Read this Ultimate Guide to gain a deep understanding of Bloom’s taxonomy, how it has evolved over the decades and how it can be effectively applied in the learning process to benefit both educators and learners.

In this guide, you’ll learn about:

  • The six levels of thinking and how to apply them throughout a lesson plan;
  • The three key domains, cognitive, affective and psychomotor, and their importance;
  • How Bloom’s taxonomy can aid in active learning, as well as in formative and summative assessments.

Finally, we’ll address some of the criticisms of Bloom’s taxonomy, and how to address these in your classroom planning.

Hear from professors who have effectively put Bloom’s taxonomy to work in their college classrooms — download our free e-book, The Professor’s Guide to Using Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Table of contents

1. What is Bloom’s taxonomy?
2. The history of Bloom’s taxonomy
2.1. Original Bloom’s taxonomy from 1956
2.2. Revised Bloom’s taxonomy from 2001
3. Why is Bloom’s taxonomy important?
4. The levels of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy
4.1. What the levels of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy mean
4.2. How to use the levels of thinking
4.3. Level 1: Remembering
4.4. Level 2: Understanding
4.5. Level 3: Applying
4.6. Level 4: Analyzing
4.7. Level 5: Evaluating
4.8. Level 6: Creating
5. Learning objectives in Bloom’s taxonomy
5.1. The cognitive domain in Bloom’s taxonomy
5.2. The affective domain in Bloom’s taxonomy
5.3. The psychomotor domain in Bloom’s taxonomy
6. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in the classroom
6.1. Using Bloom’s taxonomy in lesson planning and course design
6.2. Bloom’s taxonomy and active learning
6.3. Bloom’s taxonomy and formative assessment
6.4. Bloom’s taxonomy and summative assessment
7. Problems with Bloom’s taxonomy
7.1. Creativity as a goal, not as a tool
7.2. Over-reliance
8. Further reading

1. What is Bloom’s taxonomy?

Put simply, Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework for educational achievement in which each level depends on the one below. It’s often depicted in the form of a pyramid—similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Basic knowledge, the first stage of learning, leads to the development of the skills and abilities that are crucial to completing the pedagogical process: Comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. While there are subcategories within each, each stage lies on a continuum. The belief is that students move up through each level of the pyramid in Bloom’s taxonomy, starting from very basic learning, to acquiring deeper knowledge on a subject, with each level crucial to the development of the next.

Teachers can apply Bloom’s taxonomy by asking questions and delivering assignments that directly correlate with specific learning objectives in each stage of the process, making the objectives clear to the student. For example, posing multiple choice questions can help gauge a student’s level of basic understanding and remembering of a subject, while asking a student to come up with a comparison or analogy points towards entering the application or analysis stage.

2. The history of Bloom’s taxonomy

2.1. Original Bloom’s taxonomy from 1956

In the 1940s, Benjamin Bloom, along with his collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill and David Krathwohl, devised Bloom’s taxonomy in order to place educational goals into specific categories, with the belief that this classification would be useful in order to better assess college student performance.

Each year for the following 16 years, Bloom and his colleagues revised and refined the framework at the American Psychological Association convention. In 1956, the final version was published as the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, showing the path of educational attainment through six orders of learning.

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom’s taxonomy has served as the backbone of many teaching philosophies since then. While it initially aided in the assessment of students, it quickly became a tool for teachers to devise their curriculum, outline clear learning objectives, and design classroom activities. It has been adapted for use in classrooms from K–12 to college and university level, and as proof of its versatility, you can even apply it to a series of Seinfeld episode clips, each relating to a level of the taxonomy.

For 50 years, Bloom’s taxonomy in its original form was a guide for educational teaching—until its revamp for a new generation.

2.2. Revised Bloom’s taxonomy from 2001

In 2001, a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, instructional researchers and testing assessment specialists led by Lorin Anderson, a colleague of Krathwohl’s and former student of Bloom’s, revised Bloom’s taxonomy by putting together a series of more dynamic concepts for the classification system versus the original static, one-dimensional levels of educational objectives.

