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Colleague interested in designing modules and programmes that enable a full range of skills development across domains (cognitive, affective, psychomotor, interpersonal and metacognitive) will hopefully find this short video resource useful. Feel free to share with colleagues on PGCerts. It is designed to support a reflective question which is, "what are the tools that your graduates might be expected to master on day one in their first graduate job role?" and secondly, "how would you design intended learning outcomes to progressively enable your students to acquire such skills and to demonstrate them?" (to be assessed)

This ten-minute video (10'30") outlines the advantages of using a psychomotor domain taxonomy in designing learning outcomes for both vocational programmes and all tertiary disciplines. Simon Atkinson advocates the design of 'manual' skills in terms of computer software and tools used by graduates. He outlines two taxonomies from the 1960s and 70s, those by Simpson and Harrow (full references are on the main psychomotor domain page), but both of these are described as being more psychological definitional taxonomies, whereas Ravindra H. Dave's 1967/70 taxonomy lends itself perfectly to the articulation of progressive skills development in tertiary contexts. Simon also illustrates the scope of 'manual' skills applied to all disciplines regardless of whether arts, humanities, social or physical sciences.

While such taxonomies are clearly of interest to those designing vocational and adult learning programmes, it is arguably as important that university students also experience the progressive nature of intended learning outcomes. Writing, and assessing, such outcomes will support graduates' development of tangible 'physical skills', notably in the use of discipline-specific digital applications. Course designers should not abdicate the responsibility of such skills development to an extra-curricular programme of 'digital literacy, but incorporate their skills development in their mainstream courses.

See pages for the Psychomotor domain

I persist in being a fervent advocate for the use of a broader range of domains of learning, other than the cognitive domain (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Bloom, 1956), in course design.

Higher education must surely be more than just about acquiring content and intellectual skills. A broader student experience should be embedded into each course, module and programme design, beyond that of acquiring purely intellectual skills.

The 'graduate skills' so demanded by employers are rarely without reference to so-called 'soft skills' (S. P. Atkinson, 2015). These are interpersonal domain skills, conflict resolution, cross-cultural awareness, collaboration and communications are what most graduates need most (J. C. Atkinson, 2014; Bennett, 1986). Alongside these the skills, often assumed by employers, to make effective use of software pertinent to that profession are rarely taught and assessed despite being critical to be effective on the day one. These skills can be set out and assessed using psychomotor domain outcomes (Dave, 1967). Such non-intellectual attributes are often seen by faculty as beyond their remit, as are also those values, the affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1956) and the development of personal epistemologies using a metacognitive domain (S. P. Atkinson, 2014) which form part of the maturation process within students themselves. These cannot be 'taught' in the strict sense, but their facilitation is entirely within the capabilities of able faculty.

Given that we know students are more likely to take anything assessed seriously, it is essential to write assessable outcomes across a range of skills. So, it is beholden on course designers to include the interpersonal domain (communications, cross-cultural awareness, conflict resolution), affective domain (values), metacognitive domain (personal epistemologies) and the psychomotor domain (manual and dexterity skills). Each has its place in all disciplines. There is clearly a craft in designing ILOs that motivate and steer learning but which are transparent and assessable. There is guidance on how to do that under the 8 Stage Learning Design Framework 8-SLDF and I am always willing to share practice with colleagues in workshops when requested.


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

Atkinson, J. C. (2014). Education, Values and Ethics in International Heritage: Learning to Respect. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Group.

Atkinson, S. P. (2014). Rethinking personal tutoring systems: the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs. London: BPP University College.

Atkinson, S. P. (2015). Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 10(2), 154–177.

Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179–196.

Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition). New York: Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd.

Dave, R. H. (1967). Psychomotor domain. Presented at the International Conference of Educational Testing, Berlin.

Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.



psychomotor domain"Why do I need to worry about manual skills? I teach history/French/maths...". My answer is simple. What tools are used in the pursuit of your discipline? Is there not a degree of increasing proficiency in the deployment of these tools expected of students they progress through their studies?

Psychomotor skills can be defined as those skills and abilities that require a physical component. Rather than using the mind to think (cognitive) or reflect (metacognitive), or our ability to speak and observe to develop social skills (affective, interpersonal), these are things we do physically. These skills require a degree of dexterity, suppleness, or strength. They require motor control.

