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Levels of Learning

Benjamin Bloom and the taxonomy of learning
Benjamin Bloom
(1913–99)

Benjamin Bllom and the Taxonomy of learning - TEXT PROFESSOR Benjamin Bloom of Chicago University and co-workers that met from 1948 to 1953, devised a stairway with six steps, six learning levels. The six steps (read: levels) are rough estimates. They are not absolute, nor do they include learning of confluent symbols as a possible step above evaluation, provided such imagery rests on and builds on fit evaluations and estimates. The ability to observe is not included in this model either. Observational skills can be fostered or trained to your advantage. Relaxation and even boredom should help it.

Also know that other systems or hierarchies have been devised. But Bloom's taxonomy is easily understood and widely applied.

Six levels of learning according to Bloom et al

The levels are thought to build on one another. The six levels in the figure pertain to thinking, the so-called cognitive domain. Here they are:

Taxonomy staircase
There are six levels of knowledge according to Benjamin Bloom et al. The terms are reformulated and simplified in the figure.

As you learn lessons well, the higher stages of learning want a part of the play. There should be enough time for that to happen, for higher levels of learning have to do with brilliance and getting well (enough) educated.

FIRST. A traditional staircase stands on a foundation, and the stairway of learning stands on memory, good, solid recall. If you don't remember for some time, you haven't learned for long.

The foundation of knowledge and learning, then, is adequate memory, or recall. Memory has its own interesting sides. There are many books written on how to get the most of it. In learning situations, "the better recall, the more knowledge is retained, and the easier or more favourable schooling" - it tends to be like that.

Thus, things we are told, or shown, or experience first-hand, may or may not be remembered. This foundational side to the staircase of learning, has different sides to it. , rises the staircase that Bloom and his colleagues have put six steps on. Also, they could have gone better into how to improve the conditions for good recall (memory). In many textbooks and other works. the subject of memory and its stages, stores, and ways of improvement, are treated. [Hi, chap. 8; Hy]

This level of learning allows for further, more high-levelled learning in time, if interest is there and nothing blocks the way, or process of appropriation. Thirst for learning can be built through nature-contact and evoked interest. It may be compared to a chain-reaction too, in that one single, learnt item leads to more explorations or contacts, and those who explore have fun. Babies often delight in exploring things, if it is reasonably safe - many parents know.

Delight in learning with its "being in the flow" or "in the zone" [cf. Plm] is fostered by contacts that may be good for you. Looking at a butterfly may evoke so much interest in some that they become eager, and go step by step into vaster fields of botany, for example. In contrast to chain-reactions from good contacts, there is the much strained motivation - outer-directed and often artificial - in some school settings, especially in older times, when pupils tried to cram out of fear of punishment. Not good!

To recap, the stairway of learning levels depends on good memory, or memorisation, and good recall is often yoked to living and a real interest. Interest helps learning, by making recall easy. That is part of the foundation

Good recall provides a basis for what Bloom and his colleages call knowledge, which forms the first step up from the foundation (memory), to higher levels of thinking.

Now, from bottom of the figure:

  1. Knowledge or recall of data, expresses the natural urge to recall previously learned material. So knowledge, or what is retained after being told, having seen, read or experienced otherwise, is quite a foundation for very much learning.

    ADDED: The first step of learning, of making things one's own (appropriation) by learning and recall deep inside. The first step in the the stairway of learning, also in learning a job, is sound knowledge. Learning things does not have to be cosy, but it helps to remain calm and carefully relaxed throughout, as in training in Zen archery, for example. Remain calm in a learning or training situation should help, but not being chased or driven. [Zmg]

  2. Comprehension, the ability to grasp meaning, explain, restate ideas, means understanding the basic information and translating, interpreting, and extrapolating it.
  3. Application, or using learned material in new situations, involves using information, ideas, and skills to solve problems, then selecting and applying them appropriately.
  4. Analysis suggests separating items, or separate material into component parts and show relationships between parts. It also means breaking apart information and ideas into their component parts.
  5. Synthesis suggests the ability to put together separate ideas to form new wholes of a fabric, or establish new relationships. Synthesis involves putting together ideas and knowledge in a new and unique form. This is where innovations truly take place.
  6. Evaluation is the highest level in this arrangement. Here the ability to judge the worth of material against stated criteria will show itself. Evaluation involves reviewing and asserting evidence, facts, and ideas, then making appropriate statements and judegments.

