Taxonomies of Educational Objectives

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Educational objectives describe the goals toward which the education process is directedthe learning that is to result from instruction. When drawn up by an education authority or professional organization, objectives are usually called standards. Taxonomies are classification systems based on an organizational scheme. In this instance, a set of carefully defined terms, organized from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract, provide a framework of categories into which one may classify educational goals. Such schemes can:

  • Provide a common language about educational goals that can bridge subject matter and grade levels
  • Serve as a touchstone for specifying the meaning of broad educational goals for the classroom
  • Help to determine the congruence of goals, classroom activities and assessments
  • Provide a panorama of the range of possible educational goals against which the limited breadth and depth of any particular educational curriculum may be contrasted

The First Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain

The idea of creating a taxonomy of educational objectives was conceived by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, the assistant director of the University of Chicago's Board of Examinations. Bloom sought to reduce the extensive labor of test development by exchanging test items among universities. He believed this could be facilitated by developing a carefully defined framework into which items measuring the same objective could be classified. Examiners and testing specialists from across the country were assembled into a working group that met periodically over a number of years. The result was a framework with six major categories and many subcategories for the most common objectives of classroom instructionthose dealing with the cognitive domain. To facilitate test development, the framework provided extensive examples of test items (largely multiple choice) for each major category. Here is an overview of the categories that make up the framework:

  • 1.0. Knowledge
  • 1.1. Knowledge of specifics
  • 1.1.1. Knowledge of terminology
  • 1.1.2. Knowledge of specific facts
  • 1.2. Knowledge of ways and means of dealing with specifics
  • 1.2.1. Knowledge of conventions
  • 1.2.2. Knowledge of trends and sequences
  • 1.2.3. Knowledge of classifications and categories
  • 1.2.4. Knowledge of criteria
  • 1.2.5. Knowledge of methodology
  • 1.3. Knowledge of universals and abstractions in a field
  • 1.3.1. Knowledge of principles and generalizations
  • 1.3.2. Knowledge of theories and structures
  • 2.0. Comprehension
  • 2.1. Translation
  • 2.2. Interpretation
  • 2.3. Extrapolation
  • 3.0. Application
  • 4.0. Analysis
  • 4.1. Analysis of elements
  • 4.2. Analysis of relationships
  • 4.3. Analysis of organizational principles
  • 5.0. Synthesis
  • 5.1. Production of a unique communication
  • 5.2. Production of a plan, or proposed set of operations
  • 5.3. Derivation of a set of abstract relations
  • 6.0. Evaluation
  • 6.1. Evaluation in terms of internal evidence
  • 6.2. Judgments in terms of external criteria

The categories were designed to range from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Further, it was assumed that the taxonomy represented a cumulative hierarchy, so that mastery of each simpler category was prerequisite to mastery of the next, more complex one. A meta-analysis of the scanty empirical evidence available, which is described in the Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl taxonomy revision noted below, supports this assumption for Comprehension through Analysis. The data were ambiguous, however, with respect to the location of Knowledge in the hierarchy and for the order of Evaluation and Synthesis.

The taxonomy has been used for the analysis of a course's objectives, an entire curriculum, or a test in order to determine the relative emphasis on each major category. The unceasing growth of knowledge exerts constant pressure on educators to pack more and more into each course. Thus, these analyses repeatedly show a marked overemphasis on Knowledge objectives. Because memory for most knowledge is short, in contrast to learning in the other categories, such findings raise important questions about learning priorities.

Along these same lines is the taxonomy's use to assure that objectives, instructional activities, and assessment are congruent (aligned) with one another. Even when instruction emphasizes objectives in the more complex categories, the difficulty of constructing test items to measure such achievement often results in tests that emphasize knowledge measurement instead. Alignment analyses highlight this inconsistency.

The taxonomy has also commonly been used in developing a test's blueprint, providing the detail for guiding item development to assure adequate, and appropriate curriculum coverage. Some standardized tests show how their test items are distributed across taxonomy categories.

