Bloom and e-learning
One famous paper by Benjamin Bloom, The 2 Sigma Problem, compared the lecture, formative feedback lecture and one-to-one tuition. Taking the straight lecture as the mean, he found an 84% increase in mastery above the mean for a formative approach to teaching and an astonishing 98% increase in mastery for one-to-one tuition. Google’s Peter Norvig famously said that if you only have to read one paper to support e-learning, this is it. In other words, the increase in efficacy for one-to-one because of the increase in on-task learning is immense. This paper deserves to be read by anyone looking at improving the efficacy of learning as it shows hugely significant improvements by simply altering the way teachers interact with learners. E-learning, in the widest sense of the word promises what Bloom called ‘one-to-one learning’, whether it’s through self-paced structured learning, scenario-based learning, simulations or informal learning.
However, Bloom is far better known for his hugely influential classification of learning behaviours and provided concrete measures for identifying different levels of learning. His taxonomy includes three overlapping domains;
- Cognitive (knowledge)
- Psychomotor (skills)
- Affective (attitude)
It was devised to assist teachers to classify educational goals and plan and evaluate learning experiences. 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 less useful, three types of affective.
Six levels of learning
This domain consisted of six levels, each with specific learning behaviours and descriptive verbs that could be used when writing instructional objectives.
· Observation and recall of information
· Knowledge of dates, events, places
· Knowledge of major ideas
· Mastery of subject matter
· Verbs: list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc
· Understanding information
· Grasp meaning
· Translate knowledge into new concept
· Interpret facts, compare, contrast
· Order, group, infer causes
· Predict consequences
· Verbs: summarise, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend, etc
· Use information
· Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
· Solve problems using required skills or knowledge
· Verbs: apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover, etc
· Seeing patterns
· Organising of parts
· Recognition of hidden meanings
· Identification of components
· Verbs: analyse, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer, etc
· Use old ideas to create new ones
· Generalise from given facts
· Relate knowledge from several areas
· Predict, raw conclusions
· Verbs: combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalise, rewrite, etc
· Compare and discriminate between ideas
· Assess value of theories and presentations
· Make choices based on reasoned argument
· Verify value of evidence
· Recognise subjectivity
· Verbs: assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarise, etc
Objectives not usually set at this basic level
Applicable mostly to young children
Descriptive verbs: crawl, run, jump, change direction, etc.
Descriptive verbs: catch, write, balance, distinguish, manipulate, etc.
Descriptive verbs: stop, increase, move quickly, change, react, etc.
Descriptive verbs: play, hit, swim, dive, use, etc
Descriptive verbs: express, create, mime, design, interpret, etc.
Attitudes of awareness, interest, attention, concern, and responsibility
Ability to listen and respond in interactions with others
Ability to demonstrate those attitudinal characteristics, or values, which are appropriate to the situation and field of study
Just three years before behaviourism was to receive its fatal blow from Noam Chomsky, Bloom published his now famous taxonomy of learning. Few realise that this taxonomy is now 50 years old. There have been lots of taxonomies since then that slice and dice, many variations on existing categories. Indeed 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. We seem to got stuck in the Bloom taxonomy.
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, so attention has shifted to how learning meshes with memory and techniques that improve organisation, chunking, encoding, practice and recall.
Another danger is that 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. Learning theory has moved on in terms of a more detailed understanding of memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis.
We have Bloom to thank for addressing the basic but important issue in education – that group learning is not always better learning. He showed that formative feedback and one-to-one tuition are indeed powerful amplifiers of learning. Bloom was also the first to really establish a solid, working taxonomy of learning, had to have his theories extended, as people realised that the tripartite classification was too narrow. The cognitive, psychomotor and affective distinction is still widely used today, which is either a testimony to Bloom’s vision, or a tendency for the training world to become stuck in old models. His taxonomy was at least a start, which ultimately led to a more professional approach to instructional practice.
Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. Longmans, Green.
Bloom, B. (1984). The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring, Educational Researcher, 13:6(4-16).
Guskey, T. R. (2005).Benjamin S. Bloom: Portraits of an educator. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.