Educational Taxonomies

Cognitive Affective Psychomotor Metacognitive Interpersonal
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My interest in the visual representations of taxonomies began sometime in 1998 when I began developing materials to teach HTML at Victoria University of in Wellington, New Zealand. I fell in love with the structural representations of nested elements and variables in HTML code and started trying to find ways of doing much the same with Bloom’s taxonomy. I didn’t have much success, but in 2001 when Anderson and Krathwohl published their reworked version of the cognitive domain my interest was peaked again. This time because by now I was working at the Open University (UK) trying to develop academics to think outside the cognitive domain and to adopt broader education horizons.

consolidated taxonomies

At some point along the way, I had encountered the work of John Bigg’s and his SOLO taxonomy, structured in a progressive way, with increasing complexity. I had also come across a circular description of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy and I began an experiment with that same form for a range of other educational taxonomies. At the same time trying to convey Bigg’s notion of constructive alignment. One of the criticisms of any educational taxonomy is the implication that skills are developed either independently of prior skills or quite the contrary, that each level is required in order to reach higher levels. For this reason, I never felt comfortable with the pyramid representation of Bloom’s. I perceive the circular representation as being more fluid and flexible.

I am convinced that ALL courses, modules and programmes have room for all of the five domains identified. Indeed, I believe learning designers have a duty to consider whether their course is complete without them. Clearly, the balance between different disciplines and those studying at different levels will make a difference as to the outcomes incorporated into any course design. Dance and chiropractic students might realistically expect to encounter more psychomotor learning that a statistic student, although the later can count their mastery of SPSS as a psychomotor skill. All students might be expected to develop their affective skills, although the caring professions, education and health are likely to give this primacy. All students are likely to need to develop their interpersonal skills too although how explicitly this need sot e one is a moot point (pun intended). Lawyers are required to demonstrate their advocacy skills, but I would suggest that a chemist would also benefit from ensuring they can communicate their discipline too.

Structure of Circular Representations

protoverb structure

Common to all five taxonomies is the representation of the domain as a circle, which I believe serves to make the subcategories more fluid. This avoids the notions of levels and instead replaces them with segments or categorises of skills. Taxonomies are not strictly hierarchical although they do serve to underpin or support subsequent categories. Each contains the proto-verbs at the centre, next circle contains active verbs which also represent teaching and learning activity and the outer circle contains the nature of evidence (or assessment forms) that might demonstrate the active verbs. Using the circle one also has an inherently clock-face like visual which makes the dialling-up from the basic to more sophisticated concepts as you travel around clockwise. Maybe its most powerful function is to encourage lateral thinking on the part of learning designers, encouraging them to explore learning and teaching activities as assessment or evidence examples at the same time.

This resource will develop over time. It will benefit from your comments and observations. I am particularly interested in hearing of different language interpretations other than English.

Blog posts

Here are the key blogs on this site documenting the development of this ‘Taxonomy Circles’ work.


This paper outlines the conceptual design of the taxonomy circles and the way they might be used to design learning outcomes and learning and teaching activities. Taxonomy Circles: Visualizing the possibilities of intended learning outcomes

One thought on “Educational Taxonomies”

  1. Love the complation of these taxonomies! Here is another construct: University Educator Mindsets: How Might Adult Constructive-Developmental Theory Support Design of Adaptive Learning? It is based on Kegan’s adult constructive-developmental (ACD) theory, therefore very applicable for university learning and teaching.

    LxD (learning experience design) seems to be a big hit today, but it appears to be lacking some of the fundamental knowledge/understanding of learning theories. I wonder if you have any words of wisdom?

    Kindest regards,

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