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Domains of Human Learning

Learning is the process through which humans acquire or develop knowledge, skills, or behaviors. It is a continuous process. Learning begins from a simple, elementary level and grows in terms of complexity. It does not have an abrupt beginning or end. Humans have been found to learn through three distinct modes – thoughts, emotions, and actions. Each of these modes enables a human being to acquire/develop a certain kind of ability.

A more detailed definition of learning may be accessed at Queens University, Canada webpage on What is learning?

Thoughts or thinking helps humans develop abilities such as memorizing, reasoning, etc. Emotions help humans develop abilities such as motivation, appreciation, enthusiasm, etc. Actions help humans develop abilities such as hand-eye-coordination, typing, playing an instrument, etc. In simple words, it may be said that humans learn through thinking, feeling or doing, or through a combination of these.

The entire set of skills that can be acquired through a particular mode constitutes a “domain”. Thus, there are three domains of learning, one domain corresponding to each mode of learning. These are known as a cognitive domain (thoughts/thinking), affective domain (feeling/emotions) and psychomotor domain (actions).

Table 1 presented here summarizes the different domains, their corresponding modes, and examples of abilities acquired through each of these modes.

 

Domains of Learning Related Mode of Learning Example Abilities
Cognitive Domain Thoughts/ Thinking Memorizing, Reasoning etc
Affective Domain Emotions/Feeling Appreciation, Motivation etc
Psychomotor Domain Actions/Doing Typing, Playing etc

Table 1

 The Bloom’s Taxonomy

The skills that constitute a domain may range from simple to complex in nature. A scheme of classification (taxonomy) helps arrange the skills in a hierarchical manner. Each domain of human learning has its own hierarchy of skills. Simple skills are at a lower level and complex skills at a higher level of the hierarchy. The skills at the lower level of a hierarchy are a pre-requisite to acquire or develop a skill at a higher level. Figure 1 presented below depicts the hierarchy of skills in the cognitive domain. 

Cognitive Domain
Create  

Higher order Skills

Evaluation
Analysis
Application

 

Lower Order Skills

Comprehension
Knowledge

Figure 1.

 

This taxonomy (a hierarchical classification) of human skills was developed in 1956 by Prof. Benjamin S. Bloom, who was the Associate Director of the Board of Examinations at the University of Chicago. The taxonomy is a result of his work at understanding how educators understood a student’s performance at examinations.

The Origins of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Prof. Bloom discovered that the objective of an academic exercise (lesson, examination, etc) was a matter of subjective inference amongst educators and teachers. This led to a variation in the outcomes that learners were supposed to achieve by the end of an academic exercise.

Thus, Prof. Bloom along with his graduate students set upon the task of developing a framework which could help standardize the objectives of academic exercises. This framework also helped establish uniformity and standardization in terms of learning outcomes that are expected to be achieved by the end of an academic exercise. In addition, it also helped academics avoid redundant efforts, which ultimately lead to the same academic outcomes.

The formal education today, however, has developed more around the process of thinking rather than the processes of emotions or actions. It is thus the cognitive domain in Bloom’s taxonomy that has been used widely in the space of formal education. It may be noted that the taxonomy of cognitive skills was detailed in 1956, that of affective skills in 1964, and that of the psychomotor skills in the 1970s.

The reader is encouraged to visit the article Bloom’s Taxonomy on the Open Colleges, Australia website.

 

The Bloom’s Taxonomy at Work

The Bloom’s taxonomy was developed to promote higher-order thinking rather than rote learning amongst learners. Unique “action verbs” can be associated with each level in this taxonomy. These verbs can be used to develop measurable and observable objectives for academic exercise.

Figure 2 presented here depicts some of the unique action verbs that can be associated with each level in the hierarchy.

Figure 2.

(Source: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching under Creative Commons https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/Bloom’s-taxonomy/).

 

A few objectives employing the appropriate action verbs for different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are presented below in Table 2.

 

Cognitive Level Example Action Verb Example of Lesson Objectives using an Action Verb
Knowledge define By the end of this chapter, students will be able to define the Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion.
Comprehension classify By the end of this chapter, students will be able to classify the different types of nouns.
Application solve By the end of this chapter, students will be able to solve linear equations in one variable.
Analysis compare By the end of this chapter, students will be able to differentiate between BJT and MOSFET.
Evaluation select By the end of this chapter, students will be able to select the most effective solution for the problem of water scarcity in a region
Create design By the end of this chapter, students will be able to design an amplifier circuit.

Table 2

More examples of writing learning outcome using the revised Bloom’s taxonomy can be accessed in the article, Writing Learning Outcomes Using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy on the University of Toronto website.

A similar effort with action verbs can be undertaken to develop questions for an assessment. Bloom’s taxonomy may be used as a guide to design foundation and advanced courses as well. A foundation course may be developed with academic content developed around lower-order cognitive levels. A similar approach may be adopted for developing advanced courses with more focus on higher-order cognitive skills.

Bloom’s taxonomy thus helps define and develop academic exercises to focus on a particular cognitive skill level. This, in turn, helps ensure that the learning outcomes are uniform and standardized across a spectrum of learners.

The Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy

The taxonomy that is presented in this article is the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and was published in the year 2001. The original taxonomy which was published in the year 1956 is presented below.

Cognitive Domain
Evaluation  

Higher-order Skills

Synthesis
Analysis
Application  

Lower Order Skills

Comprehension
Knowledge

Figure 3.

A careful comparison between the two taxonomies given in Figure-2 (revised) and Figure-3 (original) shows that there is a change in the order of the top two cognitive skills. A close examination of human thinking reveals that human beings conduct an evaluation (which has been contested) prior to creating something. Thus, to keep in line with this flow of human learning, the order of the top two cognitive skills were interchanged.

In addition, the new taxonomy has a separate and distinct taxonomy of the types of knowledge that are used in cognition. This separate knowledge taxonomy is presented below, in brief.

  • Factual Knowledge
  • Conceptual Knowledge
  • Procedural Knowledge
  • Metacognitive Knowledge

 

The articles on Bloom’s Taxonomy at Vanderbilt University website provide a detailed comparison of the Original and Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.

 

In addition to the sources cited above, the following resources on the web have also been referred to for the development of the article:
  1. Bloom’s Taxonomy at Open Colleges, Australia website.
  2. ”’Unit 1:”’ Differentiating Between Psychomotor, Cognitive, and Affective Domains of Instruction

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