Is Higher Education lacking its affective dimension?

March 31, 2015
Affective Domain March 2015

Affective Domain March 2015

Whilst the majority of writings and reflection concerning the use of taxonomies of educational objectives remain focused around the cognitive domain, typified by Bloom (1984), there is a growing attention being paid to the affective domain, particularly in professional education. Bloom’s now famous research project which resulted in Book 2 of the ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the affective domain’ led by Krathwohl, which has been much neglected, applied scantily (and often erroneously) to practice (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999).

Often described in terms of feelings or emotions I think it more useful to regard the affective as being a question of degree of acceptance or rejection of values, of the evolution of value structures. It is certainly true that having one’s values challenged can result in emotional disturbance (Mezirow, 2000) but I think there is a danger to using language that describes the domain in terms of emotions, not least because it scares off academics!

In my interpretation of the affective domain, illustrated above as a circular representation, I have retained Krathwohl’s five divisions but choose to use active verbs rather than the passive. So receiving becomes to receive, responding becomes to respond, valuing becomes to value, organization becomes to organize, and the final division originally entitled characterization becomes to internalize.

Original Atkinson Descriptor Sample Verbs
Receiving To Receive Ability to learn from others Sense, experience, concentrate, attend, perceive
Responding To Respond Ability to participate responsibly , respectively as appropriate to the context Perform, contribute, satisfy, cite
Valuing To Value Ability to associate personal and collective values with contextual experiences and express value judgements Justify, seek, respect, persuade
Organization To Organize Ability to structure, prioritize and reconcile personal and others’ value systems Clarify, reconcile, integrate
Characterization To Internalize Ability to articulate one’s own values and belief systems and operate consistently within them Conclude, internalize, resolve, embody

The reason I think it helpful to think about values rather than emotions is that clearly most of higher and professional education, is concerned by changing not just how much or what students know, or even how they know and apply that knowledge, but with how they ‘feel’ about knowing. At its simplest we seek to instil a love of learning and a passion for the subject. In professional education we also seek to instil our professional values into the learning process. Whilst it is clearly very difficult to evaluate the emotional impact that learning has on students there are ways of providing formative assessment to support affective developments.

For those in the Academy who are seeking to merely perpetuate their academic DNA in their students, the latters’ changes in values may not mean a great deal to them. For those of us who teach in order to make the next generation better than we are, better able to adapt to the ever-changing world that they face outside of the Academy, then having an interest in our students affective development is extremely important.

I have argued elsewhere that the relative weighting given in learning design to the domains depends largely on the subject and the context of learning. Clearly there will be foundational modules in a degree programme in which knowledge domain learning will be dominant. I would expect much that is done in an undergraduate degree to be concerned with the cognitive domain, clearly an ability to analyse, evaluate, synopsise and synthesise represent the higher-order skills we expect from graduates on graduation. I have also argued elsewhere that psychomotor skills are also worthy of being part of higher education. But it occurs to me that much of the learning opportunity offered in our current universities neglect and equally important set of skills.

Almost all employers agree that they want to attract applicants who share their values. These oft cited idealized values are in fact widely held; the ability to work well with others, to be an effective communicator, to be an effective listener, to work independently, to take the initiative. It seems unrealistic to expect students to necessarily acquire such skills without being guided through the learning process and taught to identify their own development. And it is fair to say that certainly in the United Kingdom sector a huge amount has been added to the curriculum, with employability strategies and planning personal development (PDP) initiatives, that students do not wont for opportunities.

But I maintain that we should ingrain in our students the values we expect them to demonstrate through the disciplines themselves, not bolt them on and relieve the academics from their repsonsability. To my mind it makes sense to write intended learning outcomes to encapsulate a range of affective outcomes and align learning and teaching activities to rehearse those skills with our students.

Why not include alongside an intellectual skills outcome (cognitive) that states “by the end of this module you will be able to critique at least three different perspectives on (whatever the subject is)” another outcome, this time an affective one that says “by the end of this module you will be able to reconcile two contrasting, and contentious, perspectives on (whatever the subject is)”. There is nothing touchy-feely about the second outcome but it focuses on the students value structures, supporting their ability to structure and reconcile personal value systems in contrast to those held by others. Critiquing sounds very higher education, but to be able ‘to reconcile’ is a much needed skill in the workplace.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd edition). Longman Pub Group.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation : critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Poster for Taxonomies of Educational Objectives

August 16, 2014

New A1 Poster – Taxonomy Circles

This new poster draws together my recent work on powerful visualisations of taxonomies of educational objectives. Further details are available here. There is an online workshop coming and face-to-face workshops are possible.

