasteful’ just as some activities cannot be some student’s ‘cup of tea.’ Things can be ‘easy as pie,’ and then of course there’s the old proverb: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’

Francis Bacon, the English philosopher, scientist and author, wrote in his essay “Of Studies” makes a great comparison between reading and eating:

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

The prevalence of metaphors about eating is most likely has something to do with the infantile origins of the student-teacher relationship, echoing its child-parent origins. This is presumably why ‘spoon feeding’ has such a negative connotation. It implies total helplessness and passivity on the part of the student.

Further Reading

Biggs, JB 2011, Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does, 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (UK).


Fire (education as ‘lighting a fire’)

The famous quotation, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,’ is attributed to a few people, most often W. B. Yeats, sometimes Socrates. According Quote Investigator, the quote comes from the Greek biographer and essayist, Plutarch.

Plutarch’s version varies slightly compared to the quote attributed to Yeats. It appeared in Plutarch’s essay, “On Listening,” which is worth quoting at length:

“We must encourage those lazy ones, however—once they have grasped the basic points—to interconnect everything else on their own, to use memory to guide original thinking, and to accept what someone else says as a starting point, a seed to be nourished and grown.

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting—no more—and then it motivates one towards originality and instils the desire for truth.

Suppose someone were to go an ask his neighbours for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his innate flame, his own intellect, but is happy to sit entranced by the lecture, and the words trigger only associative thinking and bring, as it were, only a flush to his cheeks and a glow to his limbs’ but he has not dispelled or dispersed, in the warm light of philosophy, the internal dank gloom if his mind.”

According to X that sense of 'lighting a fire' should be the x of x:

“Too few of our teacher training programs demonstrate what it is like to teach well, to assess well, or to serve as an effective role model. Most teachers of college or graduate students see their job as transmitting the inert knowledge of their discipline.

While experts need to have some of this inert knowledge, class room teachers need to know how to coach and encourage their students, so that students can gain various literacies, come to love knowledge, know how to learn, and know how to assess their own growth.

Unless candidate teachers have had such experiences in their own education, it is unreasonable to expect them to display these virtues to their students.”

Further Reading




Flagging involves making the rationale behind key teaching choices explicit to students.

This can include making students aware why particular content has been included or excluded, the nature and timing of assessments, why particular activities have been chosen and even particular strategies of delivery.

As Haynes et al. (2012) explain:

“Flagging is explaining what you are doing, and why.

Teachers often introduce an activity or the next stage of a session without flagging it, assuming either that students already know what it is they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to get out of it, or that students don’t need to know: all they have to do is follow instructions. But people’s ability to undertake tasks depends crucially on their understanding of the task – and not  just their understanding of what the task is, but of why it is a sensible or useful thing to do.” (p. 7)

Further Reading

Haynes, Anthony. & Habeshaw, Sue., 2012. 53 Interesting things to do in your lectures: Tips and strategies for really effective lectures and presentations, United Kingdom: Professional and Higher Partnership.


Formative vs. summative assessment

Formative and summative assessment are the two basic modes of testing students’ understanding. Formative assessments have no grading associated with them, while summative assessments do.

The former is usually employed while instruction is in progress, while the latter happens once key modules of instruction have been covered, or the instruction period has finished entirely.

One of the primary purposes of formative assessments is to help instructors gain insight into the effectiveness of their teaching and the depth of students’ understanding at strategic points in the learning process. In this sense, they have a diagnostic function.

As Biggs states (2003, p.77), “In the course of knowledge construction, students inevitably create misconceptions, which need to be corrected: but first, you have to find out what they are, by formative assessment.”

Formative assessment involves, as Biggs explains,

“probing student’s knowledge as it is being constructed, so that any misunderstandings can be set right, literally in the formative stage.”

Additionally, formative assessments are vital opportunity for students to gain valuable feedback on their performance which they can then apply during the final summative phase.

In contrast, summative assessments are crucial for bench-marking students’ progress across the curriculum, which also ensures appropriate and consistent standards have been attained across different classes, teaching periods, between disciplines and across institutions.


Biggs also observes that students are more receptive to feedback given in formative assessments as there are no marks attached. In this sense, students receive their instructor’s suggestions as positive directions for further learning. In contrast, summative feedback is often interpreted as a negative judgement on their mistakes and poor performance. In short, students potentially see feedback on zero-risk formative assignments as a fair assessment of their performance and knowledge, whereas as feedback and grading on summative high-risk assessments is seen as a value judgement on the student themselves.

Formative assessments include impromptu quizzes, one-minute papers, brainstorms and classroom polls. Summative assessments include repots, essays and exams.

The first category of assessment is well-suited to self- and peer-evaluation, and the second to evaluation performed by an instructor or outside expert. That is not to say self- and peer-evaluation is unsuitable in the summative form. It should also be said that summative assessments can have a formative aspect to them, especially when they reinforce key component of learning across multiple assessments.

Further Reading

Biggs, JB 2011, Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does, 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (UK).


Fraud Triangle

The fraud triangle helps to understand three contributing factors that influence unethical behaviour—namely, pressure, opportunity, and rationalisation.

First proposed by American sociologist and criminologist Donald Cressey (1950, 1965) to explain why people choose to make unethical choices in the financial sector.


According to Cressey (1965), the three psychological motivators that lead to violations of trust are:

  1. Pressure and “the feeling that a personal financial problem is unhareable”;

  2. Opportunity leading to “the knowledge of how to solve the problem in secret, by violating a position of financial trust”; and,

  3. Rationalisation or ‘verbalisation’ and “the ability to find a formula which describes the act of embezzling in words which do not conflict with the image of oneself as a trusted person” (p. 14).