Such skills have been in development since parents taught their children to hunt, to sew skins together and make fire. There is a rich history in vocational education towards acknowledging progressive skills development, from apprentice to journeyman and to master (Perrin, 2017), dating back before the establishment of craft guilds in the European High Middle Ages (Richardson, 2005). As the craft guilds loosened their grip, as industrialisation centralised the production of goods and ultimately services, some skills have been lost, others divided, segmented, into a series of tasks. Formal education has routinely separated cognitive and manual skills, giving primacy to intellectual skills above all others (Gardner, 2011).

With the growth of formalised vocational education, noticeably in the OECD developed economies in the 1950s to the 1970s, attention turned amongst policymakers as to how to codify and measure progressive skills development. These resulted in the development of a number of educational taxonomies for objectives (or outcomes in later language) notably those of Simpson (1972), Harrow (1972) and Dave (1969). It is understood that Ravindra Dave was party to Bloom's project team's original 1950s work on the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains although all three significant contributions have to some extent referenced Bloom's work.

Simpson (1972) established a progressive taxonomy with 7 stages.

Stage Descriptor
Perception* Sensory cues guide motor activity.
Set* Mental, physical, and emotional dispositions that make one respond in a certain way to a situation.
Guided Response First attempts at a physical skill. Trial and error coupled with practice lead to better performance.
Mechanism The intermediate stage in learning a physical skill. Responses are habitual with a medium level of assurance and proficiency.
Complex Overt Response Complex movements are possible with a minimum of wasted effort and a high level of assurance they will be successful.
Adaptation Movements can be modified for special situations.
Origination New movements can be created for special situations.

Arguably Simpson's first two stages are dispositional and can be separated from the remaining 5 stages. Likewise, Harrow's (1972) 6 stage taxonomy organized around the notion of coordination is less of a  progressive educational taxonomy given that it combines involuntary responses*, arguably interpersonal skills** and learned capabilities:

Stage Descriptor
Reflex movements* Automatic reactions.
Basic fundamental movement Simple movements that can build more complex sets of movements.
Perceptual Environmental cues that allow one to adjust movements.
Physical activities Things requiring endurance, strength, vigour, and agility.
Skilled movements Activities where a level of efficiency is achieved.
Non-discursive communication ** Body language.

My personal belief is that less is more in the context of psychomotor taxonomies and favour the following 5 stage version developed by Ravindra H. Dave (1970) in the context of vocational education.

Stage Descriptor
Imitation Observing and copying someone else.
Manipulation Guided via instruction to perform a skill.
Precision Accuracy, proportion and exactness exist in the skill performance without the presence of the original source.
Articulation Two or more skills combined, sequenced, and performed consistently.
Naturalization Two or more skills combined, sequenced, and performed consistently and with ease. The performance is automatic with little physical or mental exertion.

I have adapted Dave's psychomotor taxonomy in order to make it suitable for the articulation of intended learning outcomes for higher education programmes, regardless of disciplines.

Dave Stage Atkinson's Stage Revised Descriptor
Imitation (to) Imitate ability to copy, replicate the actions of others following observations.
Manipulation (to) Manipulate ability to repeat or reproduce actions to prescribed standard from memory or instructions.
Precision (to) Perfect ability to perform actions with expertise and without interventions and the ability to demonstrate and explain actions to others.
Articulation (to) Articulate ability to adapt existing psychomotor skills in a non-standard way, in different contexts, using alternative tools and instruments to satisfy a need.
Naturalization (to) Embody ability to perform actions in an automatic, intuitive or unconscious way appropriate to the context.

I have then chosen to represent this revised version of the psychomotor domain as a circular form (as I have done with other domains). This develops the active verbs appropriate to each proto-verb for each stage which can be used to design course designers in authoring intended learning outcomes and learning activities and their objectives. The outer circle also suggest possible, but not exclusive approaches to allowing students to demonstrate such skills development in the context of higher education.

psychomotor domain

But what again of the academic who says, "I teach history (or maths, or French, or nearly any higher education discipline), what do these skills have to do with me and my students?"

