Levels of understanding and knowledge

Bloom's taxonomy

Bloom's taxonomy is a widely-used and effective classification of learning, thinking and understanding.
Bloom's taxonomy is divided into three domains:

  • Cognitive: knowledge and understanding
  • Affective: feelings and attitudes
  • Psychomotor: physical skills

Cognitive domain

The most relevant one to the higher education sector is usually the cognitive domain. It is important to be aware of these levels of Bloom's taxonomy as it in large part underpins the practice of cognitive alignment developed by Biggs and implemented by TEQSA as part of the AQF standards.

Bloom's taxonomy categorises thinking skills from lower order, such as remembering, understanding and applying to the higher order of creating, evaluating and analysing.

When designing for learning and teaching it is important to understand the level at which the learning needs to occur as this will underpin appropriate approaches to teaching and assessing.

For example:

  • A science-based course contains certain facts, such as terminology or formulae that students need to be able to remember, understand and apply. These are lower order thinking skills for which appropriate teaching approaches would be giving students opportunities for drill and practice, and appropriate assessment could be exams focusing on recall and application of facts.
  • A literature or history based course, may cover certain facts such as dates of wars and authors etc, however the intended learning at a degree level would be aimed at higher order thinking skills such as analysing and evaluating. For this type of course an exam based on having students remember facts would not be an appropriate and assessment and teaching approaches would need to focus on giving students opportunities to discuss and analyse.

SOLO taxonomy

SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Taxonomy developed by Biggs and Collis (1982)  also categorises levels of thinking and understanding which forms the basis of constructive alignment.

Information and resources