Course Design - Higher Order Thinking

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Higher Order Thinking

As explained in Course Design Overview, one of the major tasks in designing a course is to determine important learning outcomes. The learning outcomes would appear in your syllabus as course goals and specific objectives. Before you set out to write your course goals and objectives, it is very helpful to understand Bloom’s taxonomy and higher order thinking (HOT).

Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999) is an educational psychologist who led the effort in developing a taxonomy that served as a framework for classifying learning objectives, i.e., what we expect students to learn as a result of instruction. The taxonomy was updated and revised in 2002, and the resulting taxonomy is shown in Figure 1.

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As shown in Figure 1, there are six levels of learning objectives. From the bottom to the top, the hierarchy of objectives range from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Each level is briefly explained below (Krathwohl, 2002, p.214):

  • Remember: Retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory (recognizing, recalling)
  • Understand: Determining the meaning of instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communication (interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, explaining)
  • Apply: Carrying out or using a procedure in a given situation (executing, implementing)
  • Analyze: Breaking materials into its constituent parts and detecting how the parts relate to one another an to an overall structure or purpose (differentiating, organizing, attributing)
  • Evaluate: Making judgments based on criteria and standards (checking, critiquing)
  • Create: Putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product (generating, planning, producing)

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides common language about learning goals and objectives. More importantly, it provides a basis for us to examine our course goals and assessment, and see what we are trying to promote among students: are we engaging students in lower level or higher order thinking? All too often class learning activities and assessments focus mainly on lower levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Remember, Understand, Apply), but for students to be competent in their future profession and to deal with the complexities in real life situations, the levels of Analyze, Evaluate, and Create are what we as educators should be aiming for. When preparing your course, take a critical look at your goals, objectives, and test items, and see if you are addressing all the levels of thinking.

For more information about Bloom’s Taxonomy and Higher Order Thinking, please refer to the following resources:

  • Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay. (Note: Lewis library holds the book. Call number: LB 17 T235 v.1 1956)
  • Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41 (4).

Writing learning goals and objectives

In preparing your course syllabus or planning for a particular class, one of the tasks is to write the specific learning goals and objectives. Below are some resources that can help you to write your learning goals and objectives. Keep in mind, goals and objectives are closely linked to assessment.

This page last updated 24th Jun 2013