In the dusty corners of learning design, where syllabi and curriculum are yellowing and curling at the edges, where desiccating ‘learning outcomes’ are resurrected, ignored and then resurrected again Blooms Taxonomy sits in patriarchy pervading the gloom…..
A touch dramatic? Well yes and no …READ ON
Blooms ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’ (1956) and its revisionist successor, Anderson’s ‘A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment’ (2001) are frameworks I see used frequently and indiscriminately as models for learning design in schools, Higher Education and in organisational learning. Its neatly defined domains and categories are an extremely tempting route into designing a pedagogical conduit from beginner level onwards; in which beginners horizons are limited to ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ whilst so-called ‘advanced’ learners are additionally enabled to analyse, evaluate and create.
Whilst Anderson undoubtedly improved upon Bloom’s original concept by introducing the category of ‘Creating’, and shifting the focus from the ‘what’ towards the ‘how’ of learning, his approach is still taxonomical. It suggests a hierarchy of learning and thinking where the learner moves discretely though a rigid process; where only those learners who reach the pinnacle of the pyramid can be seen as expert – as having mastered a particular subject area.
But who amongst us learns in straight lines? Understanding and evaluation can occur through the act of creating; iteratively in complex patterns that bear little resemblance to a pyramidal process.
I recently read a thought piece from Bernard Bull (Assistant Vice President of Academics & Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin) whose excellent blog posts I read regularly – and it has served to soften my approach to Bloom. Bull thoughtfully describes the value of having a framework – in this case Bloom’s taxonomy – to guide his early practice. He used the taxomony to construct questions, from the simple (remembering and understanding) towards the more complex (evaluating and creating) thereby guiding students towards deeper learning and creating a space for ‘exploration, experimentation, curiosity’. The framework provided a pedagogical route into his classroom gradually changing his relationship with his students and laying the foundations of his practice.
“I continue to be drawn to a philosophy of education that values creativity, curiosity, inquiry, experimentation and exploration. It shows up in my work around self-directed learning and project-based learning. It is evident in my writing about self-blended learning, unschooling, informal learning, human agency and alternative education. It informs my desire to explore alternatives to letter grades, standardized tests, and industrial age attributes of our system. And much of it started with Bloom’s taxonomy, a way of categorizing knowledge that is largely unsupported by solid research and increasingly questioned as a valid and useful tool in education. Yet, for me, it was a means to explore a new way of thinking about teaching and learning.”
Blooms taxonomy had provided Bull with a scaffold to develop his practice. Used critically and loosely it had created a space for both the practitioner and his students to learn deeply and well…bloom.
In an age of connectivist and flexible learning, where self-direction and self-organisation are valued and encouraged Bloom’s taxonomy is unarguably diminished. It is steeped in the behaviourist ideology of its age, it is contextually limiting and by its very construct discourages emergent thinking. Like any framework it should be used with caution. But approached discriminately without a hierarchical mindset and without the impulse to reduce complexity – it can and does have some value.