Using Taxonomies to Create Learning Outcomes and Assessments

A photograph of wooden stars on top of elevated blocks with a hand placing the final star.

To obtain a meaningful measure from an outcomes-based assessment, the test items on an assessment need to match the wording and intent of the outcome statements being measured. The expected learning outcomes should clearly describe what a student is expected to know and be able to do after instruction, after completing a section of a course, and after completing the course. The objective of the assessment is to determine the degree to which the students have attained the stated outcomes. Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of cognitive, knowledge-based domains, and the Anderson, et al. (2001) revision of Blooms taxonomy are the most used sources for creating outcome statements for instruction and assessment development.

There are many sources on the internet for lists of verbs to measure the Bloom and Anderson cognitive domains as a quick Google search will show. Typically, the Bloom and Anderson domain titles are used for broad learning outcome goal statements, and then statements that break down and clarify the goals, called specific learning outcomes, are developed for creating test items. Carriveau (2016) suggests a three level model, with a goal, sub-goal that breaks down and clarifies the goal, and then specific outcome statements that break down and clarify the sub-goal and become the outcome statements to which test items are written.

Here is an example of the three level model from Carriveau (2016, p. 29) in which assessments results calculated at the specific outcome level can then be used to create values at the sub-goal level, and sub-goal level values can then be mapped up to the Goal level, making it possible to relate outcome attainment at any level to program and institutional goals:

  • Goal 1. Student will understand sociological imagination.
    • Sub-goal 1.1 Describe the features of the sociological imagination.
      • Specific outcome 1.1.1 Define sociology.
      • Specific outcome 1.1.2 Describe the debunking process.
      • Specific outcome 1.1.3 Explain the role of the sociologist.
    • Sub-goal 1.2 Evaluate the societal features that impacted the development of sociological theory.
      • Specific outcome 1.2.1 Explain the influence of historical events on the development of sociology.             
      • Specific outcome 1.2.2 Summarize the roots of American sociology.

There are two dimensions of the Bloom and Anderson cognitive domains that should be considered when constructing outcome statements and test items. These dimensions are “complexity” and “difficulty.” Complexity refers to the kind of thinking, such as critical thinking and reasoning, that is needed in order to attain the outcome statement. Difficulty refers to the amount of effort needed to attain the outcome.  This two-dimensional approach allows for outcome statements and matching test items to vary in complexity and difficulty. For example, an outcome statement or test item which has high “complexity” can have low or high “difficulty,” and a statement or item of low “complexity” can have high or low “difficulty.”

Dimensions of Bloom and Anderson Domains

For maximum effectiveness, treat each of the cognitive domains suggested by Bloom and Anderson as having different degrees of complexity and difficulty. For example, Blooms “Comprehend” domain is considered to be more cognitively complex than the “Know” domain, but outcome statements and test items for the “Comprehend” domain could vary in difficulty from very easy to very difficult. The following table compares the cognitive domains for Bloom (1956) and Anderson et al. (2001) beginning with the lowest cognitive domain at 1 and moving up to the highest cognitive domain and provides definitions for each domain:

Level

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Anderson’s Taxonomy

1

Know: Recall or recognition of learned knowledge

Remember: Retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory

2

Comprehend: Describe and explain learned knowledge

Understand: Determine the meaning of instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic

3

Apply: Use learned knowledge to solve problems in novel (but structurally similar) contexts

Apply: Carry out or use a procedure in a given situation

4

Analyze: Use learned knowledge to decompose situations into components, recognize unstated assumptions, and identify motives

Analyze: Break material into its constituent parts, detecting how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose

5

Synthesize: Combine elements of learned knowledge into new integrated wholes

Evaluate: Make judgments based on criteria and standards

6

Evaluate: Critique or judge the value or worth of learned knowledge

Create: Put elements together to form a novel whole

Krathwohl’s Taxonomy Table for Anderson Domains

To enhance the use of the Anderson cognitive domains for developing outcome statements and test items, it is helpful to associate types of knowledge with each of the dimensions. The information below is adapted from an article in Practical Assessment, Research, & Evaluation (Scully, D. 2017). It shows a grid for the alignment of four primary knowledge dimensions with Anderson’s six cognitive domains. This alignment model is useful when developing student learning outcome-statements and outcome-based assessments. Any one or more of the four knowledge dimensions could be associated with (i.e., interacts with) any one or more of the six cognitive domains to develop outcome statements to be taught and tested. For example, an outcome statement could require the student to “apply” (the cognitive domain) “conceptual knowledge” (the knowledge dimension), or to “remember” (the cognitive domain) a “procedure” (the knowledge dimension). To develop a more highly complex and difficult learning outcome, such as higher order thinking, more than one domain and dimension may be associated.

References

Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete edition). New York, NY: Longman.

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York, NY: McKay.

Carriveau, R. S. (2016). Connecting the dots: Developing student learning outcomes and outcomes based assessments. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Scully, D. (2017). Constructing Multiple-Choice Items to Measure Higher-Order Thinking. Practical Assessment, Research, & Evaluation, 22(4), 1-13.