Categorising learning (taxonomies)

Taxonomies of learning is used a way used to describe and categorise the way we learn as learning can range from just simply understanding a simple fact to having the ability to evaluate information to generate new ideas. Therefore, taxonomies of learning play a key part to guide and support us as tutors in how we should structure learning, teaching, and assessment.

Over the years, there are several taxonomies of learning that have been developed. Here, we will explore some of the most common ones:

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • SOLO Taxonomy.
  • LaFever’s Medicine Wheel.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy began with a framework consisting of three set of hierarchical models used to classify learning outcomes into levels of complexity.

The models are organised into three domains of learning.

Icon - cognitive

Learner's ability to process information in a meaningful way

Icon - Affective

Learner's attitudes, emotions, feelings and values that are a result of the learning process

Icon - psychomotor

Learner's ability to use their motor skills to learn

The domains of learning can help us design our teaching and in particular, identify the key learning outcomes that we want our students to achieve including the knowledge and understanding they should have, as well as the intellectual, practical and transferable skills that they should develop. The taxonomies provide a framework for levels of understanding which can be useful when designing learning activities and especially useful when considering verbs for assessments. In general, the first levels indicate foundational levels of understanding with levels progressively indicating complex understanding.

The domains of learning were first developed in the 1950s by Benjamin Bloom and collaborating psychologists. Key authors include Anderson, Krathwohl and Harrow recognising that although often attributed as ‘Bloom’s taxonomy’ the work, including continued developments in 2000-01, was the culmination of efforts from a number of researchers.

Considering, particularly the cognitive domain, and the underpinning taxonomy, enables us to define the types of learning we want our students to do.

  • Cognitive Domain (Bloom 1956, and adaption's by Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001) as well as associated verbs:
LevelCharacteristicsAssociated Verbs
Knowledge / RememberingRecognising or recalling knowledge (e.g., facts, concepts, answers) from memory.Define, highlight, identify, know, list, name, recall, recognise.
Comprehension/ UnderstandingAbility to grasp or construct meaning from material.Annotate, compare, demonstrate, describe, discuss, explain, interpret, outline, paraphrase, restate, summarise.
Application/ ApplyingAbility to use learned material, or to implement material in new and concrete situations.Apply, calculate, change, classify, complete, demonstrate, dramatize, experiment, illustrate, interpret, practice, relate, show, solve, teach.
Analysis/ AnalysingAbility to break down or distinguish the parts of material into its components so that its organisational structure may be better.Analyse, appraise, breakdown, categorise, classify, compare, contrast, correlate, deconstruct, deduce, differentiate, distinguish, edit, investigate, organise, reverse engineer, separate, simplify.
Synthesis/ Evaluating

Ability to put parts together to form a coherent whole.

Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing.

Argue, assess, conclude, critique, debate, defend, evaluate, judge, justify, predict, prove, rank, recommend, reflect, test, verity.
Evaluation/ Creating

Ability to judge, check, and critique the value of material for a given purpose.

Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

Assemble, compile, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, generate, integrate, invent, make, model, modify, produce, propose, publish, rewrite.

SOLO Taxonomy

The Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy devised by Biggs and Colins in 1982 is an alternative to Bloom’s Taxonomy (cognitive domain). It provides a systematic way of describing how a student’s understanding develops as learning progresses and becomes more complex.

SOLO taxonomy is divided into five levels of understanding where each level involves the previous and adds the complexity of learning to it.  You can use this to guide you in planning and structuring the learning activities and assessments for your students based on the intended learning outcomes.

LevelCharacteristicsAssociated Verbs
Pre-structuralUnconnected information with no organisation. 
UnistructuralCan deal with one single aspect and able to make simple connections.Recite, identify, list, recall.
Multi-structuralCan deal with several aspects and able to show connections but no significance to overall meaning.Enumerate, describe, classify.
RelationalCan draw relations between several aspects and how they might fit together to form a whole.Compare, relate, analyse, apply theory.
Extended abstractAble to go beyond the subject and make links to other concepts.Hypothesis, criticise, generate.

LaFever’s Medicine Wheel

Some scholars working in the field have also proposed a fourth spiritual domain arguing this respects the cultural values unrepresented in earlier taxonomy of learning models to support students in their learning goals. It outlines outcomes in particular around honouring, attention to relationships, developing a sense of belonging, feeling empowered to pursue unique path, and developing self-knowledge of purpose.

An extension to the Bloom’s taxonomy model, the description of the spiritual quadrant also includes a progression of learning outcomes as depicts in the table below with sample verbs that can be used in supporting you in developing the key learning that you would like your students to achieve.

Spiritual elementCharacteristicsAssociated Verbs
HonourConscious or aware of learning that is not based in material/physical things and transcends narrow self-interest.Consider, Be aware, Mediate on, Seek, Listen, Observe.
ValueBuilding relationships that honour the importance, worth, or usefulness of qualities related to human spirit.Empathise, Acknowledge, Balance, Exemplify, Recognise, Respect.
ConnectLink, build and sustain positive relationships with someone/something (e.g., community, culture etc.).Consult, Participate, Provide Develop, Build.
EmpowerProvide and feel supported by an environment that encourages strength and confidence.Express, Advocate, Engage in, Maintain.
Self-ActualiseAbility to honour and be honoured as a unique individual within a group, in order for each member to become what each is meant to be.Create, Become, Envision, Sustain.

The examples of verbs provide possibilities of progression of spiritual growth and maturity. An example from La Fever’s paper suggests the following around effective communication in group work project can be:

  1. Be aware of the emotional needs of other group members.
  2. Acknowledge that other’s feelings and desires are as important as your own.
  3. Work with group members to create an atmosphere that supports everyone’s input to a project.
  4. Advocate for group members when you see that they are not being heard.
  5. Remain committed to the completion of your group’s project.