My answer is simple. What tools are used in the pursuit of your discipline? Is there not a degree of increasing proficiency in the deployment of these tools expected of students they progress through their studies?

Examples of tools used in higher education across a range of disciplines are not hard to come up with. Once you start thinking about it I am sure you can add many more:

Discipline Tools (physical, paper-based or online)
Languages Dictionaries, Thesaurus, Lexicons
Maths Calculator, MathML, Geometry software
History & Philosophy Mapping software, archival retrieval, databases
Geography GIS (Geographic Information Systems), Mapping software, Spatial databases
Psychology and biology Response systems, lab equipment
Physics and Chemistry Modelling and visualisation software, lab equipment
Accounting and Business SPSS, Accounting software, Spreadsheets
Music Instruments, recording equipment
Dance & Performance Lighting rigs, sound equipment

More advanced students expected to record and analyse quantitative or qualitative data are likely to also be faced with using SPSS or its equivalent of NVivo or its competitors. And of course, all students should be expected to make use of the library search engines and associated bibliographic software. Most will also use word processing software (Word) and presentational software (PowerPoint).

Do we assume that the skills to use these skills are simply absorbed through some form of osmosis, through casual exposure? Can we realistically expect undergraduates to have 'done this at school'  or for postgraduates to 'come already equipped from their undergraduate degree'?

Obviously not. So what do we do about it as course designers and teaching faculty? Firstly we need to design our courses through a systemic approach. But we can also make use of the psychomotor taxonomies above to structure assessable intended learning outcomes. We know that students are focussed on where the assessment points to. They engage in anything that is directly assessed and ignore anything that appears peripheral. So by designing into a module's ILOs the psychomotor skills associated with the tools of the discipline we are able to:

  • motivate students
  • encourage their real-world assessment skills
  • deliver employment skills

Unless there is an absolute, universally agreed, brand name associated with a tool it is always best to refer to it more generically. For example, it is better to refer to 'GIS systems' rather 'ArcGIS', or 'professional audio mixing equipment' rather than 'Studiomaster ClubXS'.

The same guidelines on creating well-structured progressive ILOs for intellectual skills (cognitive domain) still apply. As with all ILO it is important to be a precise and concise as possible while all the while trying to preserve a degree of flexibility. 

Structure of all ILOs follows the same pattern: Active Verb -> Subject -> Context.

Below are some examples. Each one makes use of my taxonomy circle above demonstrating a progression in complexity should a student be required to develop increased proficiency towards mastery through an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

This first example is from a humanities discipline in which archival databases and library-based sources more often than not require some manipulation. Consider the difference between what is being asked of a first-year undergraduate and that of a postgraduate masters student. Remember this is just one of a number of ILOs for this particular module.

Discipline: History On successful completion of this module you will be able to:
Level 4: First Year UG replicate searches of valuable sources of historical research data for the purpose of  verification
Level 5: Second Year UG employ a range of different search engines and archival systems to produce a meaningful dataset
Level 6: Third Year UG organise a systematic search of historical records in order to answer a pre-determined research question
Level 7: Masters manage searches across a range of remote web-based services to provide a robust dataset

You will also notice that I have not made the mistake of identifying a specific archive or database. So your resources can change without you having to rewrite your ILOs.

In this next example, from a physical science discipline, instruments are named but only using their generic name rather than a specific model or brand for the same reason. The progressive theme here is measurement.

Discipline: Physics On successful completion of this module you will be able to:
Level 4: First Year UG adhere to prescribed methods for using Vernier callipers to make accurate measurements
Level 5: Second Year UG manipulate a range of micrometres to perform precise measurements
Level 6: Third Year UG calibrate an oscilloscope to accurately measure time-variance in voltages
Level 7: Masters integrate a range of different lab equipment in order to support the accurate recording of experimental data

Finally, here is an example from languages. I remember at one institution a student complained that they did not know how to add accents and macrons to their typed script. They were resorting to printing out a text and then providing the finishing touches with a pen! Surely we should support students to develop skills in something as superficially basic as word-processing too.

