Taxonomy of Educational Objectives-Cognitive Domain Research Paper Starter

Taxonomy of Educational Objectives-Cognitive Domain

(Research Starters)

The following article is a summary of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The Taxonomy was developed in the late 1940s by a group of university examiners - one of whom was Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago - for the purpose of facilitating the sharing of test materials. Although developed for a select audience, the Taxonomy became a worldwide phenomenon and was soon part of the everyday vocabulary of educators worldwide. The Taxonomy itself is a hierarchy of behaviorally defined educational outcomes; the six objectives are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Despite its popularity, there are many who argue the Taxonomy is philosophically and empirically unsound. Still others suggest it hasn't made a substantial impact on what teachers do in the classroom.

Keywords Analysis; Affective domain; Application; Cognitive domain; Comprehension; Evaluation; Knowledge; Objectives; Synthesis; Taxonomy


As one historian observes, descriptions of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives (Taxonomy) usually begin with superlatives (Kreitzer & Madaus, 1994). "Only the tersest, driest, or most academic writing concerning the Taxonomy fails to include a comment about its tremendous impact, utility, fame, publicity, or influence" (p. 64). Indeed, forty years after its original publication, "The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" has sold more than one million copies and has been translated into more than twenty different languages. It is discussed in nearly every education textbook and has become one of the most frequently cited sources in educational research (Bloom, 1994).

Many point out that frequent reference to a piece of work is an insufficient standard by which to measure its impact as an effective tool (Sosniak, 1994). In other words, although the Taxonomy has become part of the vocabulary of educators, it may be a less central component of their practice. With regard to curriculum development, for example, Sosniak (1994) argues the Taxonomy has become a mere footnote. But a discussion of how the Taxonomy might fall short is premature without first understanding what it was intended to do. As Kreitzer and Madaus (1994) explain, "The authors of the Taxonomy made remarkably modest claims about it" (p. 65).

The idea for an educational taxonomy was first discussed at an informal meeting of university examiners at the 1948 annual conference of the American Psychological Association. The group's original intention was to create a common framework of educational objectives that would facilitate the exchange of test items and materials among university examiners, and stimulate research on the relationship between education and evaluation. The Taxonomy was intended to be "a small volume" for a select audience, but instead turned into a "basic reference for all educators worldwide" (Bloom, 1994, p. 1). The phenomenal popularity of the Taxonomy can only be explained, Bloom himself (1994) argues, "by the fact that it filled a void; it met a previously unmet need for basic, fundamental planning in education. For the first time, educators were able to evaluate the learning of students systematically" (p. 1).

In addition, larger cultural shifts, and changing ideas about the purpose of schooling, helped create an environment receptive to the development of clearly defined educational outcomes (Airasian, 1994). In the 1960s, President Johnson declared a war on poverty, a significant part of which was the investment of federal funds into educational programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Along with the funding, however, came an increased emphasis on accountability, "with each program having to be evaluated in terms of students' achievement of the program's objectives" (Airasian, 1994, p. 89). Federally funded programs such as Head Start also signaled a seismic shift in beliefs about teaching and learning, from the notion that students were limited by innate ability to the idea that it is the environment that affects learning most. "Once the notion that most students could learn was accepted, emphasis in testing shifted away from sorting individuals and toward finding ways to enhance and certify student learning" (Airasian, 1994, p. 86). Objectives gave educators a tool to demonstrate student learning and the effectiveness of federally funded programs.

Although the Taxonomy has become known as "Bloom's Taxonomy," Benjamin Bloom - then an examiner at the University of Chicago - was just one of many who contributed to the project. As he himself explains, "the development of the Handbook was truly a group project. It was the direct outgrowth of the thinking of more than thirty persons who attended the various meetings at which the idea of a taxonomy was discussed" (Bloom, 1994, p. 4). Even after the Taxonomy was complete, the group printed a preliminary edition of 1,000 copies and distributed it to professors, teachers, and administrators; their feedback was included in the final version.

The authors of the Taxonomy approached the task of defining and classifying educational outcomes in much the same way that biologists classified living things into the categories phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species (Bloom, 1954). Bloom also likened the process to "the development of a plan for classifying books in a library" (Bloom, 1954, p. 10). The group made it clear that what they intended to classify was the change produced in an individual as a result of participating in an educational experience. In Bloom's (1954) own words, "What we are classifying is the intended behavior of students - the ways in which individuals are to act, think, or feel as a result of participating in some unit of instruction" (p. 12). The outcomes, they believed, reflected changes in behavior that could be observed across different content areas, so that "a single set of classifications should be applicable in all…instances" (Anderson & Sosniak, 1994, p. 12). The group aimed to develop taxonomies in three different domains - the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains - but only completed the first two. What follows is a description of the Taxonomy of educational objectives of the cognitive domain.

Description of the Taxonomy

The Taxonomy was developed with several guiding principles in mind, the first of which is reflected in the intention to classify educational objectives as changes in behavior. The authors noticed that teachers spoke about learning in 'nebulous terms', referring to student outcomes as 'understanding', 'comprehension' and 'grasping the core or essence' of something. They wanted to give teachers a tool to speak about outcomes with greater precision, and thus proposed that "virtually all educational objectives…have their counterparts in student behavior" (Bloom, 1994, p. 3).

Although the authors recognized that by defining learning in behavioral terms they were making a value judgment, they strove for impartiality and objectivity to the greatest extent possible. They believed the classification should be "a purely descriptive scheme in which every type of educational goal can be represented in a relatively neutral fashion" (Bloom, 1954, p. 14). In other words, the Taxonomy was not intended to suggest that certain outcomes were better than others, or exclude certain types of outcomes from the Taxonomy altogether.

As the group began to brainstorm lists of educational objectives, they quickly realized that complex behaviors included simpler behaviors. In order to incorporate this relationship into the Taxonomy, they organized their educational objectives as a hierarchy. "Thus our classifications may be said to be in the form where behaviors of type A form one class, behaviors of type AB form another class, while behaviors of type ABC form still another class" (Bloom, 1954, p. 18). The educational process, they concluded, was one of building upon simpler behaviors to form more complex behaviors.

The following six categories form the hierarchy of Bloom's Taxonomy:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation
  • Before defining each category in greater detail, a fourth guiding principle should be brought to light. Specifically, Bloom and the authors made a distinction between knowledge and the other five objectives of the Taxonomy - which they referred to collectively as skills and abilities. They regarded knowledge - the remembering of information - as a necessary but not sufficient outcome of learning. In other words, knowledge is a prerequisite for other types of outcomes, and not the sole aim of education. "What is needed is some evidence that students can do something with their knowledge, that is, that they can apply the information to new situations and problems" (Anderson & Sosniak, 1994, p. 16). Given the rapidly changing culture of the 20th century, they argued, skills and abilities would help students adapt to new situations more readily than the mere acquisition of information.

    The Six Objectives


    The first educational objective - knowledge - is defined as "those behaviors and test situations which emphasize remembering, either by recognition or recall, of ideas, material, or phenomena. The behavior expected of a student in the recall situation is very similar to the behavior he was expected to have during the original learning situation" (Bloom, 1954, p. 62). The authors then make a distinction between concrete types of knowledge and more abstract forms of knowledge, which they organize into three separate categories: knowledge of specifics, knowledge of ways and means of dealing with specifics, and knowledge of universals and abstractions in a field. Remembering the exact date of...

(The entire section is 4422 words.)