Teaching “Knowledge”: The Cognitive Domain of Learning and Learning Objectives

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[This is the the fifth in a series of posts about learning objectives. We’ve now compiled all the posts into a single downloadable guide to writing learning objectives if you want to check that out.]

As we mentioned in the last post about learning objectives, you can think about three different kinds of learning: learning about things you can “know,” learning about things you can “do,” and learning about things you “feel.” These are called the Cognitive domain, the Psychomotor domain, and the Affective domain. Because we try to avoid $25 words here at the Convergence Training blog, we will also refer to them as Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes. But we didn’t make that up–it’s a somewhat common way to think of this, and trainers often call these “KSAs” for short.

In this post, we’re going to consider the “knowledge” domain of learning more closely–things you can know. We’ll find that there are actually six different levels of knowledge, from simplest to most complex, and we will give a list of behaviors that learners must perform to show they’ve mastered each type of knowledge. This will help you pick the verb you’ll use when writing learning objectives dealing with knowledge. We’ll look at the Skills and Attitudes domains in following posts.

The Cognitive or Knowledge Domain of Learning According to Bloom

Bloom and his followers divided the “Knowledge” domain into different levels, ranging from the most simple–recognizing or recalling information–to the most complex–using previously known information to create entirely new meaning. In all there are six different levels of knowledge in what is known as “Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain.”

(Potentially interesting side-note here: Bloom originally named six levels in 1956, and then followers of Bloom revised those in 2000. We will discuss the revised, 2000 version below, but feel free to read a comparison of the two different versions of Bloom’s cognitive domain if you’re interested).

Six Levels of Knowledge

So, enough with the build-up, right? Just what are these six levels of Bloom’s Cognitive domain? Well, since you asked nicely, they are, in order from simplest to most complex:

  1. Remembering: Learner recognizes, recalls, or remembers information.
  2. Understanding: Learner explains or describes information.
  3. Applying: Learner uses information in a new way.
  4. Analyzing: Learner makes distinctions between different parts of a system, or explains relationships, or compares and contrasts.
  5. Evaluating: Learner compares something to a standard to determine which is worse, equal, better, or best.
  6. Creating: Learner uses learned knowledge to create entirely new idea or system.

The levels of the “Knowledge” domain are often represented as different levels of a pyramid, with “Remembering,” the simplest level, making up the bottom of the pyramid and “Creating,” the most complex level, making up the top.

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Creating Stronger Learning Objectives for the Cognitive/Knowledge Domain

Now, let’s apply what we just discussed above to the best way to write a learning objective.

You probably remember that when you write a learning objective, one part of the objective describes a behavior the learner must perform, and this behavior is expressed as a verb within the learning objective. So, we can make it easier to write a learning objective by coming up with a collection of verbs that describe behaviors in each of the levels of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy above. Check out the list below to get some ideas.

  1. Remembering: Arrange, choose, define, identify, label, list, locate, match, name, recite, select, state.
  2. Understanding: Classify, demonstrate, explain, give examples, illustrate, interpret, match, paraphrase, restate, rewrite, summarize.
  3. Applying: Apply, choose, compute, construct, demonstrate, explain, predict, prepare, produce, show, solve, use.
  4. Analyzing: Categorize, classify, compare, differentiate, distinguish, subdivide.
  5. Evaluating: Compare, contrast, criticize, defend, devise, evaluate, judge, generate, modify, reorganize, rearrange.
  6. Creating: Appraise, categorize, combine, compile, compose, construct, create, design, develop, hypothesize, produce.

Keep these different levels of the “knowledge” in mind, and the verbs to use when writing learning objectives for each level, and you’ll not only create better learning objectives, you’ll create better training materials too.

Other Posts about Learning Objectives

If you’re really interested in learning about learning objectives, try these articles too:

And don’t forget to download the free guide below as well.

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How to Write Learning Objectives

Get this free guide to learn all you need to know to write learning objectives, create better training, and help improve workplace performance.

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Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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