Discipline: French On successful completion of this module you will be able to:
Level 4: First Year UG replicate simple tasks to make use of an AZERTY keyboard to produce French language texts
Level 5: Second Year UG employ the customisation features within your word processing software to facilitate authoring in French
Level 6: Third Year UG organise your information technology environment to optimise the production of edited texts in French
Level 7: Masters integrate multilingual referenced sources in your bibliographic software and cite them appropriately through a variety of publishing platforms

Hopefully, these illustrations will provide you with some insights into how you might progressively support students in their 'tool' use.
For most university programmes, with the exception of arts and performance related subjects, psychomotor domain skills are likely to be seen as less significant than the cognitive (intellectual skills), affective (values), metacognitive (epistemological development) and interpersonal (communication) domain skills. But I would argue there is not a single programme, if not every single module, warrants the inclusion of a psychomotor outcomes students needs to have assessed to invest value in its acquisition.


Dave, R. H. (1967). Psychomotor domain. Presented at the International Conference of Educational Testing, Berlin.
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Perrin, D. C. (2017, January 13). The Apprenticeship Model: A Journey toward Mastery. Retrieved September 1, 2018, from
Richardson, G. (2005). Craft Guilds and Christianity in Late-Medieval England: A Rational-Choice Analysis. Rationality and Society, 17(2), 139–189.

[See Pages for Educational Taxonomies]

I believe a sound learning design process should ensure students experience all five domains of educational objectives. Course designs that do not reflect the broad range of skills and attributes that university graduates should acquire through their studies do our students a disservice.

To support both course designers (module or programme), and those responsible for designing individual learning activities or assessments, I have created a poster that shows circular representations of all five domains. These provide a structure of progressive complexity for each educational domain taxonomy;

Low Quality Reproduction of A1 Sized High Quality Original
Low-Quality Reproduction of A1 Sized High-Quality Original

The sixth circle is an attempt to map each of these taxonomies against each other, and the SOLO taxonomy created by Professor John Biggs and reflects his work on Constructive Alignment (top right). There is also an illustration of my 8-stage learning design process (top middle) and a visualisation of the structure, common to all domains (top left).

Designers may choose to combine an activity that reflects across more than one domain and so reflects more than one intended learning outcome. Using these visual prompts should assist in this.

In January 2018 I shared on the project pages of this site a newly revised version of my 'educational taxonomies' poster.  Now available as an A1, 150gsm, full-colour version posted in a reinforced tube anywhere in the world. See this page for costs and details.



[See pages for Educational Taxonomies]

The vast majority of employers ask that new employees, notably graduates, be effective communicators; that they should be able to work well within a team; that they take responsibility and that they are accountable for their actions. Increasingly in a global context, new employees are also expected to be culturally 'aware' or 'sensitive'. A great many universities go to significant effort to promote their 'graduate attributes' that usually include things like 'global citizenship' and ‘being an effective member of society'.

2018 Circular Representation of the Interpersonal Domain
2018 Circular Representation of the Interpersonal Domain

These abilities or attributes, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication, all fall within the educational taxonomy of educational objectives, described as the interpersonal domain, with some overlap to an affective domain as it denotes personal value structures. The affective certainly underpins the interpersonal. Yet it is remarkable to find an institution, certainly here in the UK, in which interpersonal domain is adequately represented in their intended learning outcomes (ILO) with any notion of progression throughout a programme.

There will be elusions to 'being able to work together in a team' or 'communicate effectively' but these are rarely articulated in the form of an assessable ILO. Surely, given its importance as a personal attribute interpersonal skills should be the central feature of at least some modules within any given programme of studies. We know students pay more attention to those skills that are directly assessed so rather than having catch-all communication-lite style ILOs we should direct address and assess such attributes. My scholarship has derived an interpersonal domain taxonomy that maps the four facets of the interpersonal, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and cross-culture communication. Mapped within a single domain across five progressively complex levels of competence (articulate, argue, debate, translate, interpret) all four facets are represented.

As with all of my circular visual representations the boundaries between levels is fluid and can be breached by designers based on their personal needs. There may be reasons for articulating a 'lower-level' ILO for conflict resolution within an 'articulate' range whilst at the same time having an ILO addressing cross-cultural awareness from the highest 'interpret' level in the same module. This visual representation is intended simply to prompt discussions within learning design teams as to the appropriate language for structural ILOs and associated assessment. I also hope that it advocates for a greater balance across the domains.

