Train the Trainer: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

Benjamin Bloom  (1913 – 1999) was an interesting gentleman indeed.  Back in the 1940’s and 50’s he held several impressive roles in higher education, including 16 years as the “University Examiner” at the University of Chicago.  In this position, he analyzed and approved the university’s tests to determine if undergraduates had mastered the material necessary for them to receive their bachelor’s degrees. He also wrote or co-authored 18 books on education, all of them with the goal of “enhancing student learning”.

During his time as University Examiner, he discovered that over 95% of the test questions students encountered required them to think at only the lowest possible level…the recall of information.  In other words, most tests – even at the University level – resembled nothing more than a “memory trick.” 

I have to admit, I agree.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest issues in education, including wine education, today.  A  while back, I was asked to look over a took a wine test written by a friend of mine.  It was intended to be the final exam in a semester-long “Professional Wine Studies”  course she was teaching at a 2-year college as part of a hospitality management program. Much to my chagrin, the test amounted to nothing more than a really long wine trivia contest. She could have sold it to Hasbro as “Trivial Pursuit – Vinous Version“!

The issue I had with the test is that all it really assessed was memorization. Very few, if any, of the questions required even the slightest bit of comprehension, application or evaluation.  Sorry to say, my friend was a member of the dreaded “lazy test writer club.”  The test she was about to give could have been passed by anyone who locked themselves in a closet with a copy of The Wine Bible for two days before the test.  Of course, the day after the test they wouldn’t remember a thing.  (We fixed the test before it went out to the examinees – global wine education crisis averted!)

 

Back to Benjamin Bloom and his solution for all this. 

In 1954, after a series of educational conferences, Bloom was tasked with leading a committee with the goal of improving  the quality of  teaching practices, curriculum development, and the validity of university exams. The result was a classification of learning objectives – the goals that educators set for learners – built around a hierarchy of levels of understanding.  In an ideal learning situation, students would master the lowest levels of learning, such as knowledge and memorization, and then move up to learning at the “higher order thinking skills” such as application, evaluation, and synthesis. If applied properly, this idea should influence or even change the way you teach, and equally importantly, how you design your tests. 

Here is a very quick overview of the six levels of learning, paraphrased in my own words. I hope they meet with Mr. Bloom’s approval.

Level 1:  Knowledge – Remembering

  • Definition:  Student recalls or recognizes information, ideas, or principles in the approximate form in which they were learned.
  • Good for:  Dates, Events, Places, Vocabulary, Key Ideas, Facts, Figures.
  • Please don’t: Write all your test questions at this level.   

 Level 2:  Comprehension – Understanding

  • Definition:  Student translates, comprehends, or interprets information based on prior learning.
  • Good for: Finding meaning, Interpreting facts, Giving examples.

 Level 3:  Application – Applying

  • Definition:  Student uses the information to solve a problem or complete a task.
  • Good for: Use of information in new situations, solving problems, case studies.

 Level 4:  Analysis –Analyzing

  • Definition: Student breaks down information into simpler parts and understands patterns and organization. 
  • Good for:  Recognizing and explaining patterns and meaning, seeing the “parts and the whole”, breaking things down, critical thinking.

Level 5:  Synthesis (Creation) – Creating

  • Definition:  Student originates, integrates and combines ideas into a product, plan, or proposal that is new to him/her.
  • Good for: Building things up, putting concepts together, creating new ideas, plans, or products.

 Level 6:  Evaluation – Evaluating

  • Definition:  Student appraises, assesses, or critiques on a basis of specific standards and criteria.
  • Good for:  Making recommendations and choices, assessing value, critiquing ideas, predicting outcomes.  

Due to its long history and popularity,  the actual wording and order of the “hierarchy” has been  revised, condensed, expanded, modernized, and re-interpreted in a variety of ways over the past 60 years.  However, Bloom’s Taxonomy has clearly stood the test of time.  Every teacher should use this material. 

It’s the year 2012, and a seminar on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives is included in my annual faculty development plan this year, as it is every year.  It’s one of the most important concepts I want my faculty to know..and comprehend, and apply, and analyze and evaluate.

Stay tuned later this week when I’ll provide some examples of “Bloom’s Taxonomy in Action” in wine education and testing.