As you saw in our discussion yesterday, deep and surface learning can imply learning at different levels of cognition. For example, a teacher who relies a lot on quizzes using rote learning, recall and simple conceptual material, could encourage a lower level, surface approach to learning, which will not encourage higher, more abstract levels of understanding, unless they balance these activities with more reflective and complex tasks.
There are two main theoretical frameworks in education which categorise the different levels of knowledge and learning from the lower, less abstract form to higher levels of abstraction and synthesis.
Firstly, Bloom’s Taxonomy, created by Benjamin Bloom and others in 1956 has been widely used in education ever since, and the original has been further developed by educationists to be more dynamic, in 2001. Here is a visual representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy provided by Vanderbilt University:
If you would like further details about Bloom’s taxonomy, there is a useful page on the Vanderbilt University site
The second is the SOLO Taxonomy created by John Biggs – Biggs’ taxonomy is a further evolution of the ideas in the Blooms model, called Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes. It sets out 5 stages of learning, which go from “pre-structural” or incompetent, to a concrete, basic form of knowledge through to an “extended abstract” form of knowledge which allows synthesis and creativity.
Biggs’ model is now used widely in higher education teaching, particularly to help ensure what Biggs calls “constructive alignment” of materials and assessment to course outcomes. For an interesting article on how the SOLO taxonomy can be utilised to create assessment rubrics, see Rembach and Dison, “Transforming taxonomies into rubrics” in Bloemfontain, Vol 34, Issue 1, 2016
The University of Queensland has a useful outline of how to apply the SOLO taxonomy to assessments, with examples.
These taxonomies are very influential and are reflected in our Australian Qualifications Framework, which comprises the standards to which all levels of formal study courses in Australia should be mapped.
The most helpful strategy based on this concept is to ensure that course materials, activities and assessments are pitched at the correct level for the level of your course. This would involve looking at Learning Outcomes and ensure they are sufficiently aligned to the relevant AQF level of your course. Also, using the SOLO taxonomy, it might be useful to assess whether there is the correct balance between the “unistructural” level of competence (or the “remember” level of Bloom’s taxonomy,) and the higher, more abstract levels of knowledge.
It is not necessary that all learning activities and outcomes be perfectly mapped to the correct AQF level for your course, and there will normally be a mix of different levels of knowledge and understanding involved in various aspects of a course. For example, it is possible that some lower level activities could be used in the form of quizzes, for self-assessment, as a simple way for the student to test themselves and motivate themselves to work through required materials. However in a Higher Education context you would expect to see more activities and assessments around higher level learning. This would be even more so in post-graduate courses, where there should be significant work at the creative, synthesis, and analytical levels, with the production of new ideas and materials. This would mean a lot of collaborative, problem-solving work, independent learning, and reflection.
Take a look at the Unit Guide in a course in which you teach, and assess whether enough of the material, activities and assessment match the level of knowledge required by higher education study at that level. Can you see any improvements that could be made, in aligning your course and its assessments to the appropriate level of knowledge and understanding? Compare your reflections/insights with others here.