opportunities and limitations for instructional design: bloom’s taxonomy redux, part 5

think this is going to be the final post in the series, for a while at least! in this one, i’m cobbling together some of my ideas and understanding rather talking about things from the handbook.

bloom’s taxonomy was a huge step in organising and clarifying what we describe as learning. remembering that the word “learning” is very nebulous and there is still no single meaning of what it means to “know” something, the taxonomy helps us understand the nature and degree of understanding in a field. you can see a link between the more complex levels of the taxonomy and the components of expert knowledge described by shulman and ball.

placing the extent of our “knowing” within the taxonomy can help us recognise cognitive biases at play, especially the dunning kruger effect, and help develop an idea of what type of further exploration could be required to develop the depth of knowledge in the particular area.

both of these aspects – a common framework to describe “knowing” more precisely and gauging the understanding and dark areas in our knowing of a topic – are obviously useful to us as instructional designers right from requirement analysis, to estimating the nature and quality of inputs we can expect to get from an SME.

i also think our ability to demonstrate the complex thinking skills is also reflective of the quality of explanation, experience, context and relevance we can provide. similarly, we can judge what type of instructional methods our level of understanding is going to support. -that’s not something we usually acknowledge, right? we just talk about choice of strategy or methods as being based on content or training requirements. it’s not only that, it’s also how much we have understood of the subject! let me take the example of the socratic method since that seems to be becoming fashionable again suddenly. you most certainly cannot ask meaningful questions or support a socratic learner if your understanding is at a very basic level. the taxonomy could support us in making this judgment more accurately and honestly.

i think it may also be possible to use the taxonomy in metacognition. while i may not be expert in a new topic i’m learning, call it topic B, i may be expert in topic A. however, when i reflect on my thinking processes and how i’ve deliberately, consciously evolved my understanding in A, i can apply at least some of that knowledge to topic B, significantly boosting my level of understanding in it. additionally, a lot of the deeper critical thinking frameworks are very abstract. that means by definition they’re not field-specific and can be applied for deep analysis of any field.

so specifically for instructional design, the taxonomy can guide us in dissecting what we know experientially of a project or client, and seeing what is suitable material for such a framework. in other words, what are the reusable components of our knowledge and what parts may need to be refreshed or adjusted for a new context.

as an ID working with adults, i find one glaring blind spot in the taxonomy. it doesn’t address UNlearning. and this is actually a big part of learning to be a good learner and of becoming good at a field you’ve had exposure to. especially with adults, we’ve had more time and exposure to clutter our heads with poor learning! analytical engagement with what we don’t know (as IDs, as adults, as learners) is a hugely rewarding process. the taxonomy cannot be used for this.

the taxonomy also doesn’t address the whole of a person. while bloom explicitly limits himself to 3 domains and proposes specific taxonomies for each, even within the cognitive domain’s taxonomy, the notion that a learner can be an expert in one area but a novice in another and that the expertise in one can help development in another does not fit in the framework of the taxonomy. instead, learning seems to be viewed in subject-specific, watertight compartments. we know this to be untrue: when you are a thinker, you don’t think profoundly only in one segment of your life. you kind of tend to think, as a way of life, it’s who you are 🙂

the taxonomy also seems to be constructed without factoring in independent learner access to learning resources outside of formal classrooms. this was fair enough i suppose, given the time it was proposed… but now? remember the taxonomy was before the internet. it’s worth considering the variety of resources we can access now in terms of quantity and information quality. it’s also worth considering just how amazingly easy and fast the internet has made research and independent study (god bless the internetz!). what used to take me a week of sitting and sneezing in a library, cross referencing and scanning bibliographies for, is now half taken care of by google and delivered to me in less than 2 seconds. you can bet that has seriously shortened the time span of my information acquisition. now whether that also means that i may have lost the ability to patiently solve problems, pause and reflect on how each piece of information fits in my mental framework … these are completely new and insufficiently explored areas.

i hardly need to mention the linearity problem again do i? good, then i’ll skip ahead. ditto with the authoritarian model that has no room for learners like me (we who will bloody fight to own and direct their own learning process, thankyew! :D)

similarly i’m assuming i don’t have to give you a long explanation pointing out why i’m viewing the taxonomy as a tool we can use on ourselves more appropriately than on our clients and target audience? (cos you’d totally know that if you’d been hanging on my every word and reading the earlier posts in the series :P)

alright then. i think we’re done here, for the time being at least. i sincerely hope this helped you, and hope we can discuss and develop our (the industry, i mean) understanding and use of the taxonomy. that sounds like an oscar acceptance speech… but i’m typing at 630 am, waddaya expect!

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