Level up your understanding of learning levels

24 June, 2024| Tim Koot| 5 min read

Many instructional designers are familiar with the name Bloom. His taxonomy (1956) has been used by professionals for setting learning objectives since its development in 1956 and its revision in 2002. Credit where credit’s due, these learning objectives are often quite fine. However, these solutions are often not as effective as hoped. Why is that?

Learning (when done well) solves a problem. Someone does not yet have the knowledge or skills to do what is desired, so they need to learn (more). But different problems require different types of solutions.

The goals you set are essential for the success of your learning solution. They motivate the learner by providing direction for what needs to be learned. They can serve as a clear check to see if the learning solution is actually going to solve your problem. However, these goals don't become effective on their own. Effective goals require not only that you clearly understand the level of the content you are dealing with, but also the type of content you are dealing with.

What types of knowledge can someone possess?

In his original taxonomy, Bloom described 6 levels of objectives: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. This categorization had a single dimension: from lower to higher levels. The 2002 revision by Krathwohl added a new knowledge dimension: 4 domains that describe types of knowledge.

The domains:

Factual knowledge

This is the foundational knowledge you need to understand larger concepts and solve problems. Think, for example, of a list of vocabulary words when learning a new language. Before you can start constructing sentences, you first need to know the individual building blocks.

Conceptual knowledge

This includes how the basic elements relate to each other within a larger structure. Principles, classifications, models, and structures all fall within this domain.

In our example of learning a new language, this refers to grammar and sentence structures. Think back to high school math classes. First, you need to learn what roots and exponents are (factual knowledge). Only then can you understand the order of operations and more complex formulas (conceptual knowledge).

Procedural knowledge

Simply put: how you do things. This involves applying your knowledge: filling in and using a model, performing actions...

When learning a new language, this is when you form sentences, whether it's writing or speaking them correctly. In math lessons, this would be when you start solving word problems.

Metacognitive knowledge

The most abstract of the four domains, this pertains to knowledge about knowledge. This includes understanding which contexts are best for applying different theories, strategies for approaching problems, and awareness of one’s own strengths and limitations.

For example, a learner might recognize that speaking another language is still challenging, but writing comes much easier. As a result, they might choose to seek out more opportunities for conversation practice to improve their speaking skills.

What can you do with this?

It’s completely understandable that this question arises now; you’ve only gathered the knowledge so far. And, in fact, that’s part of the answer to the question.

You’ve now covered factual and conceptual knowledge: you understand what the different domains entail and how they follow each other. What you were likely searching for when you clicked on this blog was procedural knowledge: How can I improve my learning objectives for better training outcomes? The next step would be to address that goal, translating it into actionable steps.

This is often where things go wrong. Learners attend excellent trainings on very useful topics, but if you don’t set goals that are truly focused on applying that knowledge, the problem won’t be solved.

Take note! Factual and conceptual knowledge are very important! They build on each other for a reason. If you don’t know the words, you’ll never be able to construct a proper sentence (source: my final grade in French).

Alright, but how do you do this?

Krathwohl describes these domains as a new dimension to the taxonomy. We have a handy grid that you can use for this!

When you place all your learning objectives here, you get an indication of which areas are receiving attention and which are not. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Am I achieving the goal I have set?

If you want someone to learn how to drive a car, objectives solely focused on factual knowledge will not be sufficient. Instead, you need to set objectives that at least reach the level of applying procedural knowledge.

2. Do I have sufficient foundation to achieve that goal?

Setting goals at higher levels is perfectly fine, but it requires a foundation. With every learning objective, you should ask yourself whether this solution also includes the previous levels or if that knowledge is already present in the target audience. You can't expect someone to analyze a complex theory if they don't even know what that theory is about. And in the case of driving a car: If you don't know which pedals are the clutch, brake, and accelerator (factual knowledge), you won't drive very far (applying).

Training Improvement Engineer Always helping others

Tim Koot

Loves searching for the right balance between form and function in learning, by letting his knowledge about design support the learning process.

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