Visualising Outcomes: domains, taxonomies and verbs

Circular representations of educational taxonomies

Four ‘Domains’ of educational objectives represented in a circular form

I think being able to visualise things is important. Faculty and learning designers need to be able to see Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) take shape and mant find existing lists are uninspiring. It’s not uncommon for faculty and instructional designers to get tired and weary of ILOs; they can feel restrictive, repetitive, formulaic and sometimes obstructive. In previous posts I’ve tried to suggest that the bigger picture, the challenges of effective 21st century university level learning design, make them not only useful, but also essential. If you don’t agree, don’t bother reading. I’m not going to try and persuade you. If you think there’s some truth in the argument and you want to engage with ILOs to make your teaching more focussed, your students increasingly autonomous and your graduates equipped with meaningful evidence, then I hope I have something worthwhile sharing and will welcome your thoughts.

My argument is that a module (a substantial unit of a full years undergraduate study), and the programme of which is part, should have clearly articulated outcomes in four domains:

  • Knowledge and understanding – or the knowledge domain
  • Intellectual Skills – or the cognitive domain
  • Professional Skills – or the affective domain
  • Transferable Skills – or the psychomotor domain

I’m suggesting one SHOULD expect to see a different distribution of ILOs between the outcomes in these domains depending on the focus of the module and the level of study. One might expect to see a second year anthropology module on ‘theoretical perspectives’ emphasising cognitive outcomes and a module being studied alongside it on ‘research design and techniques’ emphasising affective and psychomotor outcomes. One might reasonably expect to see more foundational ‘knowledge and understanding’ outcomes in the first year of a programme of study, and more ‘cognitive’ outcomes at the end of the programme. The lack of this ‘designed articulation’ in many modules undermines their value to the student and ultimately to faculty.

The basic principle is that an outcome should be assessable. Lots of great stuff can happen in your teaching and students’ learning that DOESN’T need to be assessed. It can be articulated in the syllabus, it just isn’t a measured outcome. A student should be able, at the end of this course of study (module or programme), to evidence that they have attained the intended learning outcomes. This evidence has been assessed in some way and the student is then able to point to the ILOs amassed throughout their programme and say “I can demonstrate that I learnt to DO this”.

Representing Taxonomies

There has been a significant shift in the language we now use from the original work in the 1950s by Bloom and colleagues. The passively descriptive language of Bloom’s Taxonomy has become the active language of Anderson and Krathwohl (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). The taxonomies have moved from Evaluation to Evaluate, from Analysis to Analyse. This is significant in that the emphasis has moved away from describing what the focus of the teaching is supposed to be, to the demonstrable outcomes of the learning.

The illustration above consists of four visual ‘wheels’ that I have used to discuss learning outcomes with faculty in the context of module and programme design at Massey University in New Zealand and at the LSE and BPP University College in the United Kingdom. These visual representations were inspired by work done elsewhere, on the cognitive domain in particular. The first documented example of this circular representation I have been able to find is attributed to Barbara Clark in 2002, but a great many people have since represented Bloom’s original, and the revised, cognitive domain in this way.

The circular representation has the higher level terms at the centre, proto-verbs if you will, surrounded by a series of active verbs that articulate actions an individual might undertake to generate evidence, of their ability to represent to proto-verb. The circular visualisation also serves to create a more fluid representation of the stages, or divisions, in the proto-verbs. Rather than a strict ‘step-by-step’ representation where one advances ‘up’ the proto-verbs, one might consider this almost like the dial on an old telephone, in every case one starts at the ‘foundational’ and dials-up though the stages to the ‘highest’ level. Each level relies on the previous. It may be implicit that to analyse something, one will already have acquired a sense of its application, and that application is grounded on subject knowledge and understanding. So the circle is a useful way of visualising the interconnected nature of the process. Most importantly in my practice, it’s a great catalyst for debate.

The circular representations of the domains and associated taxonomies also serve to make learning designers aware of the language they use. Can a verb be used at different levels? Certainly. Why? Because context is everything. One might ‘identify’ different rock samples in a first year geology class as part of applying a given classification of rocks to samples, or one might identify a new species of insect as part of postgraduate research programme. The verb on its own does not always denote level. I talk about the structure of ILOs in a subsequent post.

Circular representation of Educational Taxonomies

Structure of the circular representations of Educational Taxonomies

More recent representations have created new complex forms that include the outer circle illustrated here. I’ve found these rather useful, in part because they often prove contentious. If the inner circle represents (in my versions) the proto-verbs within our chosen taxonomies, and the next circle represent that active verbs used to describe the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO) AND the Learning and Teaching Activities (TLS), the outermost circle represents the evidence and assessment forms used to demonstrate that verb. Increasingly I’ve used this to identify educational technologies and get faculty thinking more broadly about how they can assess things online as well as in more traditional settings. The outermost circle will continue to evolve as our use of educational technologies evolves. In Constructive Alignment one might reasonably expect students’ learning activity to ‘rehearse’ the skills they are ultimately to evidence in assessment (Biggs & Collis, 1982; Boud & Falchikov, 2006) and the forms to enable that are becoming increasingly varied.