ADDED: The seventh stage of making learning your own. Above the sixth step of the staircase is the level of nice summaries of evaluations reached through the steps preceding them and building up to them. Pictures, graphs, condensed utterances that resemble poesy - such as sutras or free verse -, various symbols and sweeping statements take part of this stage of appropriation. Apt 'pegs' of memory is a key to some of it. Well chosen acronyms often serve as pegs. They help unfold items that pertain to the letters in acronyms. [On sutras]

However, on this seventh level, things may start to get dubious, unless you get pinpointed just what is meant by the terse statements encountered, the images, figurative expressions and other means of condensing evaluations, or things learnt "up into abstract thought" with its various ways and symbols, just as in nightlyand at times flagrant dreams to be decoded. [Jungian dream interpretations]

Isn't it telling how American educators managed to ignore this anciently had seventh step when they furnished their staircase? But there is a softening side to that non-doing: Benjamin Bloom and his colleages neither went the foundation (memory) nor the seventh step of terse or figurative summaries. Their prime concern was merely how to evaluate output in school systems, where formal teaching tends to rule, and the six steps covers most of the really prosaic or pedestrian output there. Furthermore, it often happens that the process of reaching higher levels of learning in the staircase stagnates, for example on the level of just being instructed, on a level of rote learning, massive cramming for exams.

Effects of compulsory learning may soon show up by massive forgetting, in a quite short time after the exams. Jarand Rystad tested former students at the technical university in Trondheim. About half of those tested in a previously passed exam in maths, were researchers, and the other half were students who had earlier passed that exam. They agreed to try another such exam without reading for it. All failed. Q.e.d. [Agl] [Details]

The next section gives specifications of their six steps:

Taxonomy of Learning Specified, with Six Steps of Appropriation

1. Knowledge - of (based on recall)
• Specifics
• Terminology
• Specific facts
• Ways and means of dealing with specifics
• Conventions
• Trends and sequences
• Classifications and categories
• Criteria
• Methodology
• The universals and abstractions in a field
• Principles and generalizations
• Theories and structures

2. Comprehension (grasp)
• Translation
• Interpretation
• Extrapolation

3. Application ("having a go" too)

4. Analysis
• Of elements
• Of relationships
• Of organizational principles

5. Synthesis
• Production of a unique communication
• Production of a plan, or proposed set of operations
• Derivation of a set of abstract relations

6. Evaluation (judging worth etc.)
• Judgement in terms of internal evidence
• Judgements in tems of external criteria
Source: Tece 201-7.

Domains of learning with easy descriptions

Appropriation is the core of these sections. If you appropriate something, you catch it, own it, and may use it. Mind:

Learning . . . is an activity of one who learns. It may be intentional or random; it may involve acquiring new information or skills, new attitudes, understandings or values . . . Education can be defined as "the organized, systematic effort to foster learning, to establish the conditions and to provide the activities through which learning can occur." [Robert M. Smith, in Pl, Ch 2]

So we do not learn just facts. We also appropriate ideas, attitudes, values, and so on. The previous chapter considers cognitive appropriation through six steps. There are other domains or realms where learning or appropriation takes place too. Bloom and colleagues sorted out three overlapping domains. They are:

  1. Affective: Feelings, preferences, values.
  2. Cognitive: Thinking, getting, evaluating and synthesizing information.
  3. Psychomotor: Physical and perceptual activities and skills.

In more detail

1. Affective knowledge may be gleaned:
Very often insight rises atop of feelings. Dreams may be interpreted and understood in such a light, for example.