At the core of the revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is the use of verbs to replace nouns—providing learners with clearer objectives for what is expected of them.

Older version

Revised Bloom’s taxonomy

Knowledge

Remember

Comprehension

Understand

Application

Apply

Analysis

Analyze

Synthesis

Evaluate

Evaluation

Create

The new revision swaps the two final levels, Synthesis/Evaluation, making create the ultimate level achievable.

Additionally, Bloom’s revised taxonomy separates the cognitive domain, which consists of all of the levels involved in learning noted above, into four distinct types within a matrix: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive.

Factual knowledge is characterized by terminology and discrete facts. Conceptual by categories, principles, theories, and models, looking at the relationships among all elements within a larger structure that helps it work together. Procedural is the knowledge of a specific technique, process, or methodology: essentially, how to do something. Finally, metacognitive defines a student’s self-assessment of his ability and knowledge of different skills and techniques. Is the student actually aware of their own cognition?

The matrix organization of the revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy is designed to be a more precise form of thinking about learning, making it easier for educators to create clear objectives for lesson planning and student evaluation. It also makes it simpler for students to understand what is expected of them.

Bloom's taxonony: Original and revised pyramids

3. Why is Bloom’s taxonomy important?

Bloom’s taxonomy has been actively used by teachers from K—12 to college instructors for over five decades. Yet it is still just as important today as back in the ’50s.

At the heart of the Bloom’s taxonomy framework is the ability to create achievable learning goals that teachers and students understand, and build a definitive plan to meet them. Instructors are encouraged to view learning objectives in behavioral terms, such that they can see what students are capable of as a direct result of the instruction they have received in each level.

Using the categorization, educators can effectively organize objectives and create lesson plans with appropriate content and instruction to lead students up the pyramid of learning. Educators can also design valid assessment tools and strategies to ensure each category is met in turn, and that each part of the course material is in line with the level’s objectives, whether it’s basic knowledge at the beginning of a course (e.g. remembering and recalling basic concepts), or applying that knowledge towards the middle of a school year (e.g. using the learned information in specific settings by solving problems.)

For students, Bloom’s taxonomy levels bridge the gap between what they know now, and what they need to learn in order to attain a higher level of knowledge.

At the end of the learning process, the goal with Bloom’s taxonomy is that a student has honed a new skill, level of knowledge, and/or developed a different attitude towards the subject. And that teachers are able to effectively assess this learning on an ongoing basis, as the course moves through each stage of the framework.

4. The levels of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom's taxonomy — the revised edition

This pyramid, courtesy of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, represents the revised Bloom’s taxonomy framework and educational objectives and outlines the key levels of thinking.

It starts with the most basic level of knowledge at the bottom, Remembering, whereby students recall facts and basic concepts, and moves up towards the pinnacle: Create, where new or original work is produced in some fashion.

4.1. What the levels of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy mean

In any learning environment, according to Bloom’s taxonomy, it’s critical to start from the bottom level and work your way up. The lower-order skills require less cognitive processing, but provide an important base for learning. Meanwhile, the higher levels require deeper learning and a greater degree of cognitive processing, which can presumably only be achieved once the lower-order skills have been mastered.

4.2. How to use the levels of thinking

Complete each level of Bloom’s taxonomy before moving on to the next. When course planning, bear in mind the implications—how quickly to introduce new concepts, when to reinforce them and how to test them.

The first stage, remember, is about recalling facts and concepts. A student can define and duplicate, make a list, memorize points, repeat information, and make valid statements. But this does not prove comprehension.

This is where understand, the next level, comes in. The student explains ideas and concepts, discusses and describes a topic in detail, explains what it means, recognizes it and translates the facts in some way. They can paraphrase a point, or compare and contrast information.

Once this level is conquered, students move up the pyramid to the next stage of learning: apply. They use the information they’ve learned in new situations, whether it’s to solve a problem, demonstrate an idea, interpret, schedule, sketch—whichever method works for the specific type of learning, course of study, and/or class environment.

