Taxonomies of learning outcomes/objectives are classification systems that provide an organizational schema and a common language to state educational goals. A number of well-developed and widely-used taxonomies exist that can help you identify the level and type of performance you expect from your students.
Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) was developed in the 1950s and is probably the most widely used and cited taxonomy. It covers three domains of learning, cognitive, affective, and psychomotor and identifies five or six levels of performance for each domain. This taxonomy is hierarchical, meaning that higher level learning is dependent upon learning at lower levels. Level 1 and 2, Knowledge and Comprehension, are the simplest level of performance. Higher order thinking is required at level 3, Application, and each subsequent level – (4) Analysis, (5) Synthesis, and (6) Evaluation – requires more advanced critical thinking. The verbs used in the taxonomy may provide assistance in helping you articulate effective learning outcomes.
Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning (2003) posits a broader dimension to learning that includes outcomes that are not stated in Bloom’s Taxonomy (e.g. metacognition, teamwork, leadership, ethics, communication). Defining “learning” as causing a change, Fink measures “significant learning” as bringing lasting change. His taxonomy classifies six forms of significant learning that are not hierarchical: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn. A summary of Fink’s Taxonomy and a copy of his “Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning” can be found in a short, 5-page version at: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_42.pdf or a longer, 35-p version at: http://deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf.
Marzano’s New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (2007) presents a theory of learning that self-consciously improves upon Bloom. The New Taxonomy considers “knowledge as that which is acted upon by various mental processes.” The taxonomy posits three domains of knowledge: information; mental procedures; and psychomotor procedures. These three organize a six-part system that resembles Bloom’s. The first four levels are the “cognitive system,” which includes basic knowledge seen in (1) retrieval and (2) comprehension and procedural knowledge seen in (3) analysis and (4) knowledge utilization such as problem solving or experimenting. These four encompass much of the six functions in Bloom’s taxonomy. To these Marzano adds (5) the system of metacognition or the ability to monitor and evaluate types of thought and (6) the system of self-system thinking, the interaction of “attitudes, beliefs, and emotions that determines both motivation and attention.” (Marzano, 2007, Chapter Three, “The Three Systems of Thinking”)
Marzano, R.J. & Kendall, J.S. (2007). The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin Press.