Thus feeling may feed insights. Many renowned scientists and artists have had massive inspiration from their dreams. "Gentlemen, let's learn to dream," said Albert Einstein.

2. The cognitive domain (of thought), see above.

3. Psychomotor skills are expressed:
But what I do (with skill), I master [From the Chinese]. "Learning is pleasurable but doing is the height of enjoyment. [Novalis]

Interestingly, manual skills may be the crown of achievements that cognitive skills lead into. And once hard-won dexterity or manual ability is learnt, it is often automated, like learning to swim, ride bikes. So manual skills may be major achievements on top of the two others. It depends in part on how you look at it.

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A Look into Benjamin Bloom's Life Work

Elliot W. Eisner's text that the excerpts that follow are taken from, may be found in Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Vol 30, no. 3, Unesco, Paris, September 2000. Sentences have been shuffled and some of them changed a bit (as noted) to be able to stand on their own legs as aphorisms or keynotes.

LoAbout educational complex levels

UNDER the influence of Ralph Tyler Ben Bloom recognized that what was important in education was not that students should be compared, but that they should be helped to achieve the goals of the curriculum they were studying. Goal attainment rather than student comparison was what was important. [Elliot Eisner]

Bloom [also] wanted to reveal . . . what students were thinking about when teachers were teaching, because he recognized that it was what students were experiencing that ultimately mattered. [Elliot Eisner]

Many of his students also studied the impact of environment on student performance, [such as] the educational environment of the home. [Elliot Eisner]

In attempting to account for differences in achievements between siblings discovered that one needed to talk not so simply about the educational environment of the home, but rather about the educational environment for particular people in the home. [Elliot Eisner]

The cognitive taxonomy is predicated on the idea that cognitive operations can be ordered into six increasingly complex levels. [Elliot Eisner]

The Taxonomy of learning is shown graphically above. - TK

Scholars honoured [Ben Bloom] with appointments, honorary degrees, medals and election to office. He had a nose for the significant, and he had the rare ability to formulate research problems. [Elliot Eisner]

What Bloom had to offer his students was a model of an inquiring scholar, someone who embraced the idea that education as a process was an effort to realize human potential. [Elliot Eisner]

Attainment was a product of learning, and learning was influenced by opportunity and effort. [Elliot Eisner]

Embraced by those who believe the educational process should be geared towards the realization of educational objectives, Ben Bloom believed that such an approach to curriculum, to teaching and to assessment would enable virtually all youngsters to achieve success in school. The problem lay in curriculum design and in the forms of teaching. [With Elliot Eisner] ◊

I do not think I will ever forget being in a class of his . . . [Elliot Eisner]

Bloom's work was a signal contribution to mapping the terrain that educators were interested in developing. [Elliot Eisner]

The relevance of differences among students, differences in geographical and physical context, and differences in forms of pedagogy was seldom considered as nations cranked out uniform syllabi that provided little assistance to teachers with respect to how curriculum content might be organized and how teaching might proceed. [Elliot Eisner]

Taxonomy of learning is one help, mastery learning another.

LoSpeed is one expression or performance of learning. However, good learning also needs time to reflect and find out things. The two deep needs of students may or may not be balanced in a school system.

HIS CONVICTIONS about environmental influences led, ultimately, to the impact that his work had in establishing the Head Start Program in the United States. [Elliot Eisner]

[Benjamin Bloom's] message to the educational world is to focus on target attainment and to abandon a horse-race model of schooling that has as its major aim the identification of those who are swiftest. Speed is not the issue, achievement or mastery is, and it is that model that should be employed in trying to develop educational programmes for the young. Mastery learning was an expression of what Bloom believed to be an optimistic approach to the realization of educational goals. The traditional expectations of a bell-shaped distribution of human performance was, more often than not, a reflection of social privilege and social class. [Elliot Eisner] ◊

Another feature of Ben Bloom's pedagogy most often emerged in one-to-one conversations in his office [at] the University of Chicago . . . In conversations on a one-to-one basis with Ben Bloom [there] one could experience his obvious pleasure in illustrating on the blackboard relationships that he expected to find . . . In these conversations the excitement of research-oriented inquiry was made palpable. It was clear that he was in love with the process of finding out, and finding out is what I think he did best. [Elliot Eisner]