Then, they must draw connections between ideas in the analyze level of Bloom’s taxonomy, and differentiate, organize, relate, compare, contrast, examine, question or test their knowledge. Critical thinking finally comes into play, as the student distinguishes between fact and opinion, and breaks information down into component parts.

In the evaluate stage, the student can justify a stand or decision by appraising a situation, arguing, defending, judging, critiquing, supporting, or weighing in with thoughts based on the knowledge and application they’ve acquired thus far. In the original version of Bloom’s taxonomy, this was considered the pinnacle of learning. But in the revised version, as noted, Create (which Bloom originally called Synthesis) is at the top of the pyramid. There, students produce new or original work.

Something can’t be understood without first remembering it; can’t be applied without understanding it; must be analyzed before evaluating it; and an evaluation needs to have been conducted prior to making an accurate conclusion.

Using verbs and actions allows educators to encourage success through each level of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy, and accurately measure learning. Do so by defining learning outcomes, and breaking them down as parts of a lecture. Use three key pillars to achieve this: condition (the resource being used), performance (what students should accomplish by the end), and criteria (the method of measuring success).

Importantly, some education-related words like include, understand, and learn can’t be measured in a meaningful way. Following the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy makes performance actionable and effective, using verbs that set clear expectations and can be specifically measured.

4.3. Level 1: Remembering

In the first stage of Bloom’s taxonomy, you might ask students to recite something you’ve taught them, quoting information from memory based on previous lectures, reading material and notes. Educators can use verbs like define, describe, identify, label, list, outline, recall, and reproduce to effectively measure success in this stage. It’s the most basic level in Bloom’s taxonomy, but represents an important foundation; a stepping stone toward deeper learning. A basic way to test learning on this level is simple questions and answer periods, or multiple choice questions. This shows that the student is able to memorize facts and recall them. But it does not yet suggest that students actually understand the material.

4.4. Level 2: Understanding

Ask students to discuss a problem or idea in their own words, in order to evaluate their comprehension from the “remembering” stage of Bloom’s taxonomy. For example, they might have to paraphrase a story or definition, explain a concept in their own words, tell a story that relates to it, or provide analogies. To measure this, verbs like defend, explain, generalize, paraphrase, summarize and translate. A student who reaches this level can interpret the materials, and demonstrate comprehension of the material.

4.5. Level 3: Applying

The student will now have to take what they’ve learned and apply it to a scenario outside of the classroom. For example, they can use a math formula they’ve learned to calculate a family budget in the real world, or apply a legal ruling to a specific case in the news headlines. Verbs to use in this stage of Bloom’s taxonomy include apply, demonstrate, predict, show, solve or use. That could come in the form of collaborative group projects or the composition of a blog.

4.6. Level 4: Analyzing

Now it’s time to reach the higher half of the learning levels in Bloom’s taxonomy. Here, students can draw connections between ideas, utilize critical thinking, and break down knowledge into the sum of its parts. This can include using logical deduction to figure out how a piece of equipment works, or finding fallacies in the reasoning of an argument. Key verbs for measurement include analyze, break down, compare, contrast, differentiate, deconstruct and infer. On achieving this level of Bloom’s taxonomy, a student can demonstrate that they fully understand the material on the whole, and as its component parts. They might be able to draw diagrams or deconstruct thought processes.

4.7. Level 5: Evaluating

Here is where the student makes an educated judgment about the value of the material they’ve just learned, applied and analyzed, to be able to tell the difference between fact and opinions or inferences. That could include finding an effective solution to a problem, or justifying a specific decision and being able to back up that justification with knowledge. Appraise, conclude, critique, evaluate, support and summarize are all good verbs to use in this level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Tools like surveys and blogs can help in this particular level.

4.8. Level 6: Creating

In the final level of Bloom’s taxonomy, the student demonstrates full knowledge by applying what they’ve learned, analyzed and evaluated, and building something, either tangible or conceptual. That could include writing a manual or report on a particular topic, designing a piece of machinery, or revising a process to improve the results. Verbs to use include categorize, combine, compile, devise, design, generate, modify and write. Projects can range from detailed essays that put parts of the learning together to form a whole concept or idea, or networking with others to discuss the merits of a study.

