Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Benjamin Bloom publishes Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals

This year, Benjamin Bloom publishes a book that would largely influence curriculum theory and practice for many years. Indeed, the book was published several times and translated into several languages, and it was read in faculties of education, teacher training programs and schools all over the world. The book influenced almost every aspect of formal education, from the way curricula were designed at national and provincial ministries of education to the way teachers were evaluating student performance at the classroom level. It is well known that Bloom and his associates identified three main domains of educational goals: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. What is not well known is the history that led to the development of this framework.


At the convention of the American Psychological Association in 1948, a group of college examiners considered the utility of a system of classifying educational goals for the evaluation of student performance. Educational objectives provide the basis for building curricula and the tests for measuring the understanding of those curricula by students. To these examiners, a classification system represented the appropriate place to start. They chose to identify it as a taxonomy. In this brief historical note, we refer to the system itself as the taxonomy and the collective publications as the Taxonomy.

The group of college examiners who ultimately coalesced to prepare and publish the Taxonomy met annually following the convention. They identified three problems involved in organizing a classification of educational objectives. First, these phenomena could not be observed and manipulated in the same concrete form as is done in the natural sciences. Second, the availability of the taxonomy might tend to abort the thinking and planning of teachers with regard to curriculum. Third, some feared that it might lead to fragmentation and atomization of educational purposes.

Notwithstanding these reservations, the group persevered. They saw value in a taxonomy. First, they felt that it would be helpful to be able to clarify and tighten up the language pertaining to educational objectives. Second, a taxonomy would offer a convenient system for describing and ordering test items, examination techniques, and evaluation instruments. Third, a classification system would enable educators to compare and study educational programs. Finally, they hoped that their taxonomy would reveal a real order among educational objectives.

Prior to consideration of the content of the Taxonomy, it is appropriate to ask what this group intended by their use of the term, taxonomy, for their classification. The authors of Handbook II of the Taxonomy acknowledge the problem with their terminology:

A true taxonomy is a set of classifications which are ordered and arranged on the basis of a single principle or on the basis of a consistent set of principles. Such a true taxonomy may be tested by determining whether it is in agreement with empirical evidence and whether the way in which the classifications are ordered corresponds to a real order among the relevant phenomena. The taxonomy must also be consistent with sound theoretical views available in the field. Where it is inconsistent, a way should be developed of demonstrating or determining which alternative is the most adequate one. Finally, a true taxonomy should be of value in pointing to phenomena yet to be discovered (Krathwohl. Bloom, & Masia, 1964, p. 11).

They admitted that their system may not be a true taxonomy. However, the two handbooks have been of great use to educators and researchers in the way envisioned by the group of examiners who conceived this idea. In practice, it may not make any difference as to whether they developed a taxonomic order or only a classification scheme. The Taxonomy fulfills a function.  

The Three Domains         

The group found that most of the objectives of teachers could be placed in one of three major classifications or domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. In Handbook I of the Taxonomy, the research team offers brief descriptions of what these three domains entail (Bloom, 1956, pp. 7-8). The cognitive domain includes those objectives that deal with “the recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual abilities and skills.” The objectives of the affective domain describe “changes in interest, attitudes, and values, and the development of appreciations and adequate adjustment.” Finally, the psychomotor domain pertains to “the manipulative or motor-skill area.”

To facilitate their task, the group organized themselves into committees to study the domains separately. Benjamin S. Bloom, as the editor, and four others, Max D. Engelhart, Edward J. Furst, Walker H. Hill, and David R. Krathwohl, comprised a Committee of College and University Examiners, who undertook the analysis of the cognitive domain. The book, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Objectives Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, was published in 1956. David R. Krathwohl, Benjamin S. Bloom, and Bertram B. Masia were the co-authors of Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Objectives Handbook II: Affective Domain, published in 1964. The committee members were unable to find psychomotor objectives in the literature and they did not write a third handbook on this domain.

