Using Blooms Taxonomy to design e-learning

In this article I provide some suggestions on how to develop concepts for engaging interactions in Adobe Captivate using an instructional design tool which has been around since the 1950’s…Blooms Taxonomy of Performance Verbs.

My corporate clients are sometimes curious about the process I use to design their e-learning courses.  It’s something of a “black art” to those unfamiliar with the process.  I explain that in early conceptual phases of the design process I often use Blooms Taxonomy to define learning objectives for a course in the form of a hierarchical Mind Map.  These learning objectives are essential for designing assessment instruments such as quiz questions, activities, interactions, branching scenarios, etc.  Once the target knowledge or behaviour is identified, I then develop course content to deliver the required knowledge or behavioural skills so that participants can successfully prove their mastery of the subject domain and pass the course.  “Starting with the end in mind”, designing assessment components before the content they test, helps ensure I’m not developing content unnecessarily.

About Blooms Taxonomy

Blooms Taxonomy is named after Benjamin Bloom, an American psychologist who worked in education and academia in the 1950’s and later decades.  He was particularly interested in finding a way to describe and assess educational outcomes and chaired a committee of educators who devised the taxonomy that now bears his name.  

In 1956 he published a work entitled “The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals”. What has come to be known as “Blooms Taxonomy” is really a ‘rubric’ or established grading system for learning outcomes.

Bloom originally proposed three separate ‘domains’ for classifying objectives (cognitive, affective and psychomotor), but of these only the Cognitive (or knowledge-based) Domain has come to be well known and used.

As it is mostly used today, what makes Bloom’s Taxonomy so popular is that there are only six level to choose from, and each is readily understandable.  These are:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

You will find hundreds of diagrams on the internet by people like myself that are using Bloom’s Taxonomy for some reason.  Unfortunately this also means there are any number of disagreements about where levels belong in the order and which performance verbs belong under which level.  Rather than argue about this, I concentrate on simply using this tool to help me in my professional day-to-day task of designing e-learning.

How Blooms Taxonomy Suggests Ideas for Interactivity

What makes Bloom’s Taxonomy so useful for e-learning designers is that each of these levels is associated with specific ‘performance verbs’ that can be used to influence and inspire the process of designing interactivity. 

Back in elementary school my English teacher used to call verbs “doing words”.  So, if you happen to design your learning objectives around what learners need to be able to “do” moreso than what they just need to “know” then Bloom’s Taxonomy is going to make your life much easier.

To illustrate: Here’s a diagram of Blooms Taxonomy that I developed many years ago to help remind me which performance verbs relate to the various levels of learning.   

INTERESTING SIDE STORY: You may notice that my diagram has the levels in a different sequence to many other similar diagrams and starts at the top with what are usually regarded as the easier levels.  This is because I originally designed this diagram for a client of mine in the mining industry.  I found the mine managers could not understand what I was talking about with these learning levels until I drew a diagram of an open cut mine and showed how the deeper levels of the diagram are harder.  They understood this because the deeper you dig in a typical mine the harder is is to make any money.  Bloom’s Taxonomy works much the same way.  So, they got the point immediately!

I recently modified this diagram to highlight specific performance verbs that suggest ideas for drag and drop interactions.  I’ve highlighted these verbs in blue text to make them stand out better. Verbs highlighted in orange in this diagram can also be assessed via e-learning.  However, verbs in grey text are usually either impossible or impractical to assess via an e-learning solution.  Thinking carefully about the verbs you use in your learning objectives is therefore quite critical to achieving success.

Some useful performance verbs for designing interactions

Here’s a list of randomly-chosen verbs from various levels and possible drag and drop quiz questions that could be developed from them:

  • Name/Label – Drag names or labels onto objects or areas of a graphic.  E.g. Drag transparent text captions onto areas of a map to teach geography. 
  • List / Tabulate – Add a table to the slide background and drag objects or captions into their correct columns or cells in the table.
  • Match/Associate/Combine – Drag objects onto targets with similar characteristics.
  • Collect/Group/Categorize – Drag objects that belong together into groups.  (Hit targets can accept multiple drag objects.)
  • Isolate/Distinguish – Drag objects that do not belong away from a group.  Alternatively, drag a circle or rectangle over objects to distinguish them from others.
  • Assemble/Build/Construct/Reconstruct – Drag parts to construct or build an object. E.g. drag parts of a machine together to assemble the machine.  Then set the Success criteria of the question to jump to another slide where an animation of the working machine plays.
  • Structure/Restructure/Organize – Drag objects to replicate a process map or hierarchical structure.  E.g. drag job positions/roles into their correct location on the corporate organisational chart.  Drag randomised action boxes in a business process diagram back into their correct locations.
  • Grade/Rank/Rate/Order – Drag objects to show their relative power, order, weight, cost, importance, etc.  E.g. drag product graphics to show which ones cost the most.

Now e-learning can be even more interactive!

The really odd (but great) thing I’m finding about Bloom’s Taxonomy for designing course content is that it extends e-learning into educational domains where it was previously thought very difficult to enter because of the prohibitive amounts of time and cost involved.  Sophisticated interactions such as drag and drop used to required a team of graphic designers and computer programmers to pull off. 

Budget and time limitations normally meant that rapid e-learning assessment instruments were restricted to basic True/FalseMulti-ChoiceMulti-Answer question types that were easy for tool vendors to design, and simple for e-learning developers to use.   (But also easy for learners to fudge.)  

As a result, rapid asynchronous e-learning has typically been seen as more appropriate for lower-level Blooms performance areas such as KnowledgeComprehension, and Application.  If you tried to create e-learning for AnalysisSynthesis, or Evaluation you would often run into serious difficulties achieving the greater levels of user interactivity required by the learning objectives. So higher levels were normally the exclusive domain of facilitated courses or synchronous e-learning where human instructors controlled the interactions.

But take another look at the Blooms diagram and see which areas have the greatest number of performance verbs highlighted in blue.  Oddly, the greater concentrations are found in relatively higher-order learning levels such as ApplicationAnalysis, and Synthesis.  So it seems that, once you can add drag and drop, or other forms of hands on interaction into the creative mix, you suddenly have much more scope for creating useful e-learning interactions.  This is great news for e-learning developers that are tired of churning out the same old content!

Now, I’m not saying that drag and drop questions or interactivity is the “magic bullet” that solves all e-learning issues.  It’s waaayyyy more complex than that, and you still need a good creative person involved in the design process. But what I do see is that it now gives Instructional Designers a foot in the door to opportunities previously closed to rapid e-learning methodologies.

Let’s see where it takes us…shall we?