How Bloom's Taxonomy Can Help You Get More Out of Your Assessments

March 18, 2022 | Activate Learning | 8 min read

Assessments have gotten a bad rap. Just reading the word "assessment" might evoke flashbacks to your school days — sitting at a desk, filling in the multiple-choice bubbles, diligently waiting for a score to tell you how "good" you are at a subject.

But when assessments are done well, they aren't about scores and rankings at all — they're critical components of any learning and development program. And effective L&D is especially imperative today: In Skillsoft's Lean Into Learning 2021 report, 89 percent of decision-makers said skills gaps hurt their revenue in the last 12–18 months. Sixty-seven percent also said skills gaps made them lose business.

Everyone knows you need great content to drive learning, but assessments are just as necessary. Not only are they valuable learning opportunities in themselves, but well-designed assessments also help learners get their bearings. By confirming what they already know and pinpointing opportunities for improvement, assessments can guide employees to the courses and content tailored to their unique needs.

So, what makes for an effective assessment? Luckily, you don't have to guess. By turning to Bloom's taxonomy, we can find a practical guide to designing assessments that actively support talent development.

What Is Bloom's Taxonomy?

First developed in 1956 by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues — and later revised in 2001 — Bloom's taxonomy is a hierarchical framework that helps us think through the evolution of skill acquisition. The taxonomy has six levels, each corresponding to a stage of the learning process. Those levels are:

  • Level 1: Remember — Recall facts and concepts
  • Level 2: Understand — Explain concepts
  • Level 3: Apply — Use information in new situations
  • Level 4: Analyze — Connect disparate ideas
  • Level 5: Evaluate — Justify an opinion or interpretation of a subject
  • Level 6: Create — Generate new work using acquired skills and knowledge

One way to think of Bloom's taxonomy is as a ladder of learning. The lowest rungs represent the most basic levels of knowledge — e.g., learning bare facts. The highest rungs represent more complex knowledge, like applying information in real and novel contexts. When we begin learning a new skill or subject, we start at the bottom of the ladder. As we move up the rungs, we gain deeper and deeper expertise as we go, eventually reaching true mastery.

The levels of Bloom's taxonomy purposefully use verbs to describe what a person is doing at each stage. That's because Bloom's taxonomy is organized around learning objectives: short, clear descriptions of what a learner should accomplish at any given step in the learning process. Learning objectives are necessary for effective acquisition of any skill, providing structure to learning paths no matter the subject. For example, if you're learning how to write functions in Python, your learning objectives at each stage might look like this:

  • Remember: Recall what a function is used for in a program or script.
  • Understand: Describe in your own words what a function does and how it is unique in Python compared to other languages.
  • Apply: Create Python code that calls a built-in function.
  • Analyze: Compare and contrast functions and choose the best function for predefined specifications
  • Evaluate: Rewrite an existing function to make it more effective without compromising its performance.
  • Create: Write a brand-new function of your own or choose the best function to accomplish a specified task.

These learning objectives make Bloom's taxonomy a practical framework for guiding and assessing learning progress. At each stage, learners have a clear, concrete goal to focus on — and an objective way to measure whether they've reached that goal.

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How Bloom's Taxonomy Makes Better Assessments

Good assessments tell us two important things: What a person knows and what they still need to learn. Using this information, we can design more efficient learning plans for each individual. Instead of spending time on content they already know, learners can focus on the gaps identified by the results of their assessments.

By delineating what people should achieve at each stage of skill development, the learning objectives at each level of Bloom's taxonomy inform how we assess skill mastery. By designing assessments tied to those objectives, we ensure our assessments measure the right things and support new skill acquisition. On a practical level, that might mean connecting every assessment question to a specific learning objective. When an employee answers a question correctly, they confirm that they've met the relevant learning objective. When they answer a question incorrectly, they know precisely which areas to focus on as they work toward mastering a new skill.

Assessments Are Learning Opportunities

While assessments are vital planning tools, they're also valuable learning opportunities in their own right. It's one thing to watch a video on a skill; it's another thing entirely to successfully reiterate your knowledge on an assessment or apply information in a new context.

Articulating, adapting, and applying what you've learned helps solidify new knowledge. Research has shown that every time we recall and reuse information, we strengthen our memory, and it becomes easier and easier to remember that information in the future.[1] So good assessments don't just help learners understand their own knowledge — they also directly contribute to building that knowledge.

Of course, each stage of Bloom's taxonomy represents different types of knowledge and ability, so we need different kinds of assessments tied to each learning objective. For example, you can test for remembering and understanding with a multiple-choice exam, but evaluating a learner's ability to make their own interpretation or create something new requires more hands-on activities and projects. To support comprehensive skill mastery, we need to test for both knowledge (those earlier rungs on Bloom's ladder) and ability (those later rungs).

Toward that end, Skillsoft supports a learner's journey through each rung of Bloom's taxonomy:

  • Remember and Understand: In-course knowledge checks, end-of-course assessments, and post-course reinforcement learning
  • Apply and Analyze: Exercises, labs, and activities
  • Analyze and Evaluate: Journey and Track final exams, certification test prep
  • Create: Capstone exercises, labs, and challenges

When assessments are tailored at each level to the relevant learning objectives, they do more than evaluate learners' knowledge. They actively reinforce progression toward skill mastery and give L&D leaders an objective understanding of talent development over time.

Closing Your Skills Gaps Starts with the Right Assessments

Upskilling is an urgent matter for organizations today, with 76 percent of decision-makers reporting critical skills gaps among their teams.[2] As with any challenge, a company needs to know what it's dealing with before taking action.

That's why closing any skills gap starts with implementing the right assessments to help learners and organizations know where to start on their learning journeys.

So don't let the bad memories of high school fool you. A good assessment is a powerful — and engaging — way to help your learners obtain the skills they need to succeed.