LoBloom played a major role towards getting more reliable evaluations, and also went for better educational procedures

BLOOM believed that not only was the environment important, but also that it was possible to arrange systematically the ways in which learning could be promoted. [Elliot Eisner]

Bloom was interested in providing a useful practical tool that was congruent with what was understood at that time about the features of the higher mental processes. [Elliot Eisner]

Bloom's scholarship in education was complemented by his activism. By activism I mean that he played a major role in creating the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and in organizing the International Seminar for Advanced Training in Curriculum Development, held in Granna, Sweden, in the summer of 1971. His work in the IEA, since its inception over thirty years ago, has had a significant impact on the efforts being made internationally to improve students' learning in the dozens of countries that are members of the IEA. [Elliot Eisner]

University examiners might have a more reliable procedure for assessing students and the outcomes of educational practice. [Elliot Eisner]

[Ben Bloom] showed that even world-famous high-achieving adults. champion tennis players, mathematicians and scientists, award-winning writers were seldom regarded as child prodigies. What made the difference, Bloom discovered, was the kind of attention and support those individuals received at home from their parents. [Elliot Eisner]

He understood full well that the environment matters. [Elliot Eisner] MM

The educator's mission, Bloom believed, was to arrange the environmental conditions to help realize whatever aptitudes individuals possessed. [Elliot Eisner]

The variable that needed to be addressed, as Bloom saw it, was time. It made no pedagogical sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives. There were individual differences among students, and the important thing was to accommodate those differences in order to promote learning rather than to hold time constant and to expect some students to fail. Education was not a race. [Elliot Eisner]

Bloom's students were no mere technicians. His commitment to the possibilities and potential of education as an exercise in optimism infused his views about how young scholars should be prepared in the field of evaluation. [Elliot Eisner]

Deeply engaged in the satisfactions of his work and infinitely convinced of the possibilities of education, Ben Bloom left an imprint that will not soon erode. [With Elliot Eisner] ◊◊

Gist

SUMMARY ICON
  1. There are increasingly subtle and complex educational levels to master as we develop cognitively.
  2. Speed is one expression or performance of learning. Finding out is another. Both are needed, and may complement one another and still other performances of learning.
  3. Fit procedures of education is rooted in what students learn, over and above how instructions are performed. And evaluations need to consider the levels of artistry and understanding far better, since much public education favours rote learning too much in comparison. There are better attainments.

IN NUCE Subtle cognitions - including thinking on one's own, may be repressed or even harshly sanctioned in bad schools and vicious places of learning. Performance is not all to learning - many aspects of learning are hard to measure through conform exams. [Cf. Gross, ch. 1]

One should also consider the rather great waste of human resources and money that take place where teaching instructions are paramount, and not proper learning and proper development of the person and individuality and realization of legitimate, innate interests. Public education may become a long-run tragedy or misery for most part, for reasons linked to these hints. See for yourself.

Typically they [the students] come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. [Noam Chomsky, sarcastically]

No man can be a good teacher unless he has feelings of warm affection toward his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he himself believes to be of value. [Bertrand Russell]

Essentialist Thinking

Recognise it may be easier to be an Essentialist than an Existentialist: It is a shorter word, easier to say, at any rate. Essentialism as a philosophical theory ascribes ultimate reality to essence embodied in things that can be perceived by the mind-and-senses. As an education theory Essentialism holds that ideas and skills that are basic to a culture should be taught to all alike by time-tested methods provided they are good or good enough. Hardly, so one had better remain open to outcomes of good research and theory as it blooms as well.

The wise man takes from old supplies and adds what appears to be non-maddening new as fits in. The blend could be eclectic, that is based on selections of what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles; and composed of elements drawn from various sources, as the case may be.