5. Learning objectives in Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy is further divided into three distinct learning objectives, or domains of educational activities: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. These are also referred to by the acronym KSA, for Knowledge (cognitive), Skills (psychomotor), and Attitudes (affective). The goal is that by the end of a learning session, the student will have acquired new knowledge, skills and attitudes towards a subject.

5.1. The cognitive domain in Bloom’s taxonomy

Knowledge and development of intellectual skills is at the heart of the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy, whereby a student can recall or recognize facts, patterns, and concepts that will serve as a foundation for deeper learning. This is where the six key facets of Bloom’s taxonomy—Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation–come in.

5.2. The affective domain in Bloom’s taxonomy

In this domain, students have new feelings or emotions about the subject, and/or themselves. They should be able to place more value on something, and have a greater appreciation for it, along with different motivations and attitudes. In a medical or caregiving setting, students might be able to demonstrate empathy towards patients or children. Students can be assessed in several ways when it comes to the affective domain, such as their ability to listen with respect and provide their unwavering attention, actively participate in class discussions, resolve conflicts and exhibit consistent and pervasive behaviours that reflect their internalized values.

5.3. The psychomotor domain in Bloom’s taxonomy

The psychomotor domain is one of the later additions to Bloom’s taxonomy, as the original team did not believe they had sufficient knowledge in teaching such skills at the post-secondary level. In this domain of Bloom’s taxonomy, students develop manual or physical skills. There are three versions: physical movement, coordination and the use of motor skills. A student in a medical setting might demonstrate psychomotor development by properly stitching a wound; a student of construction through an understanding of how to operate a backhoe. Psychomotor skills can represent basic manual tasks, like washing a car or planting a garden, as well as more complex activities, like operating heavy machinery or following choreographed dance steps. Psychomotor skills are measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures and technique.  

6. How to use Bloom’s taxonomy in the classroom

6.1. Using Bloom’s taxonomy in lesson planning and course design

Educators can use the tools of Bloom’s taxonomy to precisely focus curricula throughout the year on specific parts of the framework, ensuring that students demonstrate the proper cognitive abilities in each assignment and exam before moving on to the next.

This way, students can have clear, concise, and measurable goals to achieve. They answer questions and complete tasks based on which objective is the focus at the time, using the measurable verbs like the ones previously noted for each level to elicit the proper types of responses. For example, questions asking students to compare, discuss, and predict will help their basic understanding of a project, while the use of verbs like “investigate” and “relate” suggest that they’ve moved on to the analyzing stage.

Students can move from the lower to the higher levels of learning through course materials, topics, lectures, assignments and in-classroom activities that are fine-tuned to help them succeed. Following the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy, assignments and classroom learning can be restructured to ensure that they fall in line with each level in succession, so students have the critical tools to move towards achieving that all-important deeper level of learning: the top of the Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid.

6.2. Bloom’s taxonomy and active learning

In modern classrooms, students aren’t always sitting passively in front of a lecturer. Mobile devices and online course materials are the norm. It’s a testament to the versatility of Bloom’s taxonomy that it fits extremely well into lesson planning for active learning.

In the Remember stage of Bloom’s taxonomy, instead of sitting back and absorbing information you could ask students to challenge each other to recollect facts, or make a list at the end of class of the most important facts they learned that day. And in the Analyze stage of Bloom’s taxonomy, you can spark class discussion of problems, comparisons, and examining how a subject might relate to students’ everyday lives.

Being explicit about expectations in class can also help guide students in the right direction—a great application of metacognition within Bloom’s taxonomy. In this way, you can help students take responsibility for their own learning. For instance, in a marketing class, teachers can instruct students that, by the middle of the term, they should not only know the components of an effective TV commercial, but why each is important, and how they holistically work together to achieve the goals of the company placing the advertisement.

(You can find a comprehensive list of applied active learning tools and techniques in our free Bloom’s taxonomy e-book.)