The Affective Domain

In addition to devising the cognitive taxonomy, the Bloom group later grappled with a taxonomy of the affective domainobjectives concerned with interests, attitudes, adjustment, appreciation, and values. This taxonomy consisted of five categories arranged in order of increased internalization. Like the cognitive taxonomy, it assumed that learning at the lower category was prerequisite to the attainment of the next higher one. Here is an overview of the categories:

  • 1.0. Receiving (Attending)
  • 1.1. Awareness
  • 1.2. Willingness to receive
  • 1.3. Controlled or selected attention
  • 2.0. Responding
  • 2.1. Acquiescence in responding
  • 2.2. Willingness to respond
  • 2.3. Satisfaction in response
  • 3.0. Valuing
  • 3.1. Acceptance of a value
  • 3.2. Preference for a value
  • 3.3. Commitment
  • 4.0. Organization
  • 4.1. Conceptualization of a value
  • 4.2. Organization of a value system
  • 5.0. Characterization by a value or value complex
  • 5.1. Generalized set
  • 5.2. Characterization

In addition, Elizabeth Simpson, Ravindrakumar Dave, and Anita Harrow developed taxonomies of the psychomotor domain.

Revision of the Taxonomy

A forty-year retrospective of the impact of the Cognitive Taxonomy by Lorin Anderson and Lauren Sosniak in 1994 (dating back to its preliminary edition in 1954) resulted in renewed consideration of a revision, prior efforts having failed to come to fruition. In 1995, Anderson and Krathwohl co-chaired a group to explore this possibility, and the group agreed on guidelines for attempting a revision. Like the original group, they met twice yearly, and in 2001 they produced A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, hereinafter referred to as the revision. Whereas the original was unidimensional, the revision had two dimensions, based on the two parts of objectives: (1) nouns describing the content (knowledge) to be learned, and (2) verbs describing what students will learn to do with that content; that is, the processes they use in producing or working with knowledge.

The Knowledge dimension. The Knowledge category of the original cognitive taxonomy included both a content aspect and the action aspect of remembering. These were separated in the revision, so that the content aspect (the nouns) became its own dimension with four categories:

  • A. Factual Knowledge (the basic elements students must know to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems in it)
  • a. Knowledge of terminology
  • b. Knowledge of specific details and elements
  • B. Conceptual Knowledge (the interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure that enable them to function together)
  • a. Knowledge of classifications and categories
  • b. Knowledge of principles and generalizations
  • c. Knowledge of theories, models, and structures
  • C. Procedural Knowledge (how to do something, including methods of inquiry and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and methods)
  • a. Knowledge of subject-specific skills and algorithms
  • b. Knowledge of subject-specific techniques and methods
  • c. Knowledge of criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures
  • D. Metacognitive Knowledge (knowledge of cognition in general, as well as awareness and knowledge of one's own cognition)
  • a. Strategic knowledge
  • b. Knowledge about cognitive tasks, including appropriate contextual and conditional knowledge
  • c. Self-knowledge

The Process dimension. In the revision, the concepts of the six original categories were retained but changed to verbs for the second (process) dimension. The action aspect of Knowledge was retitled as Remember. Comprehension became Understand. Synthesis, replaced by Create, became the top category. Subcategories, all new, consisted of verbs in gerund form. In overview, the dimension's categories are:

  • 1.0. Remember (retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory)
  • 1.1. Recognizing
  • 1.2. Recalling
  • 2.0. Understand (determining the meaning of instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communication
  • 2.1. Interpreting
  • 2.2. Exemplifying
  • 2.3. Classifying
  • 2.4. Summarizing
  • 2.5. Inferring
  • 2.6. Comparing
  • 2.7. Explaining
  • 3.0. Apply (carrying out or using a procedure in a given situation)
  • 3.1. Executing
  • 3.2. Implementing
  • 4.0. Analyze (breaking material into its constituent parts and detecting how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose)
  • 4.1. Differentiating
  • 4.2. Organizing
  • 4.3. Attributing
  • 5.0. Evaluate (making judgments based on criteria and standards
  • 5.1. Checking
  • 5.2. Critiquing
  • 6.0. Create (putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product)
  • 6.1. Generating
  • 6.2. Planning
  • 6.3. Producing


The Taxonomy Table

With these two dimensions one can construct a taxonomy table in which one can locate the junction of the classifications of an objective's verb and noun. Consider the objective: "The student should be able to recognize the facts and/or assumptions that are essential to an argument." The opening phrase, "The student should be able to," is common to objectivesit is the unique part of the objective that we classify. The verb is "recognize" and the noun is really a noun clause: "the facts and assumptions that are essential to an argument."

First, it is determined what is meant by "recognize." Initially, the term appears to belong to the category Remember because recognizing is Remember's first subcategory. But recognizing, the subcategory, refers to something learned before, which is not its meaning here. Here, it means that, on analyzing the logic of the argument, the student teases out the facts and assumptions on which the argument depends. The correct classification is Analyze.

