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Using Bloom’s Taxonomy: Teaching Adults to Learn Effectively

Adult LearningIncorporating principles of adult learning theory in any training program is the foundation to ensuring a successful transfer of skills from the training program back to the workplace. Adult education focuses on the facilitator ensuring the participants are able to achieve sustained behavioral changes to improve in a particular area(s). For example, enabling adult participants in a negotiating training program to learn the skills and knowledge required to effectively conduct negotiations once they are back at work.  This is most effectively done, in this example, through role playing where adults are able to practice negotiating tactics in a safe environment. Participants should be able to walk away from the negotiating training program with an understanding of how they would change the model they have learned to fit nearly any negotiating situation they encounter. As another example, a training class focused on improving presentation skills is best able to meet its objective by enabling participants to practice making presentations and being tape recorded so that they can see how they perform during presentations. Again, it should also provide participants with the ability to adjust how they present depending on the audience they are presenting to and the topic to be presented.

Bloom’s Taxonomy was developed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom and a team of education psychologists. Bloom’s Taxonomy refers to a classification of the various learning objectives that are set for participants in a training program.  Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies six categories (levels of learning) from simple to complex within the Cognitive Domain.

Bloom's taxonomy

First, let’s step back a bit.  Bloom and his colleagues identified three domains of learning activities:

  • Cognitive (the development of intellectual skills) – Knowledge
  • Affective (feeling, motivations, etc.)  – Attitude
  • Psychomotor (use of motor skills and coordination) – Skills

In this post we will focus on the Cognitive Domain and the six levels of learning that comprise that domain.  It is important to remember that the first level, Knowledge (the most simple) must be mastered before the individual learning can move through the levels to eventually master the most difficult level, Evaluation.

Level Category Definition More Detail
1 Knowledge The individual is able to remember ideas, facts, and theories. No change in behavior occurs at Level 1 – it simply indicates the ability of the individual to remember information he/she was presented in the training.

Activity examples: define, list, repeat, recall, duplicate, recognize

2 Comprehension The individual can comprehend the meaning of the material presented and predict consequences or effects from it. No change in behavior occurs at Level 2 – the individual is able to describe their understanding of what is presented and discuss how the new material learned may or may not work in their own environment.

Activity examples: describe, discuss, explain, identify, review, translate

3 Application The individual can use the material he/she learned in new situations, applying concepts, principles, methods, and theories effectively. At level 3, the individual demonstrates his/her ability to apply the new material they learned in the form of a measurable activity. This is the start in a change in behavior.  For example, conducting an effective negotiation session or conflict management via role plays.

Activity examples: apply, demonstrate, interpret, practice, solve, use, illustrate

4 Analysis The individual can break down the material learned into smaller elements or components so that its organizational structure is understood. At level 4, the individual demonstrates his/her ability to analyze a situation using the knowledge learned by applying it to a case study. The individual will use his/her newly learned skills to understand the situation of the case study, determine cause and effect, and develop a solution to the problem.  The individual demonstrates his/her knowledge by taking a systematic approach to analyzing the situation and developing a solution based on the analysis.

Activity examples: analyze, compare/contrast, distinguish, experiment, examine, differentiate

5 Synthesis The individual can pull parts together to form a new whole – in this way the individual works with various elements to arrange and combine them to form a new structure. (Thinking “outside the box.”) At level 5, the individual demonstrates a further command of the knowledge/skills by using a case study.  The individual will demonstrate an advanced capability by developing a creative, unique solution to the problem by applying what he/she has learned in a new and different way.

Activity examples: arrange, compose, construct, create, design, develop, propose, organize, manage

6 Evaluation The individual is accomplished at judging the value of material learned for a given purpose and those judgments are based on defined criteria. At level 6, the individual is able to take a multi-disciplinary assessment of a situation. He/she works from a defined set of criteria to make judgments about information presented in a case study, whether or not a solution is valid and the quality of a particular solution. At this level, the individual has mastered the new skill/knowledge.

Activity examples: appraise, assess, defend, judge, support, evaluate, value, argue

An example of each level:

Level/Category Example – Learning How to Manage a Conflict Situation
1 – Knowledge The individual can recite back the specific model learned on how to manage conflict.
2 – Comprehension The individual is able to explain the specific model learned on how to manage conflict in his/her own words.
3 – Application The individual is able to apply the conflict model as learned in a role play situation.
4 – Analysis The individual is able to understand how the conflict model is developed and its individual components, and use that knowledge to role play a conflict situation.
5 – Synthesis The individual is able to use the components of the specific conflict model learned to create a personalized different conflict model that works more effectively in his/her situation, and apply that in a role play situation.
6 – Evaluation The individual is able to assess options and select the most effective conflict model (make changes to the conflict model) to utilize depending on a given conflict situation.  He/she is able to assess a conflict situation to judge the best model to use for solving the conflict.

An Update to Bloom’s Taxonomy

In the mid 90’s, a former student of Bloom, Lorin Anderson, revised the six categories as follows:

  • Remembering (level 1)
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating (level 6)

The new categories map to the original categories as follows:

Original Category

(with a slight revision to the presentation of Evaluation and Synthesis)

New Category
Knowledge Remembering
Comprehension Understanding
Application Applying
Analysis Analyzing
Evaluation Evaluating
Synthesis Creating

The goal of the updated categories was to reflect a more active form of thinking and, by rearranging the categories (specifically, Evaluation and Synthesis), reflect a more accurate understanding of how adults learn.

Developing Training Programs Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

By using this information in development of your training programs, you are better able to create a program that is a true learning experience for the participants.  A program that creates sustained behavioral changes and ensures the individual is able to apply what they are learning back on the job in a way that works for them and their particular circumstances.  They will also be able to continue learning (self-learning) back on the job if they are provided the right skills to continuously develop their knowledge.  Bloom’s Taxonomy promotes a higher level of thinking (above and beyond memorizing facts) that enables the adult learner to be able to more effectively apply his/her new skills and knowledge back on the job in a manner that is suitable for both the individual and the organization’s way of doing business.

How effective are your training programs? To what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy are you teaching skills and knowledge to your adult learners?  Think about what changes you might make to your training programs to develop a higher level of learning for your participants.

Please share your thoughts in the Comments field below.  Thanks!


The Art of Teaching Adults, Peter Renner, Publisher: Training Associates, Vancouver

Blooms Taxonomy of Learning Domains: The Three Types of Learning