Simon holding the Taxonomy Poster

Simon holding the Taxonomy Poster

Simon Paul Atkinson's Poster of Taxonomy Circles

A1 Poster for four domains of educational objectives

Now available for sale. Sized A1 (84.1 x 59.4 cm / 23.4″ x 33.1″) printed on 250gsm silk paper. Dispatched in a roll tube.

Price includes post and packaging anywhere in the world.

Visit my parallel site at http://www.sijen.com/TaxonomyPoster.html and order from secure Paypal site, using your Paypal account or credit card. Sold at cost any profits will be donated to the Stroke Association.


Visualisation of Educational Taxonomies

August 22, 2013

Sharing a paper today on the visualisation of educational taxonomies. I have finally got around to putting into a paper some of the blog postings, discussion, tweets and ruminations of recent years on educational taxonomies. I am always struck in talking to US educators (and faculty training teachers in particular) of the very direct use made of Bloom’s original 1956 educational taxonomy for the cognitive domain. They seem oblivious however to other work that might sit
(conceptually) alongside Bloom is a way to support their practice.

http://www.academia.edu/4289077/Taxonomy_Circles_Visualizing_the_possibilities_of_intended_learning_outcomes

In New Zealand, whilst at Massey I got into some fascinating discussions with education staff about the blurring of the affective and cognitive domains, significant in cross-cultural education, and this led me to look for effective representations of domains. I came across an unattributed circular representation that made instant sense to me, and set about mapping other domains in the same way. In the process I found not only a tool that supported and reinforced the conceptual framework represented by Constructive Alignment, but also a visualising that supported engagement with educational technologies and assessment tools. I hope this brief account is of use to people and am, as always, very open to feedback and comment.

I’m very grateful to those colleagues across the globe who have expressed interest in using these visual representations and hope to be able to share some applicable data with everyone in due course.


Learning Design becomes mission critical

October 14, 2012

In my last posting I suggested that a module specification could usefully have four sections, clearly articulated, for Intended Learning Outcomes, so that a student could identify from their assessment evidence that they had met specific ILOs in a range of domains. In doing so they not only have a useful platform to identify future learning needs, but also the potential to negotiate the accreditation of prior accredited learning in a much more fine-grained and meaningful way, something I fully expect to become a significant future of international higher education accords in the next few years as institutions face up to the challenge of accredited OER schemes and credit bearing MOOCs. I believe the design of intended learning outcomes for modules and programmes will become a strategic priority.

Not everyone agrees ILOs are effective and a useful critique from Hussey and Smith is well worth reading (Hussey & Smith, 2002).

How many Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) one designs into a module or a programme level specification has to depend on the scope of the module or programme itself. I’m sure colleagues can adapt what I’m saying here to their own quality assurance and institutional contexts.

For the purpose of this reflection let me take a single module, worth 15 credits. In the UK context this would frequently represent one-eighth of a stage of undergraduate degree study, there being three stages each representing 120 credits. Again, in the UK context there is a strong notion of progression in higher order thinking skills between the first stage of undergraduate study (level 4) and the final stage (level 6). This progression is articulated in generic guidance that captures much of this ILO debate and in subject specific guidance drawing on the discipline communities to create ‘benchmarks’ for what be expected to be in any named award (www.qaa.ac.uk) . Level 5 would represent the second stage of undergraduate study in the UK context, the equivalent of an exit point for a Higher National Diploma or a Foundation Degree, the European Qualifications Framework Level 5 and within the EHEA (Bologna) sometimes referred to as a ‘Short Cycle’ award.

My example then is for a 15-credit module at level 5. The UK quality assurance agency does not specify periods of study for credit, but sector norms talk in terms of notional study hours and it is perhaps helpful therefore to think of 15 credits as 150 notional study hours, 30 credits as 300 notional study hours and so on.

The Domains

Before proposing a model for ‘how many’, I will briefly remind myself what these four sections, or domains, of Intended Learning Outcomes represent. They are;

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

Knowledge and understanding – subject domain

The subject domain is often conflated with the cognitive domain, which is understandable as it is within Bloom’s ubiquitous taxonomy, but this does tend to confuse faculty as to the distinction between knowing and understanding a body of factual knowledge and being able to do something with that factual knowledge. The Subject domain can, and in my opinion should, be limited to defining the subject area for illustrative purposes for the student. Since the principle is that all Intended Learning Outcomes should be assessed and it is actually rather difficult to assess whether someone ‘understands’ something without having them ‘operationalize’ the knowledge, I tend not to get too hung up on the active verbs used in this domain, contenting myself it serves to contextualise what follows, but maybe I should and another post later will unpack Anderson and Krathwohl’s Knowledge Dimension in more detail.

