Applications of the Taxonomies of Learning Objectives (Part 2)

Taxonomies of Learning Objectives: The Complete Series: Read Part One and Part Three of Mike Touchstone's three-part series.

During my years in EMS, I’ve witnessed significant weaknesses in two critically important developmental areas. First, we are generally trained and certified, rather than educated and licensed. And second, we do very little to prepare new instructors, supervisors, managers and leaders to succeed in their roles. In short, there is a lack of planned, systematic professional development and the opportunities for individuals to pursue such endeavors are limited.

I have suffered the stark fear and anxiety of taking on anew role as an instructor, supervisor and administrator. I’ve talked with others who have also had the experience of being thrust into a new job with little or no preparation. Luckily, I had mentors along the way and opportunities to attend appropriate courses. However, the transition was often a trial by fire; figure out what to do or crash and burn.

I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure that high quality education, supervision, management, administration and leadership are not a matter of luck. We need to be willing to put in the effort to improve ourselves and our discipline. With some luck — and lots of hard work &mdash EMS may someday achieve the recognition it aspires to: recognition as an allied health care profession.

The first step in tackling this task is to critically assess the foundation of prehospital care education. In part one (see Touchstone’s Jan. column ), we looked at learning objectives from the perspective of the EMS national standard curricula. We looked at the three domains of learning — the cognitive, psychomotor and affective — and discussed the structure of objectives in each domain. They are organized into hierarchies ranging from the simplest behaviors to the most complex behaviors. In this installment, we will begin by looking more closely at learning objectives, sometimes also called performance, behavior, or outcome objectives. Then we'll examine the cognitive domain hierarchy and cognitive domain learning objectives.

Kazanas and Rothwell (2004) wrote in their test Mastering the Instructional Design Process, "A performance objective is an expression of a desired result of the learning experience. It should be measurable and is an expression of what learners should achieve.” They also said that objectives should “create a vision of what learners should be able to do after they master the instruction.”

Learning objectives serve several other functions. They provide focus for selecting instructional content, media, strategies and tactics; for assessing the learner’s knowledge, skills or performance related to a task; for continuing evaluation of training program materials; and for directing the learner’s attention to expected outcomes in measurable learner performance (Leshin, Pollack, and Reigeluth, 1992).

All learning objectives contain a verb that describes learner performance or behavior and a reference to specific subject content. They may also include a statement of condition and of degree. Condition relates to the tools, resources, materials, aids or facilities a learner needs to use when performing the task, and should mirror actual work conditions as closely as possible. Degree indicates the level of achievement needed to meet the objective as compared to a standard.


Given a diagram of the human heart with 15 anatomical features marked, the EMT-B student will be able to correctly label at least 12 of the anatomical features.

In this example of a cognitive domain learning objective, the verb is “label,” the condition is “given a diagram of the human heart with 15 anatomical features marked,” and the degree is, “at least 12” out of 15.

Cognitive domain learning objectives relate to information, knowledge, naming, solving, predicting and other intellectual aspects of learning (Kemp, Morrison, and Ross, 2004). They “address (the) lack of
Benjamin Bloom, along with several others, published Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I, the cognitive domain in 1956. If you Google “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” you’ll get about 108,000 hits. If you Google “cognitive domain,” you will get about 255,000 hits. There’s a lot of information out there. We’ll cover only the bare minimum here. If you’re currently a student, an instructor, or want to become an instructor, I strongly encourage you to delve more deeply.
knowledge” in persons who “don’t know” (Silberman, 2006). Because intellectual aspects of learning cannot be specifically observed, because knowledge is a state of mind that we cannot measure directly, we have to assess an observable behavior or performance to infer learning. (Clark, 2006) As stated above, the observable behaviors and performances are represented by verbs.

According to Bloom et. al. ( see right sidebar ), objectives in the cognitive domain are divided into a hierarchy of six levels representing increasing cognitive complexity. From lowest to highest, the levels are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Some later authors put synthesis and evaluation together at the top indicating that both represent the highest order skills, but of different natures.