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Mastery Learning

If you do not enjoy a pleasant and successful learning experience or want to make the job more manageable, here are tips on what to do about it - not in detail, but "higher up", quite generalised.

What is called Mastery Learning, ML, was initiated in 1963 by John B. Carroll. Mastery learning is fit for both individual study and group study, provided that realistic standards be developed, as Bloom suggests. His model, using group instructional techniques, varies both instruction and time to meet individual needs.

It has been said that ninety percent of a learning population can master a subject when mastery learning methods are implemented. We can develop effective mastery learning methods when we determine how the learning and teaching process relate to the individual differences in learners. Mastery learning rests on "Take your time", that is, take the time you need to learn something well. Time to learn must be adjusted to fit aptitude. No student is to proceed to new material until basic prerequisite material is mastered. Bloom, Block, and Carroll believe that mastery learning can be handled in a normal classroom.

Bloom suggests a pre-test and review at the beginning of a semester of the essential, basic facts, skills, concepts that are necessary to later success. And a the end of an instructional unit - every two weeks - a test to find out what has been learned and not been learned may work well, and next remedy errors and blanks - whatever - by reteaching in order to foster or ensure excellence, at best, after a diagnostic tests. For it helps to know exactly what to do to correct non-mastered points of difficulty. In such ways every student may end up with an "A" if they master the material.

Using his methods, the average student of Bloom's mastery class passed at the 95th percentile of traditionally-taught classes. If this process is repeated every two or three weeks, the differences between those who follow mastery learning versus those who get conventional instruction become striking:

  • Mastery learning 85% in top 10% vs. 45% in conventional.
  • Time on task: For mastery learning 85%. For conventional instruction: 45%.

Mastery learning fits mathematics and language learning, but also episodic subjects like history.

Mastery learners should have specific learning procedures to follow. Tutors that work with mastery learners should be trained in mastery learning methodologies. Mastery learners should be provided with opportunities to participate in group study. Alternative learning materials should be available to mastery learners. Mastery learners must feel that they are evaluated by their performance. Diagnostics for mastery learners must prescribe specific processes for the learner to overcome difficult tasks. It helps to use the available time well, adjusting one's pace to very good learning routines. They can be taught and learnt. Modern schooling uses "hurry up" much of the time instead. Those who are quick to learn, are favoured by modern schooling. Those who need or prefer more time on the data to be learnt, are not. The fact is that very much education leaves inadequate time for overlearning, memorizations, repetitions, and all the other levels of learning than merely "being informed". Lack of depth could be a result of modern schooling, where few have the capacity to ponder and consider their appointed lessons deep enough and long enough to make key elements enter the Long Term Memory, LTM. This process is not so quick in any case. Good work in the field of learning well, can take hours, days, and weeks of carefully schemed repetitions, it is shown.

Another grave defect of shallow, quick learning is here: Only a few months after an exam, most of the content is forgotten. What remains cannot be relied on unaided, and most may not be recalled or retrieved if unaided either. This is all too common, and speaks of failure-yielding methods that are put into common practice, and quite a waste of time, effort, and money too. Few are willing to diverge from the common failure-giving ways in education. Interesting, isn't it?

Diifferent students do not learn at the same pace. Those who prefer a slower pace may end up just as good at recalling items as quick learners. It is very much a matter of study methods, really. Slow learners can improve their odds in a competitive school setting by adjusting their major efforts to how learning works, and how to make as good use of the valuable study hours as well-nigh possible. For example, when studies indicate that learning (recall) is best helped when about fifty minutes out of sixty are spent on memorization, time should be spent accordingly.

What matters is to spend time enough in a pleasant way, mostly. If not that is within reach, then learning should focus on relaxed ways and focus on technicalities of learning, till skills are built up. That often helps and increases motivation as a by-product. Joy of learning can come by learning in a fundamentally positive way from the start.

In mastery learning the cause of a student's failure is said to rest with the instructions or methods used, and not a lack of ability on the part of the student. The challenge is to provide enough time and use suitable instructional strategies so that most students can achieve the same level of learning (Bloom, 1981).

