My Concern about Digital Bloom’s Taxonomies?

I’ve noticed a growing number of visuals of what some are calling a “Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy.” The idea behind these visuals is to include the typical triangle used for Bloom’s Taxonomy, with “remembering” on the bottom and “creating” on the top. Here is the original post of one of the earlier versions that I’ve seen on the web (from 2009).

Note that Bloom’s Taxonomy is called such not because Benjamin Bloom created it on his own, but because it was developed by a committee that he chaired and published in 1956 in a worked that he edited called, Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals (a worthwhile read, by the way). The title of this text also indicates the intention behind the taxonomy, to create a system for classifying different educational goals, starting with basic goals and leading up to more complex educational goals.  To the best of my knowledge, a key intent behind this project was to create a communication tool for test design that measured varying levels of student performance.

With this background in mind, I return to the idea of a Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy. A taxonomy is intended to categorize and help us make sense of information and knowledge. A taxonomy is a classification system, and the value of a taxonomy is measured in part by the accuracy and usefulness of the classifications.  What do these digital taxonomies clarify for us? Do they accurately represent the use of technologies at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy?

When we see these various “digital” versions of Bloom’s Taxonomy on the web, they are usually in a visual format, aligning certain educational apps or online resources with different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  For example, this version places tools like Del.icio.us (a social bookmarking tool) and Flickr (an image-sharing site) as being at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (remembering).  Other tools, like Wikispaces and Prezi are listed at the top of the triangle (creating).

What does that really mean?  Does it mean that a person using Del.icio.us is only performing at the remembering level of Bloom’s Taxonomy?  Does it mean that a person carefully crafting a photograph, sharing it, and providing a short written explanation of the photo on Flickr is not engaging in analysis, evaluation, or creation? Consider a class where students are working on a student-centered project and they are conducting research for this project.  The student might collect relevant sources and include a meaningful analysis/annotation along with the link on Del.icio.us. That is analysis, not remembering.  Or, what about the student using Wikispaces to by Googling a term for the project and flippantly cutting and pasting topical links to a Wikispaces page?  Is that the type of high-level creative thinking that we mean when we are talking about Bloom’s Taxonomy?

My concern is that these digital taxonomies oversimply our thinking about the design of learning experiences that promote higher-level thinking. It is not the tool or app that you use, but how you use it.  Yes, some tools have affordances that might lead toward (but not force) certain levels of thinking, but almost all the tools in these digital taxonomies lend themselves toward any number of uses and many levels of thinking.

Consider another visual attempt to align apps to Bloom’s Taxonomy here. Twitter is placed at the “understanding” level, when we could easily design learning experiences in Twitter that involve remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, or creating. I’ve even seen an entire Passion Play designed and facilitated on Twitter.

As I look at it, teaching and learning at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy is not easily broken down into the use of one app over another.  This is a matter of learning experience design and the ways in which learners are using a given tool or app as a lever for learning.  I’ll admit that I find these digital Bloom’s Taxonomies fun and interesting, but I don’t find them to be especially useful as a teaching and learning tool. In fact, I am concerned that they misrepresent the role of individual technologies in teaching, learning, and thinking.

What useful information do these digital taxonomies actually offer us? Perhaps you see them from a different and more helpful perspective.  Either way, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Posted in blog, education, educational technology

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.