The noun clause, "the facts or assumptions that are essential to an argument," appears to include two kinds of knowledge. "The facts" is clearly Factual Knowledge, and "the assumptions"as in assuming an argument's facts are truemay also be Factual Knowledge. But assuming a principle or concept as part of an argument (e.g. evolution) would be classified as Conceptual Knowledge. So this objective would fall into two cells of the taxonomy tablethe junction of Analyze with Factual Knowledge and with Conceptual Knowledge, as shown by the X's in Figure 1.

Just as objectives can be classified in a table, so can classroom activities used to attain them. Likewise, one can construct a table for assessment tasks and test items. If goals, activities, and assessments are aligned, the X's should fall in identical cells in all three tables. To the extent that they do not, the goals may be only partially attained and/or measured, and steps can be taken to restore alignment.

Comments inserted into classroom vignettes in the revision explain the classification of objectives, activities, and assessments as they lead to three completed taxonomy tables. The three tables are then compared to show the alignment, or lack of it, in each vignette. The six vignettes include different subject matters in elementary and secondary education.

Alternative Classification Frameworks

Since the publication of the original framework, numerous alternatives have appearedintended to supplement, improve upon, or replace it. Chapter 15 of the revision analyzes nineteen such frameworks in relation to the original and revised Taxonomies. Eleven are unidimensional, while eight include two or more dimensions. Some use entirely new terms, and a few include the affective domain.

For example, in 1981 Robert Stahl and Gary Murphy provided these new headings: Preparation, Observation, Reception, Transformation, Information Acquisition, Retention, Transfersion, Incorporation, Organization, and Generation. The Organization heading bridges to the affective domain. David Merrill, in 1994, devised a framework similar to the revised taxonomy, using two dimensions, each with four categories, to form a Performance-Content matrix with a student performance dimension (Remember-Instance, Remember-Generality, Use, and Find) and a subject matter dimension (Fact, Concept, Procedure, and Principle). The 1977 framework of Larry Hannah and John Michaelis is even more similar. Alfred DeBlock (1972) and others have developed frameworks with more than two dimensions, while Dean Hauenstein's 1998 framework provided taxonomies for all three domains. Marzano's taxonomy (2001) proposes a combination of three kinds of knowledgeInformation (often called declarative knowledge), Mental Procedures (procedural knowledge), and Psychomotor Procedures. Marzano also develops a processing model of actions that successively flow through three hierarchically related systems of thinking: first the Self System, then the Metacognitive system, and finally the Cognitive system (which includes Retrieval, Comprehension, Analysis, and Knowledge Utilization).

See also: Curriculum, subentry on School.


Anderson, Lorin W., and Krathwohl, David R., eds. 2001. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Anderson, Lorin W., and Sosniak, Lauren A., eds. 1994. Bloom's Taxonomy: A Forty-Year Retrospective. Ninety-third Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Dave, Ravindrakumar H. 1970. "Psychomotor Levels." In Developing and Writing Behavioral Objectives, ed. Robert J. Armstrong. Tucson AZ: Educational Innovators Press.

DeBlock, Alfred, et al. 1972. "La Taxonomie des Objectifs pour la Discipline du Latin." Didactica Classica Gandensia 17:1213, 119131.

Fleishman, Edwin A., and Quaintance, Marilyn K. 1984. Taxonomies of Human Performance: The Description of Human Tasks. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Hannah, Larry S., and Michaelis, John U. 1977. A Comprehensive Framework for Instructional Objectives: A Guide to Systematic Planning and Evaluation. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Harrow, Anita J. 1972. A Taxonomy of the Psychomotor Domain: A Guide for Developing Behavioral Objectives. New York: David McKay.

Hauenstein, A. Dean. 1998. A Conceptual Framework for Educational Objectives: A Holistic Approach to Traditional Taxonomies. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Krathwohl, David R.; Bloom, Benjamin S.; and Masia, Bertram B. 1964. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals; Handbook II: The Affective Domain. New York: David McKay.

Marzano, Robert J. 2001. Designing a New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Merrill, M. David. 1994. Instructional Design Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Simpson, Betty J. 1966. "The Classification of Educational Objectives: Psychomotor Domain." Illinois Journal of Home Economics 10 (4):110144.

Stahl, Robert J., and Murphy, Gary T. 1981. The Domain of Cognition: An Alternative to Bloom's Cognitive Domain within the Framework of an Information-Processing Model. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 208511.

David R. Krathwohl

Lorin W. Anderson