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Writing Cognitive Objectives

In 1956 an educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, articulated a hierarchy (taxonomy) for understanding differing levels of cognition, starting with the most basic function of recalling knowledge which he termed “knowledge” to the most advanced function of making judgements about the value of knowledge or learning which he termed “evaluation.” This original system for categorizing levels of cognition was later revised by one of Bloom’s students [1], reordering and redefining two of Bloom’s original categories (the final two) and adapting the titles of each level from nouns to verbs. The graphic below reflects these refined categories, along with a more recent perspective that encourages us to envision the final three categories as reflecting comparable levels of higher cognition rather than linear progressions.

COGNITIVE: Remember: find or remember information (locate, define, memorize, describe, name, identify, list, recognize, recall) / Understand: understand and make sense out of information (interpret, infer, explain, summarize, illustrate, paraphrase, discuss) / Apply: use information in a new (but similar) situation (demonstrate, solve, diagram, practice, use, implement) / Analyze: take information apart & explore relationships (categorize, compare/contrast, organize, classify) / Evaluate: critically examine info. and make judgments (rank, test, appraise, criticize, critique, defend) / Create: use information to create something new (construct, generate, design, devise, invent). Adapted from Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001.

Take a look at the graphic on this page, which reflects Horizon’s growing understanding of these revised categories. This depiction moves from the less complex cognitive category of “remember” to the more complex cognitive categories of “create, evaluate, and analyze.” A short description is offered under each heading followed by a list of verbs that generally reflect what learners might be expected to do in order to achieve these levels of cognition. So how do we work to create learning experiences that progress within a course and over the span of an entire curriculum towards these more complex levels of thinking and understanding? And how do we accommodate a range of students who come into our programs with varying abilities related to these cognitive levels of learning? We believe that your work as an online course designer will be enhanced as you consider how the questions, activities and assessments you formulate may lead your learners into higher cognition.


[1] Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (New York: Longman, 2001).