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In brief:

Learning outcomes identify the level or depth of learning you expect from your students, and what they will be able to do with their learning:

  • A learning taxonomy can help you identify the level of learning you are targeting, from foundational knowledge, like memorizing, to higher order thinking, like analyzing.

A Taxonomy of Educational Objectives1, developed by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues, is the most widely used learning taxonomy in education. Originally published in 1956, it was revised in 2001 by David Krathwohl.

The taxonomy classifies learning into six main categories with basic, factual learning at the base or foundation and higher order skills and abilities at the top. The verbs at each level reflect the learners’ cognitive processes when working with knowledge. These skills and abilities build from simple to complex.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain is commonly represented in a pyramid, with associated observable and measurable verbs for each level of knowledge.

Click on the image below to expand it

Bloom's taxonomy consists of a pyramid that contains 6 levels of learning. 1. Remember 2. Understand 3. Apply 4. Analyze 5. Evaluate 6. Create

You can clarify your course learning expectations by selecting the verb that best describes the depth of learning students need to reach.

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to Your Learning outcomes

The table below identifies verbs that articulate measurable ways to observe your learning outcomes.

To visualize the table of measurable verbs, click on the image to download the Excel file

Note: This table is not a comprehensive list of verbs.

It is also important to note that the assessment methods you use in your course should match the level of learning articulated in your learning outcomes as verbs can be representative of learning at more than one level, depending on the context.

Compare:

Describe the responsibilities of students during their internship.

With:

Describe the rationale you applied to your decision-making process when faced with challenges during your internship.

Download Table in PDF

Levels of Learning in Different Learning Domains

John Bigg’s SOLO Taxonomy, Dee Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and David Krathwohl’s Affective Domain Taxonomy are among some of the other learning taxonomies that are widely ascribed to across higher education. Regardless of which Taxonomy you subscribe to, what’s most important is to identify the level of learning you want students to reach and this should be clearly articulated in your learning outcome.

Infographic showing a list of action verbs in different learning levels. Click on image to download doc to visualize content.

The next section will:

  • discuss the difference between course-level and supporting outcomes.

References

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Further Resources   

For more information, see this Guide to Taxonomies of Learning Outcomes.

For learning outcomes that focus on attitudes, motivation, values, etc. Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia’s five categories in the Affective Domain can be used to write learning outcomes.

For discipline areas that target procedural learning, techniques in task performance, precision, etc. Simpson’s seven categories in the Psychomotor Domain could also help guide the learning outcomes.