The Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor Domains: The Taxonomy of the Traditional Learner

The Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor Domains: The Taxonomy of the Traditional Learner

Lawrence A. Tomei (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-824-6.ch004
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The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, better known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, is a classification system that governs how learning objectives are designed, implemented and assessed. First proposed in 1956, Benjamin Bloom began his scrutiny into educational objectives by exploring the cognitive domain (which will serve as the focus for this chapter). Later, with other colleagues including Lorin W. Krathwohl and S. R. Kibler, he considered the affective and psychomotor domains to round out his body of study. Bloom’s taxonomy differentiates six levels of teaching and learning: (1) knowledge, (2) comprehension, (3) application, (4) analysis, (5) synthesis, and (6) evaluation. This chapter offers a perspective for developing instruction purposely targeting the traditional learner.
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The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives began as an ambitious project undertaken as the direct result of discussions held during the 1948 Convention of the American Psychological Association. Benjamin Bloom gathered a select group of educators who eventually undertook the complex task of classifying educational goals and objectives. The group met from 1949 to 1956 when they published the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956).

One of the initial goals for building a taxonomy was to reduce the labor –intensive task of preparing questions for comprehensive examinations. Researchers explored several possible methods of classifying behaviors believed to be important for learning. The framework eventually produced taxonomies for three domains:

  • Cognitive domain – focusing on knowledge, skills, and competencies and consisting of six levels;

  • Affective domain – focusing on attitudes, feelings, and emotions and consisting of five levels; and,

  • Psychomotor domain – focusing on fine and gross motor skills and consisting of six levels.

Bloom introduced the term “taxonomy” for his new classification system; a word not familiar to most within education. Bloom prevailed, however, and forever linked his name with taxonomy.


The Taxonomy Matures

Common Characteristics of Taxonomies. Bloom identified six levels within the cognitive domain. As with most hierarchical classification systems, there are certain common characteristics.

First, the primary trait of any taxonomy is that its assumptions concerning educational objectives are arranged in a hierarchy from less to more complex.

Second, Bloom’s taxonomy recognizes a range of learning outcomes from simple recall or recognition of facts at the lowest level of knowledge to the more complex and abstract mental levels. The highest level, evaluation, represents the most challenging cognitive skills.

Third, most learners advance through the six levels in much the same order and about the same time in their cycle of cognitive growth. This characteristic of age-stage classification is also found in most cognitive theories of learning and continues to remain a hotly debated topic for educators.

Fourth, although the stages of the taxonomy are consistent, they can be breached by learners; that is, learners often operate at different levels of the taxonomy based on the academic content (e.g., science and math versus language arts), levels of difficulty (e.g., basic instruction compared to complex concepts), and the instructor who may not realize the challenges confronting students when faced with instruction and evaluations on levels that do not sync.

Finally, most teacher-made tests (and this is true in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education) still focus on the lower levels of the taxonomy. Yet, research continues to show that learners are better able to retain what they have learned when they are asked to grapple with content presented at the higher levels of the taxonomy.

The Six Levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. A familiarization with each of the six levels (Figure 2) is necessary to understand how Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain impacts the traditional learner. As stated before, the levels of the taxonomy are cumulative; that is, each level incorporates learning at all previous levels. Also, the lower three levels (knowledge, comprehension, application) represent convergent thinking in which information learned at the first and second levels is brought together (converges) at the third level and applied. The upper three levels (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) describe divergent thinking processes whereby new insights and thoughts are developed that were not part of the original instruction.

Figure 2.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain


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