When reading objectives you will see that a verb is always included. As we noted earlier, these verbs describe learning outcome, the behavior we observe to indicate that the learner has met the objective. Each level within the cognitive domain has a set of appropriate verbs. Table 1 lists sample verbs for each level.

Table 1. Cognitive Domain Verbs (Arreola, 1998; Huitt, 2004; Lamb, 2001)

Level Verbs
Evaluation Appraise, argue, assess, compare and contrast, conclude, convince, criticize, critique, decide, defend, evaluate, explain, grade, interpret, judge, justify, prove, rank, recommend, summarize, support, test, validate, value, weigh
Synthesis Adapt, anticipate, assemble, categorize, collaborate, combine, communicate, compile, compose, conduct, create, design, develop, devise, express, facilitate, formulate, generalize, integrate, intervene, invent, hypothesize, modify, negotiate, perform, plan, predict, produce, reframe, reorganize, speculate, structure, substitute, synthesize, reinforce, rewrite, theorize, validate
Analysis Analyze, appraise, associate, break down, categorize, characterize, connect, contrast, correlate, deduce, determine, diagnose, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, explain, focus, illustrate, infer, outline, point out, prioritize, relate, research, separate out, subdivide, test
Application Administer, apply, articulate, assess, calculate, change, chart, complete, compute, construct, demonstrate, develop, discover, establish, examine, experiment, illustrate, implement, measure, modify, operate, organize, practice, prepare, present, relate, select, show, solve, teach, transfer, use
Comprehension Associate, cite, classify, conclude, convert, contrast, defend, discriminate, differentiate, distinguish, discover, discuss, estimate, explain, extend, generalize, infer, interpret, group, paraphrase, predict, relate, represent, restate, summarize, trace
Knowledge Arrange, collect, copy, define, describe, enumerate, examine, identify, label, list, match, name, outline, read, recall, recite, recognize, reproduce, retell, select, state, tabulate, quote, write

You might be asking yourself why all of this is important. First, if you understand learning objectives, you will have a better understanding of the education process which should help you to be a better student. Second, if you want to be an instructor (or you’re already an instructor), understanding learning objectives will allow you to select the best methods and tools for teaching. Lastly, the national standard curricula are on the way out.

In the next few years, National Education Standards (NES) will replace the NSC and guide EMS education and training programs. There will be “instructor guidelines” to accompany the NES and the textbook publishers will provide us with resources to help us through the transition, but much of the responsibility for developing objectives, lesson plans, and evaluation instruments will fall to program directors and the instructors. We should be prepared to not only evaluate texts, workbooks and test banks, but to modify or create curricula and lesson plans. The more we know the better we’ll be prepared for this significant change. Even if you aren’t involved in teaching, knowledge of learning objectives will give you a better understanding of textbooks and your progress as you use them, assist you to be a more efficient learner, and help to guide you during your lifelong learning process. And I hope you all agree that we really never finish learning.

Next time, Touchstone will examine the psychomotor domain. In future installments, he will discuss the affective domain, how learning objectives relate to test development, as well as some different perspectives on the use of learning objectives.

  • Arreola, R. (1998) Writing learning objectives; a teaching resource document from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Academic Support. University of Tennessee, Memphis. Retrieved January 11, 2008 from
  • Clark, D. (1995, 2006). Instructional system design – design phase. Retrieved January 12, 2008 from
  • Huitt, W. (2004). Bloom et al’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain. EducationalPsychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved February 11, 2005 from
  • Kazanas, H., Rothwell, W, (2004). Mastering the instructional design process: a systematic approach (3rd ed.). Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA
  • Kemp, J., Morrison, G. Ross, S. (2004). Designing effective instruction (4th ed.). John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ
  • Lamb, A. (2001). Creative and critical thinking – Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved December 6, 2002 from
  • Leshin, C., Pollock, J. Reigeluth, C. (1992). Instructional design strategies and tactics. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
  • Silberman, M. (2006). Active training: a handbook of techniques, designs, case examples, and tips. Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA
  • University of Florida (n.d.) Guidelines for writing learning objectives. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Curriculum Committee. Retrieved January 10, 2008 from

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