Using Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning to Improve Outcomes

Posted by

Lynne Callister

on 19 May 2021

How can you ensure that your planned training will work and the learning will actually stick? One answer is by using Bloom's taxonomy to help you plan.

Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Improve Learning Outcomes

Let's assume you need to train your people on a company policy e.g. anti-bribery policy, FATCA, Code of Conduct. Without this vital training, you risk fines, reputational damage and more. Fair to say, it's a big deal.

There are zillions of learning approaches, strategies and theories that you might adopt to train your team, depending on preference and what you're aiming for.

From Piaget's discovery learning - where people learn by doing (suited to problem-solving) - to Bandura's imitation theory (learning through observation). Ha, possibly not the best option if you've just been ticked off by the regulator for a pervading poor culture in your company!

In reality, we learn in many different ways but there are some popular and well-tested instructional techniques including ADDIE, Gagné and Kirkpatrick.

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What is Bloom's Taxonomy?

My own favourite is a hierarchical model developed in the 1950s to explain how people learn and the stages they go through to master higher-order skills.

Bloom's Taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models that can be used to classify learning objectives. The second domain focuses on emotion (Affective Domain) and the third on actions (Psychomotor Domain).

Our focus is on the knowledge-based hierarchy known as the cognitive domain.

Bloom's cognitive domain

There are 6 levels of objectives in the Cognitive Domain (renamed in 2001).

Learners move up each successive levels of cognition as they master learning.

Broadly, the higher up the pyramid they go, the closer they are to mastery of a subject.

Level 1 - Knowledge

Knowledge includes recall of material, from specific facts to complete theories, laws or policies.

As such, it is the lowest level of learning.

Example of knowledge retention
Recalling key points of our anti-bribery policy, picking out the name of the UK's anti-bribery law, remembering the gift threshold is £50 in our Gifts and Entertainment policy, etc.

Level 2 - Comprehension

Comprehension is the ability to understand the meaning of learning materials.

It goes beyond simple recall of facts and may involve translating it from one form to another, interpreting material, explaining or summarising.

Example of comprehension
Classifying specific behaviours or examples (e.g. intermediaries, places, etc) as high or low risk, distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, interpreting a risk map or global corruption index, etc.

Level 3 - Application

Application is the ability to use and apply learnings to new situations.

It includes the application of rules, methods, principles, laws and theories. It demands a higher level of understanding than Comprehension.

Example of application of learnings
Deciding what course of action to take in a given situation (e.g. when facing a demand for a facilitation payment, when you're given a lavish gift by a client, or when a government official subtly requests a kickback) to comply with our anti-bribery policy.

Level 4. Analysis

Analysis is the ability to break down information into key elements to understand its structure.

It involves understanding the relationship between different parts, how they relate to each other, the principles involved, making inferences or assumptions and evaluating what is relevant. It demands a higher level of understanding than Comprehension or Application.

Example of analysing a situation
Presenting a scenario on the process for conducting due diligence - where learners analyse specific information on a client, use their knowledge of enhanced due diligence checks and determine a recommended course of action, having weighed up the outcome of all the decisions available; or a scenario where learners are given material information about the corruption risk profiles of different countries and analyse it to ascertain which country is being described.

Level 5 - Synthesis

Synthesis is the ability to bring elements or parts together to create something new.

Typically it involves compiling information in a different way (e.g. a communication, a presentation or speech, a strategy or plan), integrating learning from different areas to solve a problem or formulate a new scheme.

Example of synthesising information
Creating a risk map of different jurisdictions in which we operate, producing a presentation to showcase our anti-bribery strategy, writing a risk assessment on a given client, etc (Note: This is not generally testable in e-learning.)

Level 6 - Evaluation

Evaluation is the ability to judge the value of materials (such as a report, statement or course of action).

This is the highest level of understanding in Bloom's hierarchy as it contained elements from all the other levels.

Judgments may be based on clearly defined criteria that are set internally (e.g. by a business unit or company) or externally (e.g. by a regulator or law).

It may involve judging the value of a piece of work or critiquing someone's performance based on internal criteria or standards of excellence (e.g. did they do the right thing, was this the best response or should they have done something else instead, what aspects were right and where should they improve, etc?)

Example of evaluating the impact of learnings
Critiquing how a colleague performed when onboarding a new client at a bank in accordance with our internal policy; presenting a situation where a bribe was solicited, exploring the responses of three different colleagues and determining whose response was best.

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Conclusion & next steps

Of course, the model isn't perfect. People complain that it's too artificial and learning doesn't take place in neat categories like this in the real world.

That the distinction between lower and higher-level learning is misleading and actually undervalues the importance of fundamental knowledge. If you don't know the red flags, you aren't going to be effective in preventing bribery, right? Others claim it is better suited to the learning of skills rather than content.

But, whether you like it or not, you can't deny the impact Bloom's work has had in education and training and its continuing influence on instructional designers and games developers today. On all those who draw on the same 'levelling up' ideas to build their training interventions.

The question is, are they on your level? Have you stopped to consider what level of mastery your own people need with this latest piece of training? Is basic recall enough or are you looking for a deeper level of understanding with, say, a refresher module? The decision is yours.

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