The Cognitive Domain

The research team found that the largest proportion of educational objectives fall within this domain. In Handbook I, Bloom divides this taxonomy into six major classes as follows:

1.0               Knowledge

2.0               Comprehension

3.0               Application

4.0               Analysis

5.0               Synthesis

6.0               Evaluation (p. 18)

The classes are arranged hierarchically as the objectives of a higher class typically build on the behaviours found in the lower classes. Most learners and their teachers likely consider the acquisition of knowledge or information to be the primary, if not the sole, objective of any program of education. If a student is able to recall or recognize some idea or phenomenon encountered in learning, he or she satisfies the requirements of the first level of this domain. However, there is more to learning than simply recollection. True knowledge involves relating and judging, organizing and reorganizing. It requires a higher degree of cognitive capability. These enhanced capacities are realized in the higher classes of the cognitive domain. “Although information or knowledge is recognized as an important outcome of education, very few teachers would be satisfied to regard this as the primary or the sole outcome of instruction. What is needed is some evidence that the students can do something with their knowledge, that is, that they can apply the information to new situations and problems.” (p. 38) The names given to these higher classes suggest the learning objectives associated at each of those levels.

The Affective Domain

The classification of the educational objectives of the affective domain was more challenging. First, they are not stated as precisely as are those of the cognitive domain and, in fact, educators are not so clear as to the learning experiences appropriate to these objectives. Second, the behaviours themselves are difficult to describe “since the internal or covert feelings and emotions are as significant for this domain as are the overt behavioral manifestations.” (Bloom, p. 7) Third, the testing procedures for measuring the satisfaction of these educational objectives are not as well developed. In Handbook II, Krathwohl et al. provide a working definition of the affective domain:

2. Affective: Objectives which emphasize a feeling tone, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection. Affective objectives vary from simple attention to selected phenomena to complex but internally consistent qualities of character and conscience. We found a large number of such objectives in the literature expressed as interests, attitudes, appreciations, values, and emotional sets or biases. (p. 7)

Overall, the affective domain was less predisposed to classification. While a considerable body of material existed with which to evaluate performance and achievement in the cognitive domain, what was available in the affective domain was marginal.

Krathwohl et al. discuss an assumption concerning the relationship between the cognitive and affective domains. It has been said that, if the cognitive objectives are developed, the development of the affective behaviours follows. Krathwohl et al. deny this assumption. “The evidence suggests that affective behaviors develop when appropriate learning experiences are provided for students much the same as cognitive behaviors develop from appropriate learning experiences.” (p. 20)   The research team did assume that the affective domain would be structured hierarchically as is the cognitive domain. The challenge was to locate the continuum of behaviours. Their continuum begins at the level at which the learner is merely aware of or able to perceive a phenomenon, following which he or she attends to that phenomenon, responds to it with a positive feeling, places value upon it, organizes that value within his or her valuation system, and, finally, characterizes this value complex within his or her entire life outlook.

The Psychomotor Domain

The committee did not produce a handbook of educational objectives for the psychomotor domain. Subsequent to the publication of the Taxonomy, others attempted to construct a taxonomy for behaviours in this domain. In The Classification of Educational Objectives in the Pyschomotor Domain, Elizabeth Simpson offers her taxonomy (1972). She opens with the following explanation of her classification.

The major organizational principle operating is that of complexity with attention to the sequence involved in the performance of a motor act. That is, objectives that would be classified at the lower levels are less complex in nature than related objectives at upper levels. In general, they are easier to carry out. And, those at the upper levels build on those at the lower.

As with the learning objectives of the cognitive and affective domains, the psychomotor domain is organized hierarchically. 

Application to Adult Education

The Taxonomy is as important for the development of adult education programs as it is for elementary and secondary school teachers in the formulation of their curricula. To ascertain the learning requirements of any adult population, it is first necessary to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment. A study of this kind reveals the gap between what the learners know and what they need to know. Educators and trainers develop the learning objectives with which to design learning activities that provide the learning to fill that gap. The Taxonomy provides a standard or set of guidelines with which to prepare those learning objectives.