A conference with the same title, held between 10-13 September 2017, at the Université du Luxembourg’s Belval Campus, Esch-sur-Alzette, was provocative, insightful and challenging. Of our contribution later, but it’s worth pointing out that of all the discipline groups it is perhaps the Humanities that increasingly struggles to justify their place in the academic pantheon. The Arts, despite unfunded, at least sees tangible products in its performance. Science delivers the ‘advances’ that our societies demand and the Social Sciences observe, comment on and pontificate over such advances. It is the Humanities that feel so out of place, with the contemporary, with the narcissistic individualism focused on ‘me right now’ and the imminent promises of tomorrow.

There is a clear need emerging from this conference to remind our societies that they depend on the cultural skills and knowledge highlighted through the humanities disciplines. They are invaluable in revealing the present and future, reflected in the past. The Humanities sense of their responsibility towards societies is sadly not requited.

The conference provided multiple tracks all serving to highlight the means by which the humanities engage with, and inform, future societal cultural endeavours. The emphasis, at times with a tinge of defensiveness, was clearly on an acknowledgement of the need to reach beyond established academic practice. Hence there were contributions from neuroscience and linguistics, from political science and social policy as well as some analysis of the curriculum disparities in the humanities disciplines.

Our contribution, that of my wife Dr Jeanette Atkinson and myself, was a presentation entitled “An Alternative Education for the Heritage Decision Makers of the Future”. The presentation documented the course development process I’ve been evolving over a decade, and first taught as a PGCert module at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences in 2011.  It integrates other personal scholarship, notably around educational taxonomies and constructive alignment (S. P. Atkinson, 2013), but the process is in essence a structured professional dialogue between educational developer and academic course teams.

In this case the dialogue originated from a need, identified by Jeanette, based on her experience in researching and writing about the perspectives of heritage professionals in New Zealand (J. C. Atkinson, 2014). This work prompted a desire to inform practice in postgraduate education for future heritage professionals, focussed less on the preservation of the past, but rather on future societal impact through a popular engagement with heritage. Giving primacy of cultural values in any such education, combined with my research on higher education learning design processes, we went through the design process and originated a Masters programme. Given that the programme is currently being considered by a UK-HEI it is inappropriate to share too many details here, beyond the fact that following a sound educational learning design model, resulting in a constructively aligned curriculum, future graduates will develop not just subject knowledge but a range of contemporary and relevant intercultural skills.

The abilities, identified as being key affective and interpersonal domain learning objectives, are believed to be crucial skills for future graduates in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape to advise and guide international policy processes well beyond the heritage sector. Flipping the process from ‘what’ to teach but to ‘why’ to teach, results in an original programme structure rich with significance. Arming students with these skills is surely one of the ‘Ends’ of the Humanities.

Atkinson, J. C. (2014). Education, Values and Ethics in International Heritage: Learning to Respect. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Group.

Atkinson, S. P. (2013). Taxonomy Circles: Visualizing the possibilities of intended learning outcomes. London: BPP University College.



[See Pages for Educational Taxonomies]

Recently I have been advising colleagues on how they should write Intended Learning Outcomes across all five educational domains (cognitive, knowledge, affective, psychomotor and interpersonal) and conform to the QAA guidance (UK). This guidance (widely adopted across UK higher education a sector) breaks ILOs into:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Intellectual Skills
  • Practical and Professional Skills
  • Transferable Skills.

I don't agree with this guidance and would prefer learning designers to identify a balance of outcomes, appropriate to the nature of the discipline, the focus of the module and the modules shape or purpose within a programme. I suggest it makes more sense to do this by using five distinct domains, rather than the existing four vaguely defined catagories. Pragmatically though it is possible to map five distinct domains onto the four existing catagories. This is illustrated below.