6.3. Bloom’s taxonomy and formative assessment

A student’s grade isn’t directly impacted by ongoing, or formative, assessment,, but it’s a way for educators to gauge how well students are learning, and moving up the Bloom’s taxonomy hierarchy. Formative assessment is not a scale that determines the success or failure of a student, but it’s used as a continued tool for teaching.

Focus on what you want students to achieve, using Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide, versus whether a specific activity will contribute toward their overall grade. Develop concrete learning objectives for each stage, and give the students clear expectations. Identify what action a student would be taking with your assignment, and to which level it would apply. Then, match suggested assessment techniques and questions to the lecture, and choose activities that will encourage results.

In the Remember and Understand stage of Bloom’s taxonomy in an entry-level class, for example, multiple choice or true or false questions make sense. Once you reach top Analyze, Evaluate, and Create levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, whether it’s in an advanced class or toward the end of the course, consider oral examinations or written essays. Even if they aren’t tied to a grade, the assignments can paint a picture of how much the students have truly learned to date so educators can tweak course materials or even their approach. This will help better prepare students to succeed when it comes time for summative assessment.

6.4. Bloom’s taxonomy and summative assessment

For assignments and exams that impact grading, Bloom’s taxonomy can also apply. Typically, mid-term exams might cover material and learning that fits closer to the bottom of the pyramid, in remember, understanding, and applying.

When you get to the final exams, however, this is when it can be useful to assess learning towards the top of the pyramid, including analyzing, evaluating and creating.

Students should be able to apply their knowledge to everyday situations beyond course material, provide informed opinions and defend them, and consider additional questions that need to be addresses, even providing examples. Perhaps ask them to make a booklet outlining five to ten important rules, a mock marketing campaign, a flowchart, or a series of tips based on their learning. By the time you get to summative assessment, the results should indicate a deeper level of learning that fits within the top of the Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid.

7. Problems with Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy is by no means a hard and fast rulebook that needs to be followed to a tee; it’s a theoretical construct that can be interpreted in many ways to fit individual teaching styles, courses, and lesson plans. Some believe that it is only appropriate for the lower levels of learning, and that it fails to address more recent developments in cognitive psychology, including the ability for students to create knowledge in their own minds throughout the learning process. Some also frown on the idea that students must start at the lowest level and work their way up before engaging in a meaningful dialog about facts, which isn’t always necessarily the case.

7.1. Creativity as a goal, not as a tool

Sometimes, creativity isn’t just a goal, it’s a tool that can be effectively used toward further learning. You could ask students to create something in the first lesson, like a mock advertisement in an marketing class, or a proposed solution to global warming. Educators can deconstruct and compare the results with them, and use that creative project to introduce facts, concepts, and basic knowledge of the topics. In that respect, while the components of the framework are always the same, it isn’t always necessarily organized neatly into a pyramid, as with the original Bloom’s taxonomy. The Bloom’s taxonomy structure can morph into everything from a circle, to a web, a flower, or even a mandala (below) in design, showing each level of learning feeding into one another, and occurring at different points in the process. No matter which way you slice (or organize) Bloom’s taxonomy, though, it always uses the six key principles to result in deeper learning.

Bloom's taxonomy in a Mandala or Rose format. CC 3.0 BY-SA K. Aainsqatsi
Bloom’s taxonomy mandala. Creidt: CC 3.0 BY-SA K. Aainsqatsi

7.2. Over-reliance

As with any construct, there’s always room for improvement and further development. With Bloom’s taxonomy, the 21st-century revision proved there was in making important adjustments that helped the framework remain relevant for future decades. Sticking to the template without thinking about the reasons behind it can lead to an over-reliance of the literal interpretation of Bloom’s taxonomy. Just because a student is able to defend a position, for example, doesn’t mean they’re doing so in anything more than a superficial way. And the ability to come up with a detailed plan isn’t evidence that the plan itself is the result of good judgment and analysis. There’s more than meets the eye to learning and education, but using Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide to ensure all six levels are covered, in whichever way works best, can put you on the right path to success.

8. Further reading

Learn more real-life techniques for helping students set expectations for themselves, and ways to set and deliver on specific course learning objectives. Download our free e-book: The Professor’s Guide to Using Bloom’s Taxonomy.