The vital elements of mastery learning are:

  1. Clearly specifying what is to be learned and how it will be evaluated;
  2. Allowing students to learn at their own pace;
  3. Assessing student progress and also providing appropriate feedback or remediation;
  4. Testing that final learning critierions have been achieved.

Research has shown that mastery learning can improve instructional effectiveness. Still, people do differ in ability, and not all differences can be made up for by key elements of mastery learning - maybe only 95% of them. The question that often arises is where to take the time from, the time needed for proper mastery learning programs. They tend to require much time and effort that many, many teachers and schools are neither prepared nor willing to expend in the long run.

The analyses of Deborah Stipek

When you want to adapt elements of mastery learning, you give regular, corrective feedback on student progress and procedures. Mastery learning programs further require clear instructional objectives.

In Bloom's Learning for Mastery (LIM) program, the teacher is instructed to develop brief tests used for formative evaluation about the student's progress. Grading is preferably noncompetitive, and ideally, all but a few students should achieve the predetermined level of mastery.

Keller (1968) developed an instructional model that is compatible with the basic assumptions of Bloom's model: Deborah Stipek writes:

In Keller's Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) students proceed through a set of written curriculum materials at their own pace. After initially attempting to complete the unit's material, a student takes the unit mastery test, given by a "proctor" (who may be the teacher, a teacher's aide, or a more advanced student or classmate). If the student passes the test, he or she advances to the next unit. Otherwise, the student uses the unit correctives to restudy the unmastered material. The cycle continues until the student demonstrates mastery on one form of the unit's test. Grading is noncompetitive, as it is in LFM programs.

The major difference between LFM and PSI programs is that in LFM classrooms, students are expected to work on their own time to master material so that the entire class can collectively move on to the next unit of study. In PSI classrooms students continue to work at their own pace throughout the school year. This difference has two important implications. The PSI method could actually result in increased variability in mastery because the fast learners are not delayed in their progress by the slower learners, as they are to some degree in traditional, unidimensional classrooms. An advantage of the PSI method is that fast learners can create a highly challenging and highly motivating educational program, and they are spared the boredom that can result from having to go over material they have already mastered.

Mastery learning programs such as these two have been implemented in schools throughout the world and their effects on motivation and learning have been extensively evaluated. Evaluations suggest that mastery learning programs have positive effects on student attitudes and achievement, particularly for weaker students . . ., although disputed among reviewers.

Most of the mastery learning programs that have been studied appear to have some positive effects on achievements, although observers have noted that if left on their own, [outer-directed] students procrastinate and consequently make little progress. Notwithstanding these limitations, these well tested programs provide teachers with models of evaluation that are based on a mastery standard.

Outcomes can extend beyond academic skills. They can also include motivational orientations. [Mtl 114-17]

Collection

Taxonomy of learning, Benjamin Bloom, LITERATURE  

Aoc: Bloom, Benjamin: All Our Children Learning. McGraw-Hill. New York, 1981.

Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007.

Hi: Smith, Carolyn D., ed, et al. Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. 14th ed. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003, chap. 8, "Memory".

Hy: Higbee, Kenneth. Your Memory, How It Works And How to Improve It. 2nd rev. ed. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2001.

Ltr: Schunk, Dale. Learning Theories. An Educational Perspective. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2008.

Mbh: Buzan, Tony. The Memory Book: How to remember anything you want. Harlow: BBC Active / Person, 2010.

Mp: Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book: Unlock your creativity, boost your memory, change your life. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Mtl: Stipek, Deborah. Motivation to Learn: Integrating Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

Plm: Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.

Agl: Jarand Rystad. "Alt glemt på grunn av ubrukeleg eksamensform? En empirisk undersøkelse av Matematikk 2 eksamen ved NTH. (All forgotten because of an unfit form of exam? An empirical investigation of Maths 2 at NTH)" In UNIPED No. 2-3, 1993:29-50.

Tece: Bloom, Benjamin, et al. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: McKay, 1956.

Zwm: Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery.. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

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