Table 1.         Mapping educational domains to QAA categories

 Domain QAA Category Description
Knowledge Knowledge and Understanding Knowledge often describes the scope of the subject intended to represent the ‘nature’ of the discipline with reference to the personal-epistemological and metacognitive development of students
Cognitive Intellectual Skills Cognitive often referred to as intellectual skills refers to ‘knowledge structures’ in cognition, the progressively complex use of knowledge artefacts
Affective Practical and Professional Skills Affective sometimes referred to professional ‘skills’ or attributes perception of value issues, and ranges from simple awareness (Receiving), through to the internalization of personal value systems
Psychomotor Transferable Skills Psychomotor referred to as practical skills refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills. This could be the ability to use a complex piece of software, instrument or paper documentation
Interpersonal  Transferable Skills  Interpersonal referred to as communication skills refers to progressively complex levels in interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, collaboration and cross-cultural communication

As stated elsewhere I think higher education fails to accurately describe the skills, attributes and knowledge that students are intended to acquire through their studies. Creating meaningful ILOs is the beginning of well designed constructively aligned curricula.

Some recent work with programme designers in other UK institutions suggests to me that quality assurance and enhancement measures continue to be appended to the policies and practices carried out in UK HEIs rather than seeing a revitalising redesign of the entire design and approval process.

This is a shame because it has produced a great deal of work for faculty in designing and administering programmes and modules, not least when it comes to assessment. Whatever you feel about intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and their constraints or structural purpose, there is nearly universal agreement that the purpose of assessment is not to assess students 'knowledge of the content' on a module. Rather the intention of assessment is to demonstrate higher learning skills, most commonly codified in the intended learning outcomes. I have written elsewhere about the paucity of writing effective ILOs and focusing them almost entirely the cognitive domain (intellectual skills), with the omission of other skill domains notably the effective (professional skills) and the psychomotor (transferable skills). Here I want to identify the need for close proximity between ILOs and assessment criteria.

It seems to me that well-designed intended learning outcomes lead to cogent assessment design. They also suggest that the use of a transparent marking rubric, used by both markers and students, creates a simpler process.

To illustrate this I wanted to share two alternative approaches to aligning assessment to the outcomes of a specific module. In order to preserve the confidentiality of the module in question some elements have been omitted but hopefully the point will still be clearly made.

Complex Attempt to Assessment Alignment

Complex Assessment AlignmentI have experienced this process in several Universities.

  1. Intended Learning Outcomes are written (normally at the end of the 'design' process)
  2. ILOs are mapped to different categorizations of domains, Knowledge & Understanding, Intellectual Skills, Professional Skills and Attitudes, Transferable Skills.
  3. ILOs are mapped against assessments, sometimes even mapped to subject topics or weeks.
  4. Students get first sight of the assessment.
  5. Assessment Criteria are written for students using different categories of judgement: Organisation, Implementation, Analysis, Application, Structure, Referencing, etc.
  6. Assessment Marking Schemes are then written for assessors. Often with guidance as to what might be expected at specific threshold stages in the marking scheme.
  7. General Grading Criteria are then developed to map the schemes outcomes back to the ILOs.


Streamlined version of aligned assessment

streamlined marking rubric

I realise that this proposed structure is not suitable for all contexts, all educational levels and all disciplines. Nonetheless I would advocate that this is the optimal approach.

  1. ILO are written using a clear delineation of domains; Knowledge, Cognitive (Intellectual), Affective (Values), Psychomotor (Skills) and Interpersonal. These use appropriate verb structures tied directly to appropriate levels. This process is explained in this earlier post.
  2. A comprehensive marking rubric is then shared with both students and assessors. It identifies all of the ILOs that are being assessed. In principle we should only be assessing the ILOs in UK Higher Education NOT content. The rubric will differentiate the type of responses expected to achieve varies grading level.
    • There is an option to automatically sum grades given against specific outcomes or to take a more holistic view.
    • It is possible to weight specific ILOs as being worth more marks than others.
    • This approach works for portfolio assessment but also for a model of assessment where there are perhaps two or three separate pieces of assessment assuming each piece is linked to two or three ILOs.
    • Feedback is given against each ILO on the same rubric (I use Excel workbooks)

I would suggest that it makes sense to use this streamlined process even if it means rewriting your existing ILOs. I'd be happy to engage in debate with anyone about how best to use the streamlined process in their context.


