Monday, September 25, 2006

Bloom goes boom!

OK, let's have a look at another 50 year old theory! Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives published in 1956, set in train 50 years of dull ‘taxonomy’ with his three domains:

Cognitive (knowledge)
Psychomotor (skills)
Affective (attitude)

OK, it was a start. Unfortunately, this is about as far as most people get. They rarely dig deeper into his further six levels in the cognitive, six different aspects of psychomotor skills and his rather useless three types of affective.

Sliced and diced
Since then we've had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We've had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes.

Another danger is that crazy instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on.

Thankfully, brain science has moved on and we have solid theory, especially on memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis. Using Bloom is barely more useful than phrenology when actually designing useful learning.

I am now putting on my headguard and body armour.


Anonymous said...

It's a while ago since I did my paper on this, but as far as I can remember, while Bloom identified the psychomotor domain, but he did not do the research into its taxonomy. This was added later (by Harrow, I think).

The view of Bloom's team was that they were researching higher education. He did not believe that anyone on the staff at his institution had anything to do with psychomotor learning.

He obviously neglected to consider the sports coaches and performing arts teachers!

Anonymous said...

"Thankfully, brain science has moved on and we have solid theory, especially on memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis."

Is this the reflection of your faith?
Or did somebody tell you this?

This is as more nonsense than the whole of the ID fiasco put together. Just attaching "science" to put in an aura of authenticity wont work!

Donald Clark said...

So science is nonsense, or are you just talking about science as it applies to memory?

You're also confusing two VERY different concepts. Science is not faith - it is empirical, peer reviewed and subject to falsification through experiment.

And no, someone did not "tell me this". I can, and do, read the published research.

Harold Jarche said...

In 2002, Brenda Sugrue wrote a short article on the problems with Bloom's taxonomy. She states that it is invalid, unreliable and impractical; and I have to agree. The article is here (you have to scroll down a bit):

Donald Clark said...

Beyond Bloom.....

Thanks Harold. This well written, short piece summarises almost exactly my thoughts.

Bloom's taxonomy is:

1. invaild
2. unreliable
3. impractical

The weakmnesses are so strong that it is simply sensible to abandon it altogether.

I also like her idea of abandoning these oversimplistic taxonomies altogether to focus on 'performance'.

Anonymous said...

Hey Don - how about a bit of consistent 'scientific' reasoning here. On the one hand you villify Bloom's work as invaild, unreliable, impractical etc and THEN go on to laud the Caspian Learning company whose work, as stated on their website, is based on that very same Bloom's taxonomy ("We use our expertise to "knowledge map" the desired learning outcome". Caspian provide a nice graphic that shows how they integrate Blooms toxonomy into their design).
Sorry, you can't have it both ways.

Donald Clark said...

Actually, I agree with you but not inconsistent. I like the Caspian software, not because of the mapping to Blooms six levels of cognition, but because it uses games techniques to deliver the learning. It's the motivational techniques (goals, 3D environment, avatar, journey etc) along with the reinforcement through replays, and success through completion (performance) that attracted me to this stuff.

Games are performance and not taxonomy focussed. The fact that they use some simple task templates is not really what makes this stuff sing.

jay said...

Too bad Bloom didn't have a chance to read Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences before paring the world down to three domains.


Anonymous said...

Well to compare them, Howard Gardner's mi theory is close to pseudoscience. Blooms is fairly well supported and is a good set of recommendations, especially if you add creativity to the top of the pyramid (as has been done since Bloom).

For instruction purpose, the info processing model, with Swellers cog load model is indeed excellent and more appropriate. It is consisent with Bloom's framework. Biggs also works well with Bloom's. The really practical stuff is dual coding, and Sweller's instructional framework though. Thats what the latest multimedia research shows.

Gardner, Herrmann, Bandler n Grinder, VAKOG styles, left right stuff, are all pretty much the same vague or pseudoscientific nonsense.

Bloom, Sternberg, Novak, Biggs, Sweller, Piavio, are about as rigorous as you need. Some of the stuff is a little old, but much of the old stuff (Novak's concept mapping, meaningful learning) just seems to get stronger even without adjustment.

Long live good research well supported theory, and sane application.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Bloom's taxonomy (and by extension most taxonomies) is there is a prescribed level of "steps". You have to know before you can understand, before you can apply, etc. The thing is, I learned while working with adults that because skills are transferable, one might have the skill before they have the knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals.

For example, I don't have an in-depth knowledge or understanding of the programming language PHP. However, through deductive logic, I have been able to modify PHP shells. Through trial and error, I accomplished what I needed to, and then some. How did I do this? Well I know HTML well and I understand some of the basic principles of programming. So I transferred some of that to a new realm without understanding that realm.

A few comments on posts above:
@Karyn: Yes, I agree about the psychomotor. And I would push it further to say that there is a certain talent to be able to manipulate certain computer peripherals. The speed at which I type, the dexterity I have with a mouse, the steady hand, being able to move windows across 2 monitors, manipulating images, etc. makes me much more efficient at my job than most.

@harold: thanks for the additional piece

@donald: I agree about focussing on performance and further mining transferable skills

@jay: I have to disagree with you on the Gardner comment. I don't see how this would have enhanced Bloom's taxonomy. In fact, I have as many issues with Gardner as I do with Bloom in that it typecasts. Also, it doesn't take into consideration that no matter what our natural abilities are, there are subject matters that are best learned using a certain medium. But that's a whole other discussion!

@anonymous: I find it interesting that you put creativity at the top of the pyramid. Just the fact that it’s in a pyramid would suggest a progression. To me, creativity is instinct and this is seen in so many artists such as Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, even Salvador Dali who enrolled in art school after his natural creative talent was discovered. They are often referred to as naive painters as they don’t have any formal training in art.

Bottom line, we don’t all take the same path to get where we want to go.

idarknight said...

While I agree with what you are saying for those designers who work with content day in and day out. It is a useful structure for people who don't normally think about pedagogy to use when designing a course. For that reason alone it might not be as useless as it seems for those with more knowledge.

Jane Bozarth said...

My concern is more about those designers and trainers who claim to embrace Bloom's taxonomy but then never do anything beyond the first two levels. I have been in the workforce for more than 20 years and have never had a supervisor stop me in the hallway to and ask me to "list" anything.

The upsycho said...

@Jane "those designers and trainers who claim to embrace Bloom's taxonomy but then never do anything beyond the first two levels"

Replace Blooms' taxonomy with Kirkpatricks's model and you have another true statement.

Too many practitioners in our field can't be bothered to test the theory. They jump onto a bandwagon, rigorously apply the lower levels of whatever-it-is and never either progress beyond that point or allow themselves to be pried loose from their determined clinging to the wreckage.

Far too often, any attempt to argue against a theory is met with what amounts to "My mind's made up. Don't confuse me with facts!"

Nico said...

"Bottom line, we don’t all take the same path to get where we want to go."

couldn't have said this better...
learning and understanding are by their very nature idiosyncratic.

Anonymous said...

By reading the full statement (available at ) I conclude that the problem for the author is not really the taxonomy itself, but the misuse that is often made of it. All tools can be misused.
It is also interesting that the article is critical about the taxonomy, uses good arguments, but has no alternative tool to offer.
Probably Bloom's taxonomy is not the ultimate taxonomical tool in terms of the science of learning but one of the best available to help faculty clarify their objectives and design instruction.

Manuel João Costa

Anonymous said...

Blooms taxonomy sucks. It is a useless pile of crap that gets pushed on all teachers by education credential programs, principals, etc. As a result, American students in public schools are idiots.