Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 9: Instructional Planning/Taxonomies of Educational Objectives

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Taxonomies of Educational Objectives

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When educators have proposed taxonomies of educational objectives, they have tended to focus on one of three areas or domains of psychological functioning: either students’ cognition (thought), students’ feelings and emotions (affect), or students’ physical skills (psychomotor abilities). Of these three areas, they have tended to focus the most attention on cognition. The taxonomy originated by Benjamin Bloom, for example, deals entirely with cognitive outcomes of instruction.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

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In its original form, Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives referred to forms of cognition or thinking, which were divided into the six levels (Bloom, 1956)[1]. Table 9-5 summarizes the levels, and offers two kinds of examples—simple ones based on the children’s story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and complex ones more typical of goals and objectives used in classrooms. The levels form a loose hierarchy from simple to complex thinking, at least when applied to some subjects and topics. When planning for these subjects it can therefore be helpful not only for insuring diversity among learning objectives, but also for sequencing materials. In learning about geography, for example, it may sometimes make sense to begin with information about specific places or societies (knowledge and comprehension), and work gradually toward comparisons and assessments among the places or societies (analysis and synthesis).

Such a sequence does not work well, however, for all possible topics or subjects. To learn certain topics in mathematics, for example, students may sometimes need to start with general ideas (like “What does it mean to multiply?”) than with specific facts (like “How much is 4 x 6?”) (Egan,2005)[2]. At other times, though, the reverse sequence may be preferable. Whatever the case, a taxonomy of cognitive objectives, like Bloom’s, can help to remind teachers to set a variety of objectives and to avoid relying excessively on just one level, such as simple recall of factual knowledge (Notar, et al., 2004)[3].

Bloom’s Taxonomy Revised

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A few years ago two of Benjamin Bloom’s original colleagues, Linda Anderson and David Krathwohl, revised his taxonomy so as to clarify its terms and to make it more complete (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Marzano, 2006)[4][5]. The resulting categories are summarized and compared to the original categories in Table 9-6. As the chart shows, several categories of objectives have been renamed, and a second dimension added that describes the kind of thinking or cognitive processing that may occur. The result is a much richer taxonomy than before, since every level of objectives can now take four different forms. Remembering, for example, can refer to four different kinds of memory: memory for facts, for concepts, for procedures, or for metacognitive knowledge. Table 9-6 gives examples of each of these kinds of memory.

Taxonomies of Affective Objectives and Psychomotor Objectives

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Although taxonomies related to affect, or the feelings and emotions of students, are used less commonly than cognitive taxonomies for planning instruction, various educators have constructed them. One of the most widely known was also published by colleagues of Benjamin Bloom and classifies affect according to how committed a student feels toward what he is learning (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964/1999)[6]. Table 9-7 summarizes the categories and gives brief examples. The lowest level, called receiving, simply involves willingness to experience new knowledge or activities. Higher levels involve embracing or adopting experiences in ways that are increasingly organized and that represent increasingly stable forms of commitment.

Taxonomies related to abilities and skills that are physical, or psychomotor, have also been used less widely than affective taxonomies, with the notable exception of one area of teaching where they are obviously relevant: physical education. As you might expect, taxonomic categories of motor skill extend from simple, brief actions to complex, extended action sequences that combine simpler, previously learned skills smoothly and automatically (Harrow, 1972)[7]. One such classification scheme is shown in Table 9-7. An example of a very basic psychomotor skill might be imitating the action of throwing a ball when modeled by someone else; an example of the latter might be performing a ten-minute gymnastics routine which the student has devised for himself or herself. Note, though, that many examples of psychomotor skills also exist outside the realm of physical education. In a science course, for example, a student might need to learn to operate laboratory equipment that requires using delicate, fine movements. In art classes, students might learn to draw, and in music they might learn to play an instrument (both are partly motor skills). Most first-graders are challenged by the motor skills of learning to write. For students with certain physical disabilities, furthermore, motor skill development is an important priority for the student’s entire education.

(back to Chapter 9...)


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  1. Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: David McKay Publishers.
  2. Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Notar, C., Wilson, J., Yunker, B., & Zuelke, D. (2004). The table of specifications: Insuring accountability in teacher-made tests. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(3).
  4. Marzano, R. (2006). Designing a new taxonomy of educational objectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Books.
  5. Anderson, L. & Krathwohl, D. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing. New York: Longman.
  6. Krathwohl, D., Bloom, B., & Masia, B. (1964/1999). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Affective Domain. New York: David McKay.
  7. Harrow, A. (1972). A taxonomy of the psychomotor domain. New York: David McKay.