[See Pages for Educational Taxonomies]

We hear much about the changing world of work and how slow higher and professional education is to respond. So in an increasingly competitive global market of Higher Apprenticeships and work-based learning provision I began to take a particular interest in students' 'graduateness’. What had begun as an exploratory look for examples of intended learning outcomes (ILO) with 'employability' in mind ended up as this critical review published in an article entitled 'Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes' in the journal called  Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

I randomly identified 20 UK institutions, 80 undergraduate modules and examined their ILOs. This resulted in 435 individual ILOs being taken by students in current modules (academic year 2014-2015) across different stages of their undergraduate journey (ordinarily in the UK this takes place over three years through Levels 4,5 and 6). This research reveals the lack of specificity of ILOs in terms of skills, literacies and graduates attributes that employers consistently say they want from graduates

The data in the table below from the full paper which describes the post-analysis attribution of ILOs to domains of educational objectives (see paper for methodology) which I found rather surprising. The first surprise was the significant percentage of ILOs which are poorly structured, given the weight of existing practice guidance and encouragement for learning designers and validators (notably from the UK Higher Education Academy and the UK Quality Assurance Agency). Some 94 individual ILOs (21.6%) had no discernible active verbs in their construction.  64 ILOs (14.7%) did not contain any meaningful verbs so could not be mapped to any educational domain. This included the infamous 'to understand' and 'to be aware of'. So as a result only 276 ILOs (64%) were deemed 'well-structured' and were then mapped against four domains of educational objectives.

Table 8.          Post-analysis attribution of ILOs to Domains of Educational Objectives

  Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Total
Knowledge(Subject Knowledge) 14 5 11 30
Cognitive (Intellectual Skills) 46 91 61 198
Affective(Professional Skills) 1 4 1 6
Psychomotor(Practical/Transferable Skills) 12 18 13 43
No Verbs 35 32 27 94
Not classifiable 23 30 11 64
Totals 131 180 125 435

Remember what I had been originally looking for were examples of ILOs that represented skills that the literature on employability and capabilities suggested should be there. These could have been anticipated to be those in the affective or psychomotor domains.

So it was rather surprising to see that of the 64% of the full sample that was codeable,  sizeable percentage were cognitive (45.4%), a relatively small percentage fell into the psychomotor domain (9.8%), even less into the knowledge domain (6.8%) and a remarkably small number could be deemed affective (1.4%).

I say remarkable because the affective domain, sometimes detailed as personal and professional skills, are very much the skills that employers (and most graduates) prize above all else. These refer to the development of values and the perception of values, including professionalism, inter-personal awareness, timeliness, ethics, inter-cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusivity issues.

Apparently despite all the sterling work going on in our libraries and career services, employment-ready priorities within programmes and modules in higher education, are not integrated with teaching and learning practices. I suggest that as a consequence, this makes it difficult for students to extract, from their learning experience within modules, the tangible skill development required of them as future employees.

There is an evident reliance by module designers on the cognitive domain most commonly associated at a lower level with ‘knowing and understanding’ and at a higher level as ‘thinking and intellectual skills’. The old favourite 'to critically evaluate' and 'to critically analyse' are perennial favourites.

There is much more to the picture than this single study attempts to represent but I think it is remarkable not more attention is being paid to the affective and psychomotor domains in module creation.

More analysis, and further data collection will be done, to explore the issue at programme level and stage outcomes (is it plausible that module ILOs are simply not mapped and unrelated and all is well at programme level). I would also be interested to explore the mapping of module and programme ILOs to specified graduate attributes that many institutions make public.

I go on in the full paper about the relative balance of different ILOs in each of the domains depending on the nature of the learning, whether it is a clinical laboratory module or a fieldwork module or a literature-based module.

The reason I think this is important, and I have written here before, that this important (it is about semantics!), is that students are increasingly demanding control over their choices, their options, the shape of their portfolios, their 'graduateness', and they need to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and make meaningful modules choices to modify the balance of the skills acquired in a ’practical’ module compared with those in a ‘cerebral’ one. I conclude that the ability to consciously build a ‘skills profile’ is a useful graduate attribute in itself.... which incidentally would be an affective ILO.

You can download the full paper here LINK.