The fraud triangle can also be useful in understanding students’ actions leading to academic misconduct, including the motivations underlying plagiarism or contract cheating (ghost writing).

Pressure in academic contexts can involve the fear of failing a unit, fees and other financial pressures, failing to meet high parental expectations.

Cressey’s original hypothesis placed great emphasis on ‘psychological isolation’ as contributing to an individual’s decision to cheat (1950, p. 741). If an individual is both unable to meet some obligation and is unable to share with others their predicament, the greater the likelihood they would be to consider actions that put their integrity at stake over the social embarrassments in other areas of their life.

His notion of an ‘unshareable problem’ seems apposite in sphere of higher education. An example might involve a student being so behind in their studies and so embarrassed by their lack of work all semester might consider commissioning anther to do their work for them rather than seek help from their tutor.

Opportunity is an easy dimension to spot. It can include poor delivery in administering tests, or recycling assignments from year to year creating the temptation for students to recycle answers as well.

In practice, Cressey’s third dimension, ‘verbalisation’ or rationalisation, is the most difficult to discern and usually can only be divined by direct and candid conversation with the student involved. The student’s rationalisation will involve an self-talk that the student uses to give themselves permission or lessen the severity in their own mind of the violation of trust.

“Verbalisation,” Cressey observes,is the crux of the problem.” He explains:

“I am convinced that the words that the potential embezzler uses in his conversation with himself are actually the most important elements in the process which gets him into trouble, or keeps him out of trouble. If he sees a possibility for embezzlement, it is because he has defined the relationship between the unshareable problem and an illegal solution in language that lets him look on trust violation as something other than trust violation. If he cannot do this, he does not become an embezzler” (1965, p.15).

These verbalisations afford a level of tolerable cognitive dissonance, allowing the misconduct to be carried out without disturbing the subject’s self-image as a good person. As Cressey states:

“Vocabularies of motive are not something invented by embezzlers (or anyone else) on the spur of the mo- ment. Before they can be taken over by an individual, these verbalisations exist as group definitions in which the behavior in question, even crime, is in a sense appropriate” (1965, p.15).

To counter fraud in the financial sector, Cressey makes two suggestions that could easily be applied to counter academic misconduct:

  1. Reduce the stigma of sharing ‘unshareable problems’

  2. Structure education initiatives around common rationalisations people use to legitimate their violations of trust.

Further Reading

Cressey, DR 1950, ‘The Criminal Violation of Financial Trust’ American Sociological Review, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 738-743.

Cressey, DR 1965, ‘The respectable criminal’, Criminology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 13-16.




Being genuine with students has an important pedagogical function. Contained with a teacher’s real feelings of boredom, interest and surprise are some valuable cues for students to modify their behaviour and deepen their understanding.

As Carl Rogers explains:

“Perhaps the most basic of these essential attitudes is realness or genuineness. When the facilitator is a real person being what he is, entering into a relationship with the learner without presenting a front or facade, he is much more likely to be effective. This means that the feelings which he is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness, that he is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate them if appropriate. It means that he comes into a direct personal encounter with the learner, meeting him on a person-to-person basis. It means that he is being himself, not denying himself.

Seen from this point of view it is suggested that the teacher can be a real person in his relationship with his students. He can be enthusiastic, he can be bored, he can be interested in students, he can be angry, he can be sensitive and sympathetic.

Because he accepts these feelings as his own, he has no need to impose them on his students. He can like or dislike a student product without implying that it is objectively good or bad or that the student is good or bad. He is simply expressing a feeling for the product, a feeling that exists within himself. Thus, he is a person to his students, not a faceless embodiment of a curricular requirement,  nor a sterile tube through which knowledge is passed from one generation to another” (p. 106) . 





Knowledge Dimension

A. Factual


2. Specific details and elements

B. Conceptual

1. Classifications and categories

2. Principles and generalisations

3. Theories, models and structures

C. Procedural

1. Subject-specific skills and algorithms

2. Subject-specific techniques and methods

3. Criteria for determining when to use procedures

D. Metacognitive

1. Strategic knowledge

2. Knowledge about cognitive tasks, including contextual and conditional knowledge

3. Self-knowledge


Further reading



Self-initiated learning

As one of his ten principles of learning, Rogers (1969) argues that:

“Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner feeling as well as intellect is the most lasting and pervasive.”


‘Spoon feeding’ (As a metaphor)

‘Spoon feeding’ is a common trope in education indicating a poor learning environment where students are taught in the same way one feeds a baby—one mouthful at a time with no effort on the part of the baby.

As E.M. Forster once said,

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”




Scott (2005) in response to a large scale survey of students found that:

“If group work is to be effective, students will need to be alerted explicitly to what makes for productive collaboration in order for there to be careful management of expectations around group assessment and for there to be specific strategies for managing ‘freeloaders’, along with specific advice on how to make communication between group members efficient and effective.” (45)

Further reading



Three Domains of learning

Bloom et al. (1956) divided learning into three essential domains—cognitive (knowledge), affective (emotions and attitudes) and psychomotor (physical abilities).

The three domains relate to a specific area of educational activity:

  1. Cognitive—the domain of knowledge and thinking, especially as it relates to “recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual abilities and skills” (Bloom et al. 1956, p.7.).

  2. Affective—the domain of attitudes and feelings, as well as values and motivations for learning (Krathwohl et al. 1973).

  3. Psychomotor—the domain of physical, motor skills.

Each domain has its own taxonomy. The most well-known of these is the cognitive domain, more commonly referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Further reading

Bloom, BS, Engelhart, MD, Furst, EJ, Hill, WH, Krathwohl, DR 1956, Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain, London, David McKay.

Krathwohl, DR, Bloom, BS, Masia, BB 1973, Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals. Handbook II: Affective domain. London: David McKay.