Levels of learning

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 the cognitive domain. It is important to be aware of these levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy as it underpins the practice of cognitive alignment developed by Biggs and implemented by TEQSA as part of the AQF standards. Bloom’s cognitive hierarchy 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 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 include 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 assessment and teaching approaches would need to focus on giving students opportunities to discuss and analyse.

When using Bloom’s Taxonomy to create learning outcomes – whether that be at course level or learning activity level – consider the language used to describe what is to be achieved. Students will use the language of the information provided to gauge the level of learning they are engaging with so it is important to get right for both student learning expectations and teacher expectations.

SOLO taxonomy

SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) taxonomy developed by Biggs and Collis (1982), also categorises levels of thinking and learning in terms of complexity, thus being useful when we want to examine the quality of student learning and understanding. Check out this clip on the SOLO taxonomy – explained using lego!

Resources, strategies or assistance


Federation University learning and teaching website

Federation University Policies and Guidelines


  • Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4th ed. `Open University Press: New York.