Also available on ResearchGate and

Full citation:
Atkinson, S. 2015 Jul 9. Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education [Online] 10:2. Available:


[See Pages for Educational Taxonomies]


Affective Domain March 2015
Affective Domain March 2015

Whilst the majority of writings and reflection concerning the use of taxonomies of educational objectives remain focused around the cognitive domain, typified by Bloom (1984), there is a growing attention being paid to the affective domain, particularly in professional education. Bloom’s now famous research project which resulted in Book 2 of the ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the affective domain’ led by Krathwohl, which has been much neglected, applied scantily (and often erroneously) to practice (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999).

Often described in terms of feelings or emotions I think it more useful to regard the affective as being a question of degree of acceptance or rejection of values, of the evolution of value structures. It is certainly true that having one's values challenged can result in emotional disturbance (Mezirow, 2000) but I think there is a danger to using language that describes the domain in terms of emotions, not least because it scares off academics!

In my interpretation of the affective domain, illustrated above as a circular representation, I have retained Krathwohl’s five divisions but choose to use active verbs rather than the passive. So receiving becomes to receive, responding becomes to respond, valuing becomes to value, organization becomes to organize, and the final division originally entitled characterization becomes to internalize.

Original Atkinson Descriptor Sample Verbs
Receiving To Receive Ability to learn from others Sense, experience, concentrate, attend, perceive
Responding To Respond Ability to participate responsibly , respectively as appropriate to the context Perform, contribute, satisfy, cite
Valuing To Value Ability to associate personal and collective values with contextual experiences and express value judgements Justify, seek, respect, persuade
Organization To Organize Ability to structure, prioritize and reconcile personal and others’ value systems Clarify, reconcile, integrate
Characterization To Internalize Ability to articulate one’s own values and belief systems and operate consistently within them Conclude, internalize, resolve, embody

The reason I think it helpful to think about values rather than emotions is that clearly most of higher and professional education, is concerned by changing not just how much or what students know, or even how they know and apply that knowledge, but with how they ‘feel’ about knowing. At its simplest we seek to instil a love of learning and a passion for the subject. In professional education we also seek to instil our professional values into the learning process. Whilst it is clearly very difficult to evaluate the emotional impact that learning has on students there are ways of providing formative assessment to support affective developments.

For those in the Academy who are seeking to merely perpetuate their academic DNA in their students, the latters' changes in values may not mean a great deal to them. For those of us who teach in order to make the next generation better than we are, better able to adapt to the ever-changing world that they face outside of the Academy, then having an interest in our students affective development is extremely important.

I have argued elsewhere that the relative weighting given in learning design to the domains depends largely on the subject and the context of learning. Clearly there will be foundational modules in a degree programme in which knowledge domain learning will be dominant. I would expect much that is done in an undergraduate degree to be concerned with the cognitive domain, clearly an ability to analyse, evaluate, synopsise and synthesise represent the higher-order skills we expect from graduates on graduation. I have also argued elsewhere that psychomotor skills are also worthy of being part of higher education. But it occurs to me that much of the learning opportunity offered in our current universities neglect and equally important set of skills.

Almost all employers agree that they want to attract applicants who share their values. These oft cited idealized values are in fact widely held; the ability to work well with others, to be an effective communicator, to be an effective listener, to work independently, to take the initiative. It seems unrealistic to expect students to necessarily acquire such skills without being guided through the learning process and taught to identify their own development. And it is fair to say that certainly in the United Kingdom sector a huge amount has been added to the curriculum, with employability strategies and planning personal development (PDP) initiatives, that students do not wont for opportunities.

But I maintain that we should ingrain in our students the values we expect them to demonstrate through the disciplines themselves, not bolt them on and relieve the academics from their repsonsability. To my mind it makes sense to write intended learning outcomes to encapsulate a range of affective outcomes and align learning and teaching activities to rehearse those skills with our students.

Why not include alongside an intellectual skills outcome (cognitive) that states “by the end of this module you will be able to critique at least three different perspectives on (whatever the subject is)” another outcome, this time an affective one that says “by the end of this module you will be able to reconcile two contrasting, and contentious, perspectives on (whatever the subject is)”. There is nothing touchy-feely about the second outcome but it focuses on the students value structures, supporting their ability to structure and reconcile personal value systems in contrast to those held by others. Critiquing sounds very higher education, but to be able 'to reconcile' is a much needed skill in the workplace.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd edition). Longman Pub Group.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation : critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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