Re-visioning  Taxonomies

One of my favourite representations of the relationship between the knowledge dimension and the cognitive domain is from Rex Heer at Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/RevisedBlooms1.html accessed ). It’s an interactive model that articulates the relationship, as Anderson and Krathwohl saw it, rather well. My own interest, as we look to effective ILOs, is to separate out the knowledge dimension as a subject or knowledge domain and have faculty articulate this clearly for students, before reconnecting to the other domains. A process I’ll talk about subsequently.

Here are my four ‘working circles’ using adaptations of taxonomies from Anderson and Krathwohl (Knowledge and Understanding, and Cognitive), Krathwohl et al (Affective) and Dave (Psychomotor). I have adapted the Knowledge Dimension of Anderson and Krathwohl to do two things; to describe the dimension in terms of active verbs rather than as a definition of the nature of the knowledge itself, and I have incorporated a stage I believe is under represented in their articulation. I have added the ability to ‘ contextualise’ subject knowledge between the ability to specify it (Factual) and the ability to conceptualize (Conceptual). I have also rearticulated the original ‘Metacognitive’ as the ability to ‘Abstract‘. This will doubtless need further work. My intent is not to dismiss the valuable work already in evidence around the relationship between a knowledge dimension and the cognitive domain, rather it is to enable faculty, specifically when writing learning outcomes, to identify the subject, discipline or knowledge to be enabled in more meaningful ways.

These images are provided as JPG images. If you would like me to email the original PowerPoint slides (very low-tech!) so that you can edit, amend and enhance, I am happy to do so. I only ask that you enhance my practice by sharing your results with me.

I hope these provoke thought, reflection and comment. Feel free to use them with colleagues in discussion and let me know if there are enhancements you think would make them more useful to others.

Cognitive Domain – Intellectual Skills

Cognitive Domain – Intellectual Skills

Affective Domain – Professional and Personal Skills

Affective Domain - Professional and Personal Skills

Affective Domain – Professional and Personal Skills

Psychomotor Domain- Practical, Technical and Transferable Skills

Psychomotor Domain- Practical, Technical and Transferable Skills

Psychomotor Domain- Practical, Technical and Transferable Skills

Knowledge Domain – Subject and Discipline Knowledge

Knowledge Domain- Subject or Discipline Skills

Knowledge Domain- Subject or Discipline Skills

The next post will illustrate the usefulness of these visualisations in drafting Intended Learning Outcomes with some examples.

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Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy. Academic Press Inc.

Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2006). Aligning assessment with long‐term learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(4), 399–413.

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Edited October 19th 2012 in response to feedback.

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9 Responses to Visualising Outcomes: domains, taxonomies and verbs

  1. As a teacher I am very interested in learning outcomes and taxonomies. I found your post very interesting, but a bit confusing at first. Upon first read I mistakenly applied the levels of Blooms as follows

    Subject->Remember
    Cognitive-> Understand/Apply
    Professional ->Analyze/Evaluate
    Transferable->Create.

    As I reread the post I saw the link to the diagram and tables. Upon scrolling over the diagram I understand the actual application. …. It makes a lot of sense, as there are different levels of knowledge questions. In fact each level has different depth, a fact I wonder if many teachers think about. This information will be very valuable even in the lower grade levels.

  2. Hani Yusof says:

    I found this post is very interesting and useful for me. I’m appreciate if you can mail me original powerpoint slide. Thank you.

  3. jenan Nasser says:

    hi Simon:-
    this is very interesting. I wonder if I can also have the PowerPoint presentation. allow me to use it for research purpose.

  4. Hi Simon

    Love your diagrams 🙂

    I have been interested in the learning domains for many years now … and spend a lot of time in my classes raising student awareness of their own learning processes. I am currently exploring how students develop within the domains and how this is expressed in their reflective journals … I am also big on visualisation 🙂

    I am interested to engage in further conversation with you about this.

    I look forward to to hearing from you

    Cheers
    Juliana

  5. Rachel Irving says:

    Thank you for sharing your work. It is really helping me to formulate my thinking on learning outcomes. Please could you email the powerpoint you mentioned so I can print your wheels. This would be much appreciated, regards Rachel

    • Certainly Rachel, I’ll attach it to an email very shortly. Glad the visualisations are supporting your enquiries. I think in UK higher education we do find ourselves fairly fixated on the cognitive domain at the exclusions of the psychomotor and affective, the later (it seems to me) to be particularly pertinent in our drive for ‘work-ready’ graduates. We talk about ’employability’ too divorced from the core learning and teaching and that is one reason why I advocate these circles. Hope you find them useful. Simon

  6. Hassan Siraj says:

    I would like to share your visual and ppt presentations with my colleague. Hope you can share with us. Thank you.

    • Dear Hassan,
      I’d be delighted to have you share the work with colleagues. I will email you the latest PowerPoint representations shortly. Do please let me know how you make use of them. Best Simon

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