making the framework explicit: bloom’s taxonomy redux, part 1

strutsi recently managed to get my hands on bloom’s handbook. this is where he introduces, describes and proposes the taxonomy and thinking behind it, so it has been pretty gripping reading! i also found it enlightening to read the primary source for such a foundational theory. i think it’s one of the most commonly referred to theoretical inputs to instructional design.

many of the reservations i had about the taxonomy melted away, while some stood reaffirmed. i also had a bit of an existential crisis reading the taxonomy in his words: it is SO different from our perception and all the general ID theory websites that try to explain it. i’m basically speechless and horrified on that front, but ’nuff said for now. i’m going to share what i picked up over multiple posts.

for now, i think the first step is first to reexamine our understanding of the premises and to note certain things he says about the taxonomy. my post is not going to substitute adequately for actually reading the book yourself; but if you don’t have that luck, what i’m trying to do is pull out some ideas i found interesting and that i mulled over. bad pun alert, the book was very run-of-the-mull, so these are only some of the ideas! 😀

first of all, a fundamental word to think about: taxonomy. this is a whole field of knowledge. i found it fascinating to scrabble around in, and will certainly not pose as knowing about it. for the purpose of this discussion, i’m going to bravely attempt to provide a simplified explanation; but please know that there are many nuances i’m ignoring to be able to simplify. a taxonomy is a structuring of labels/terms we use to describe the things we know. the thing to register there is that it is a structuring, and the structuring ideally reflects reality. the terms themselves come from an ‘ontology’. so taxonomy as a science is a subset of ontology.

now for instructional design, just understanding what these two terms mean and how they differ tells us clearly that using Bloom’s taxonomy for verb choice is wrong. it is neither a dictionary nor an ontology. in using it in this manner, we completely miss the point of what value the taxonomy does offer, misuse it and construct wrong assumptions.

you will also notice that that particular bit of understanding didn’t require reading Bloom’s book 🙂 okay, so here’s something from his writing about his taxonomy in particular. what intention(s) did Bloom have for the taxonomy, what purposes did he hope it will serve?

the primary purpose intended of the taxonomy was that it would improve communication amongst educators, and possibly, educators and education researchers. Bloom didn’t not mean for learners to ever agonise over the objectives framed.

extracting from my reading across the book, the application or use of the taxonomy would also, he hoped, strike a balance between clarity of objectives on the one hand, and fragmentation or atomisation of teaching objectives on the other. i don’t know about you, but i wore a profoundly guilty look reading the words “fragmentation” and “atomisation”! we must admit, many times, in our quest to state measurable, clear and Bloom’s -compliant objectives, we do fragment until we’re saying a lot, but not really answering the fundamental question, what is this training meant to do?

the taxonomy was also meant to help teachers to more clearly understand the place of a particular objective in relation to others. this is where i think we have used the taxonomy somewhat correctly in instructional design: this intention is what drives the identification of enabling objectives for the terminal (or ultimate) objectives.

what i am going to do in the next post is focus on the conditions in which the taxonomy was developed as i think that also has a bearing on how we perceive, develop and use it.