Bloom’s Taxonomy Problems

The Bloom is Off the Vine

I just came across this nifty little piece on Bloom’s Taxonomy, written by Brenda Sugrue for ISPI’s Performance Express.

It’s a nice critique on the validity and usefulness of Bloom’s Taxonomy for Instructional Design.

Read it here.

I tend to agree with Brenda’s Critique. For a long time I’ve been suspicious of Blooms.



In case that link ever goes away, I’m repeating her piece here:

Problems with Bloom’s Taxonomy
by Brenda Sugrue, PhD, CPT

I did a 99-second critique of Bloom’s taxonomy at the 2002 ISPI conference, and it generated more unsolicited feedback than any other presentation I have made. The response varied from those who completely agreed with me and abandoned Bloom many years ago to those who are still true believers and avid users. In those 99 seconds, I criticized the taxonomy but did not have time to present more valid alternatives. This article summarizes the criticisms and presents two alternative strategies for classifying objectives in order to design appropriate instruction and assessment.

Bloom’s taxonomy is almost 50 years old. It was developed before we understood the cognitive processes involved in learning and performance. The categories or “levels” of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) are not supported by any research on learning. The only distinction that is supported by research is the distinction between declarative/conceptual knowledge (which enables recall, comprehension, or understanding) and procedural knowledge (which enables application or task performance).

The consistent application of Bloom’s taxonomy across multiple designers/developers is impossible. Given any learning objective, it might be classified into either of the two lowest levels (knowledge or comprehension) or into any of the four highest levels (application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) by different designers. Equally, there is no consistency in what constitutes instruction or assessment that targets separate levels. A more reliable approach is to separate objectives and practice/assessment items into those that elicit or measure declarative/conceptual knowledge from those that elicit or measure task performance/procedural knowledge.

The distinctions in Bloom’s taxonomy make no practical difference in diagnosing and treating learning and performance gaps. Everything above the “knowledge” level is usually treated as “higher-order thinking” anyway, effectively reducing the taxonomy to two levels.

The Content-by-Performance Alternative
Recent taxonomies of objectives and learning object strategies distinguish among types of content (usually facts, concepts, principles, procedures, and processes) as well as levels of performance (usually remember and use). This content-by-performance approach leads to general prescriptions for informational content and practice/assessment such as those presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Prescriptions for Information and Practice Based on Content-Performance Matrix.

Content Type

Information to Present
(Regardless of Level of Performance

(Depending on Level of Performance)



Fact the fact recognize or recall the fact recognize or recall during task performance
Concept the definition, critical attributes, examples, non-examples recognize or recall the definition or attributes Identify, classify, or create examples
the principle/rule, examples, analogies, stories recognize, recall, or explain the principle decide if the principle applies, predict an event, apply the principle to solve a problem
Procedure list of steps, demonstration recognize, recall, or reorder the steps perform the steps
Process description of stages, inputs, outputs, diagram, examples, stories recognize, recall, or reorder the stages identify origins of problems in the process; predict events in the process; solve problems in the process

The Pure Performance Alternative
A more radical approach would be to have no taxonomy at all, to simply assume that all objectives are at the use level (that is, “performance” objectives) and that learners will practice or be assessed on the particular performance in representative task situations. If there are “enabling” sub-objectives, those too can be treated as performance objectives without further classification. If, for example, a loan officer needs to be able to distinguish among types of mortgages and describe the pros and cons of each type of mortgage as an enabling skill for matching house buyers with mortgages, then we design/provide opportunities to practice categorizing mortgages and listing their pros and cons before we practice on matching buyers to mortgages. If a car salesperson needs to be able to describe the features of different car models as an enabling skill for selling cars, then we design/provide opportunities to practice describing the features of different cars before we practice on selling cars.

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1998). Beyond Bloom’s taxonomy: Rethinking knowledge for the knowledge age. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullen, & D. Hopkins, (Eds.), International handbook of educational change. Boston: Kluwer Academic.

Merrill, M.D. (1994). Instructional design theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Moore, D.S. (1982). Reconsidering Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives, cognitive domain. Educational Theory, 32(1) 29-34.