Intellectual Skills / Cognitive domain

This domain refers to ‘knowledge structures’ building from the base of the Subject domain, the “knowing the facts”, towards high order thinking skills in which these facts become operationalized and transferable. This domain is familiar to most faculty and synonymous with the work of Bloom from the 1950s (Bloom, 1984) and the useful revisions made in 2001 (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).

Professional Skills / Affective domain

The affective is concerned with an individual’s values, and includes their abilities with respect to self perception through to abstract empathetic reasoning. In an extension to the early work by Bloom progressive stages take the learner from foundational ‘receiving’, through to the ‘internalization’ of personal value systems (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999). In the context of Higher Education programmes, particularly an era when the employability of graduates is stressed, an awareness of these professional values would do well to be built into the relevant modules.

Transferable Skills / Psychomotor domain

The psychomotor domain is less well researched and documented and this has meant a less than adequate recognition and incorporation into learning designs. Frequently tactile or technical skills become seen as ‘general skills’ or ‘transferable skills’ and there is little sense of progression. This domain refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills and so could identify the progressively complex skills of a biologist in using microscopes, or an economist using a statistics software package (Dave, 1967). I find this domain unfortunately neglected as I believe it would enhance course designs if note were taken of the practical technical skills required within disciplines and their articulation in Intended Learning Outcomes.

The Balance of Numbers

The actual balance between these domains in terms of how many Intended Learning Outcomes one might assign to them in the context of a 15 credit module will depend on the context of the module, its mode and its programme context. One might reasonably expect to see some differences in the balance of ILOs in modules in different contexts, illustrated below.

Domains Level 5 University class taught Module

;

Work-based Level 5 Management Module Practice-based Level 5 lab taught
Knowledge Domain 2 2 2
Intellectual Skills (cognitive) 4 2 2
Professional Skills (affective) 2 3 2
Transferable Skills (psychomotor) 2 3 4

And for those who appreciate a visual representation:

Distribution of ILOs in different domains

;

In this example each module has ten Intended Learning Outcomes but the emphasis within the module will change. Whilst it may be appropriate to stress intellectual skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) in a classroom based political science course for example, on might expect to see transferable skills (often described as practical, tactile or technical skills) stressed in a technical lab based course, skills such as manipulation, articulation and naturalisation of technical proficiency.

Holistic Learning

All too often Higher Education stresses the cognitive, over reliant perhaps on Bloom’s taxonomy and related work, and neglects the affective and psychomotor domains. This is has several consequences; it relegates anything that is not seen as ‘intellectual’ to a lower order of skills despite the fact that employers and students recognise and demand the need for broader skills (Mason, Williams, & Cranmer, 2006). In doing so it forces programme leaders into ‘bolt-on’ skills modules that demand additional institutional resource and student resource and frequently ill-serve the purpose. No learning design is truly student-centred if it is neglecting other domains of experience (Atkinson, 2011).

The model advocated here separates the knowledge domain and the intellectual skills, focussing the module designer on the ‘skills’ that will be acquired independent of the subject knowledge acquired. This, along with a focus on the affective and psychomotor skills, provides a framework for a module that is balanced in terms of what the student does, the context in which they do it, and correctly assessed ensures all these intended learning outcomes can be justifiably claimed in the student’s transcript.

Indeed it is not difficult to imagine a student coming to the end of the first stage of their degree, recognising that they have excelled in the psychomotor skills but struggled in the cognitive, and make module choices for future stages either to redress that balance or acknowledge their strengths and adjust choices to reflect future career path.

So how do you write learning outcomes across these four domains? That’s the subject of the next posting.

………………

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.

Atkinson, S. (2011). Embodied and Embedded Theory in Practice: The Student-Owned Learning-Engagement (SOLE) Model. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 1–18.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd ed.). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

Dave, R. (1967). Psychomotor domain. Presented at the International Conference of Educational Testing, Berlin.

Hussey, T., & Smith, P. (2002). The Trouble with Learning Outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 3(3), 220–233.

Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd ed.). Longman Pub Group.

Mason, G., Williams, G., & Cranmer, S. (2006). Employability Skills Initiatives in Higher Education: What Effects Do They Have On Graduate Labour Market Outcomes? National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Retrieved October 14th 2012 from http://ideas.repec.org/p/nsr/niesrd/280.html


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