In the Diploma in Adult Education program offered by St. Francis Xavier University (Halifax, Canada), for instance, the curriculum refers to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, or KSAs, sought by the learners to bridge the gap between their present state of affairs, PSA, and the desired future state of affairs, FSA. The KSAs correspond to the three domains of learning: the cognitive with knowledge or intellectual skills (K); the psychomotor with physical skills (S), and the affective with attitudes (A). Every learning objective must be associated with one of these three domains. The educator or trainer asks what it is that he or she wants his or her learners to know or to do or to feel at the conclusion of the education or training program. Knowledge of learning within the three domains is fundamental to the art of formulating appropriate learning objectives.

If the learning objective is for the learner to possess knowledge of certain information, the learning involves the development of cognitive skills at the lowest level of this domain. Accordingly, upon completion of the program the learner should be able to repeat or summarize that information. The evaluation instrument tests him or her on this basis. Similarly, if the goal of the program is for the learner to be able to accomplish more complex thinking in the nature of problem solving or decision making, learning occurs at a higher level of the cognitive domain. The learner must be able to demonstrate specific application of the information by way of appropriate and suitable testing instruments.

With psychomotor learning, the learner should be able to perform some physical or motor skill as a result of the education or training program. The learning objectives are so framed. They state that the learner will be able to perform the stated skill(s) in accordance with some accepted standard amenable to precise measurement. In contrast with learning in the cognitive domain, the emphasis is upon the physical as opposed to the intellectual.

The development of learning objectives in the affective domain is as difficult for educators and trainers as it was for the research team to develop their taxonomy. The objective of the learning program is to produce a change in the attitudes, values, or appreciation of the learners. While activities and exercises can be designed and implemented, the challenge is to create instruments that accurately evaluate learning. For learning to be demonstrated, some change or transformation of the learner must be apparent. If the program fails to achieve learning in the affective domain, the accomplishments in either or both of the cognitive and psychomotor domains may be rendered ineffective. Although The Taxonomy developed by Benjamin Bloom and associates in 1965 has been criticized from other educational approaches, three decades later it continues to guide educational practices.


Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.) (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Anderson, L.W. & Sosniak, L.A. (1994). Bloom’s Taxonomy: A Forty-Year Retrospective. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bloom, B.S., Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.)(1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.

Bloom, B.S. (1965). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.

Cox, R.C. & Wildeman, C.E. (Eds.) (1970). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain; An Annotated Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: Learning and Research Centre.

Gronlund, N.E. (1985). Stating Objectives for Classroom Instruction (3rd Ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Gronlund, N.E. (1991). How to Write and Use Instructional Objectives (4th Ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Kibler, R.J., Cegala, D.J., Baker, L.L, & Miles, D.T. (1981). Objectives for Instruction and Evaluation (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S., & Masia, B.B. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.

Krathwohl, D.R. & Masia, B.B. (1971). Defining and assessing educational objectives. In R.L. Thorndike (Ed.). Educational Measurement (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Lee, B.N. & Merrill, M.D. (1972). Writing Complete Affective Objectives: A Short Course. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Mager, R.F. (1975). Preparing Instructional Objectives (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Fearon-Pitman.  

Marzano, R.J. (2001). Designing a New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nelson, R. (1994). Dragon in the Clouds: Teacher’s Package: Questions Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. North York, ON: Napoleon Publishing.

Popham, W.J. (1973). The Use of Instructional Objectives. Belmont, CA: Fearon-Pitman.

Simpson, E.J. (1972). The classification of educational objectives in the psychomotor domain. The Psychomotor Domain. 3:43-56. Gryphon House.

Prepared by Richard W. Shields (OISE/University of Toronto)

December 2001

Citation: Shields, Richard W. (2001). 1965: Benjamin Bloom publishes Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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