27 March 2008


My other half says I forgot "blather" in my taxonomy.

As in: Students will learn to blather on endlessly on topics of interest to no one but them.

Good point. How could I have missed that.

Wait. That wasn't a dig, was it?

Bloom's Taxonomy

Haven't read Bloom's in a while. But I found myself having to do so recently.

It was nice to get a refresher because now I remember that the problem with it is the primacy it gives to pure knowledge over applied knowledge.

I would structure my sequence of deepening knowledge like this:

  1. Acquisition (information)
  2. Comprehension (knowledge)
  3. Evaluation
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Understanding
  7. Application

(I snuck understanding in there because it doesn't show up in Bloom's. Certainly not at a higher order of awareness.)

Why this order?

Because I define those words differently, and truly-informed application (as opposed to mere use) is the product of all the other knowledge tools, not a step that must eventually be discarded in the quest for true understanding and knowledge. It is this very arrangement which has ensconced higher education in its own glass tower and left it wondering why it doesn't get the respect it deserves. It is assuming that knowledge in pure form is superior to knowledge applied for practical good. And most of the rest of the world is left wondering "we are subsidizing this why?"

In this sense we are going back to the days of the Greeks, when any true citizen would never sully their hands with something so base as application. But everything in the taxonomy is useless if it cannot in the end be applied to something.

On the other hand, perhaps the problem is that there needs to be two trees (making the Greeks right in at least one sense), one which encapsulates the depth of understanding and the other the depth of application. This stands in opposition to the current taxonomy, which treats application as a single step in the ladder to deeper understanding, rather than something that can have its own tiers. That is a little harder. Interesting how we have so many words for how to think about things, but so few on how to use things. I never thought about that before. Very interesting indeed. Many of the verbs put forward as "application" in Blooms are really either forms of the other categories or of presentation, not of actual application.

  • Presentation: demonstrate, dramatize, illustrate, operate, sketch, write.
  • Evaluation: choose
  • Analysis: interpret
  • Synthesis: solve
  • Application: apply, employ, use

"Schedule" is an odd word out except in certain contexts I don't get at the moment. And "practice" has so many meanings that it could occur at any level, from acquisition (practice the guitar) to analysis/synthesis/application (practice medicine).

Then again maybe I am just biased because the idea of 1950s education psychologists reminds of my learning as a psychology undergrad of just how much damage psychologists in the middle of the 20th century did to their own field in an attempt to be the next technocratic hegemon. Fortunately, most of it was thoroughly discredited. Except for the educational psychologists. Most probably because they took something abstract and gave it concrete labels that make bean counters happy. Yeesh, I mean, these are the people who thought they could build valid tools of psychological assessment by comparing inpatients in a Midwestern U.S. psychiatric hospital to the family members that would come to visit them.

Anyway, I want to propose a new taxonomy, I call it Mootly's taxonomy, just because Bloom's taxonomy is already taken. Here's a first draft with lots of sloppy wording to drive all true prescriptivists nuts:

Tier 1: Knowledge discovery
Appropriate for primary education through early post-secondary, as well as for purely informational fields.

  1. Acquisition (information)
    The knowledge or skill has been acquired and can be reproduced in the same context it was presented in, as well as recognized when presented again.
  2. Comprehension (knowledge)
    The knowledge or skill is understood to the extent that it can be recognized in and as part of a context. It can be reproduced in context other than that which it was presented in.
  3. Presentation
    The knowledge or skill can be used in the creation of media or the use of a skill to demonstrate knowledge.

Tier 2: Knowledge-working
Appropriate for higher-education at all levels, but especially undergraduates and trade skills.

  1. Evaluation
    The knowledge or skill can be used as a tool to evaluate or acquire other knowledge and skills. The validity and utility of the knowledge can be assessed.
  2. Analysis
    The knowledge or skill can be considered in its own context. Knowledge can be analyzed to find flaws and core concepts that need further exploration. Skills can be analyzed so that the person can improve through self-awareness of their own current limitations.
  3. Contribution
    Knowledge and skills can be organized and presented in ways that contribute to the field. The presentation not of known information but of explorations in the current state of knowledge. As in: contributing to the literature.

Tier 3: Knowledge creation
Appropriate for higher education,especially at the higher levels. Mandatory at the graduate level and for all professionals deserving of the appellation.

  1. Synthesis
    The development of new approaches to knowledge sets or skills through the synthesis of prior knowledge-working.
  2. Creation
    The development and creation of new skills and knowledge sets that are returned to the community.
  3. Application
    The active application of knowledge and skills sets, proving that one is ready for a profession that will require this of them.

If you look there are now three paths in play. There is acquisition to synthesis, comprehension to creation, and presentation to application. Okay, that is kind of contrived, but with a little tweaking there could be. There is a path of pure knowledge working in the series, and one of application in the series. This allows there to be Tier 3 values for skill-based learning. And it even pushed the third tier beyond the expectations in Bloom's taxonomy by accommodating such things as post-doctoral work and professionals who are contributing and generating knowledge rather than consuming it.

Now I just need some fancy analysis of verbs to make it as dogmatic and robust as Bloom's, while at the same time less problematic.