Learning objectives are at the very core of the instructional design process, and rightly so. Without them, how would we know what content and activities to include in our courses? Unfortunately, more often than not, the learning objectives are poorly defined, making it hard to determine whether they have been met. Enter: Bloom’s Taxonomy!

This classification system was specifically designed to help instructors, and instructional designers, clearly define learning objectives—and, in turn, create courses that meet learners’ needs. Let’s take a closer look at how this instructional design principle applies to e-learning.

What Is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

In their original work, Bloom and a committee of educators identified three domains of learning: cognitive (mental), affective (emotional), and psychomotor (physical). However, when most people think of Bloom’s Taxonomy they think only of the cognitive domain.

The cognitive domain is divided into six categories, each representing a cognitive skill level. Each category is associated with a set of verbs, or cognitive processes, that describe what learners should be capable of doing:

  1. Knowledge: recognize, recall, list, name, memorize, define, locate, identify
  2. Comprehension: interpret, illustrate, summarize, explain, match, paraphrase
  3. Application: apply, choose, organize, draw, generalize
  4. Analysis: analyze, differentiate, classify, categorize, distinguish
  5. Synthesis: create, plan, produce, construct
  6. Evaluation: evaluate, judge, criticize, compare, appraise

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Learning Objectives

Once you know the cognitive skill level that learners are expected to achieve and the specific knowledge or skills the course covers, you’re ready to write your learning objective.

How? Simply combine the subject (the learner), the verb (what learners must know how to do), and the object (the knowledge they need to acquire).

For example, at the end of this course, learners will recognize the five cognitive skill levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Design Activities

As you’re designing your course activities, it’s important to refer back to the learning objectives and let the expected cognitive skill level guide your choices. If your learners need to take the course content and apply it to their job, you could build a scenario that allows them to practice doing that. If they simply need to recognize a list of terms, a multiple choice question could be just the thing.

Let’s look at the six cognitive skill levels again, this time with an example of a suitable learning activity:

  1. Knowledge: a multiple response question asking learners to identify the correct answer from a list of terms.
  2. Comprehension: a free-response question asking learners to explain their understanding of something.
  3. Application: a scenario in which learners need to make decisions based on the information they learned.
  4. Analysis: a matching question where learners classify terms or concepts into the appropriate category.
  5. Synthesis: a free-response question where learners are asked to outline a plan of action.
  6. Evaluation: a scenario where learners are asked to compare and contrast the options available.

As you can see, certain activity types can be used for more than one skill level. It all depends on how you design those activities. And this is only the beginning—there are many more activities that you can design to help your learners achieve each of these cognitive skill levels.

Hopefully this article has you thinking about how you can apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to your instructional design process in order to create clear, concise learning objectives and design activities to support those objectives.

Want more instructional design tips? Check out these articles:

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Allan Carrington

This is a good introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy and I will refer to this in the research thinking for the next version of the Padagogy Wheel (no it is not a spelling error :-) The Padagogy Wheel started as an info graphic to show teachers how to put pedagogy first then choose the technologies to serve it. It has grown into so much more with each new version. The latest is V4.0 with twice the resources of earlier versions in 19 languages . There have been 139,324 posters of the English version downloaded from my blog in the last 15 months. Recently I released the Spanish and German versions with Chinese almost out and 15 more languages being translated at the moment. I am confident that if you are a teacher or a learning designer you will find it interesting. It extends what is bein... Expand

Sandi Williams

This is a great post for beginners but even as an experienced ID, I often have to remind myself to stay aligned with my efforts. To take it a bit further, I've included more specific examples of each level and dimension. To me, that's always the hardest part and it truly makes the crafting the objectives easier. Thanks for letting me share! Bloom's Taxonomy exercises Remembering: recognizing, recalling reciting policy, knowing definitions, quoting product prices, concentration game Understanding: interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, explaining distinguish between situations, compare outcomes, determine the correct category Applying: executing, implementing use a function to calculate vacation time, provide a response to customer base... Expand

Sandi Williams
Tess Richardson
James Basore
Allan Carrington

Guys Now this is a Higher education perspective. So that is my disclaimer. :-) What are you trying to do with your learning and teaching or training? Learning outcomes are vital but they are not the start, What does transformative learning look like in your learner in 21st century terms. If you don't think about it and try to define it at least in your head you have nothing to shoot for. That is why the Padagogy Wheel - see above post starts with Graduate Attributes and Capabilities. I won't expand much on this I spend many words talking about this in my blog http://tinyurl.com/alsltblog I will say however if the learner AND the teacher help define this so there is consensus you can acquire learning contract between trainer and learner. Now if the learner has a clearer picture... Expand

Rod Ward

I never list learning objectives as statements at the beginning of a course module. I pose them as questions. I find this far more effective and less likely to trigger the usual boredom. I turn those cliched statements around and format them as problems requiring solutions, or scenarios that the learner might encounter. So instead of saying something like: "At the end of this course/module you will be able to....[list of boring statements here]" I'd say something like: "How should you respond to a co-worker who suggests you do something unethical?" or "Fred's workmate suggests he does something that might be unethical. How should Fred handle this?" I usually keep the list of questions around 5 or less in any single module. That way the module doesn't intimidate the le... Expand

Richard Presley
Terry Coe
Nicole Legault
Trina Rimmer
Cary Glenn

I'm beginning to change my mind about Bloom and his taxonomies. I find that Will Thalheimer's taxonomy is better http://www.willatworklearning.com/2006/06/new_taxonomy_fo.html . Our understanding of cognitive processes in learning has really shown Bloom to be lacking. I'm leaning more towards "Performance Objectives" where learners will practice or be assessed on performance in a representative task. This helps me understand what people need to do by the end of the course but it doesn't lock me into a this is purely mental or purely physical mode. Personally, I dislike listing objectives to the learner in the course. And when I see it in courses I am taking I get bored. There is nothing wrong with giving some overall goals but even that is usually redundant, most people know the subject o... Expand

Wagner Destro

Hello, Allison. I am an instructional designer from Brazil and a big fan of your blog. I wish you better clarify two points that were not clear to me in your post. You said Bloom’s Taxonomy “was specifically designed to help instructors and instructional designers clearly define learning objectives—and in turn create courses that meet learners’ needs.” In my understanding, Bloom's Taxonomy not help to define learning objectives. If an ID do not know how to define learning objectives, then the taxonomy will have no use for him or her. Besides, a classification system, by itself, does not help to meet learners’ needs. I believe this action can only be done through direct research with learners. What Bloom’s Taxonomy does (and does very well IMHO) is to sort the learning objectives - afte... Expand