Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory & Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom’s TaxonomyBloom’s Taxonomy is not just for elementary school teachers. The three domains of the taxonomy apply to adult education as well. In this manual, we will pay attention to the cognitive domain and the cognitive learning theory behind it. This is the domain of knowledge and intellect, and it is the main focus of most educators.

1. Bloom’s Taxonomy & The Cognitive Domain

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been a staple of educators for decades, particularly in the cognitive domain. Educators of both children and adults must be aware of the theory’s history and how it has changed over the years. A fundamental understanding  of Bloom’s Taxonomy is essential, particularly when attempting to implement it in the classroom. 



Bloom’s Theory

The learning hierarchy is the focus of Bloom’s theory. In the hierarchy, the students master the basic stage of the learning domain before moving on to the next one. Like walking up a flight of stairs, students eventually manage to reach the top. As they master each level, they discover the ability to implement learning strategies and improve their skills. In this theory, teachers use the taxonomy to guide the students through to the higher levels of thinking and understanding. The three domains work together to create learning objectives, guide activities, and develop effective assessments.

Each domain identified is broken down to levels or categories with specific behaviors, activities, and example words that identify when students have mastered skills from each level of the domain.


Benjamin Bloom was an education psychologist who developed a taxonomy in 1956, with other experts. The purpose of the taxonomy was to establish educational goals for students to perform evaluations of their performance. The three domains that Bloom and his team discovered were cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. The original taxonomy was the cognitive domain, shown below.

Adult Learning Theory

Other domains would follow later, including the Affective Domain in 1973 and the Psychomotor Domain in 1972. The original Cognitive Domain was updated by a student in 2000, which we will explore later.

New Understanding

Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl revised the taxonomy to be more action oriented. The updated version removes knowledge, comprehension, and evaluation and adds remembering, understanding, and creativity.  

adult learning theory principles

Anderson and Krathwohl saw the limitation of the original theory and expanded on it, which we will explore in a later module.


The cognitive domain is what most people associate with education because it is knowledge based. Focusing on the cognitive domain increases intellectual capability. The six levels of the domain move from the simplest at the bottom to the most complex at the top. Some educators, however, do not follow the prescribed order of stages. There is also some disagreement as to whether the original or updated version of the domain is more effective. Situations that require more creative activities typically benefit better from the updated version.

2. Knowledge

In the knowledge stage of cognitive domain, the focus is on memory. For students to be successful, they should be able to recall what they have been taught. Knowledge must be mastered before they can move on to comprehension. Specific behavior, actions, and examples that accompany the knowledge stage that demonstrate mastery. 

the knowledge stage of cognitive domain


The behavior of the knowledge stage is based on recognizing and recalling data. The students who exhibit knowledge when they recite definitions, know rules, and recognize processes, for example. In the work place, recalling pertinent information, such as prices, is knowledge-based behavior. Knowledge is learned through different actions that accompany behavior.


·       Take multiple choice test

·       Use study aides

Certain actions will help indicate students understand and implement the knowledge stage. Students who show the following actions are demonstrating mastery of the knowledge stage.

  • Read
  • Search online

The list above is not comprehensive, but it is appropriate for students of all ages, including adult learners. These actions should align with the example words that are used to determine learning outcomes. Familiarity with example words will help expand your understanding of the knowledge stage of the cognitive domain.


Keywords are used to define learning outcomes. These examples words are active verbs that teachers use in their objectives and goals for the class. These example words help educators assess performance and determine what level of mastery students have reached. The different domains work together, so you will see overlap in examples between them.

Commonly used keywords for the knowledge stage of the cognitive domain include:

Adult Learning Theory

Outcomes begin with action verbs that help define performance measurements.


When implementing the learning objectives at the knowledge phase of the cognitive domain, the goal is to design activities that help students demonstrate the learning objectives created. In adult learners, this requires providing accurate resources and direction such as books, aides, and lecture. This stage includes facts, concepts, principles, and procedures that are relevant to the subject taught. Be practical in the instruction, and do not overwhelm them with too much information at one time. Pace instruction because overwhelmed students will not be able to retain the knowledge.


3. Comprehension

The second step of the cognitive domain is comprehension. Once students have gained knowledge, the goal is for them to comprehend and understand what they know. It is important to be familiar with the behavior, actions, example verbs, and implementation necessary to support students in their progress through the comprehension stage of this domain.Comprehension - Adult Learning Principles


Behavior in this stage requires the students to focus on their own understanding of the information presented. At this point, the students will demonstrate that they have moved beyond simple memorization to understand the meaning of the information and data that is being imparted to them. Students will respond in different ways as they move through this phase of the domain:

  • Reword
  • Interpret
  • Reason
  • Translate


There are certain actions that will indicate students are achieving success in the comprehension stage. These actions require the students to show only a low level of understanding of the subject matter. Examples of actions that demonstrate the students’ comprehension:

  • Create examples of information
  • Give solution to problems
  • Interpret the meaning of texts
  • Provide treatment ideas

These are not all the possible actions, but they are a good start. These actions should align with the example words that will be used with learning outcomes. Being familiar with example words will help better your understanding of student responses.


The keywords or example words that explore how students respond at this level of the cognitive domain are necessary of the teacher objectives to determine and assess students’ performance. These example words include:

Comprehension in Bloom's taxonomy

When establishing keywords, it is important to use action verbs at the beginning.


When implementing the learning objectives at the comprehension phase of the cognitive domain, the goal is to design activities that help students gain personal understanding.  Adult learners will require that activities to be designed with their skills and necessities in mind. An example of effective implementation would be asking students to take notes and tell stories. Cooperative learning techniques with small groups all benefit learning comprehension. Essay test are useful evaluation techniques that show student comprehension.


4. Application

In the application stage, students will begin to apply general or abstract ideas to real world scenarios. The students will use the information that they learn in class and outside of it. At this point, the students go beyond general understanding to the specific implementation.How Adults Learn


At the application stage, the student behaviors change to implement the general information that they have learned. These behaviors indicate that the students are able to apply information on their own and exercise any theories that they have acquired. For example, an employee who uses the handbook to guide paperwork is applying general data to a specific action. Remember that at this stage, students focus on a general use and application, not complex analysis.


The actions that show application are based on ideas, theories, and principles that the students know and understand. The actions commonly associated with application are:

  • Identify the parts of a process
  • Demonstrates qualitative assessments
  • Able to deconstruct processes
  • Measure needs or requirements
  • Evaluate reliability

These are not the only actions that demonstrate student application, but they are typical examples. The keywords should align with the valuing actions in the learning outcomes. Being familiar with example words will help explore your understanding of applications actions is necessary for evaluation.


When students display application in the cognitive domain, example words or key words will help identify successful mastery. These terms are used in teacher objectives to assess performance. These example words include:

When using keywords with goals and lesson planning, it is necessary to start with action verbs, which makes actions and behaviors clear.


When implementing the learning objectives at the application phase of the cognitive domain, the goal is for students to act on their knowledge.  Activities that are group-based are beneficial for demonstrating application. Additionally, students have the opportunity to demonstrate application when they are able to practice or participate in guided creation of objects. Adult learners are more likely to apply knowledge when it relates to their goals, work, or interests, so try to make any activities relevant to your students.


5. Analysis

Analysis builds on knowledge and application. At this stage, students are able to breakdown content and recognize relationships. Analysis is closely related to synthesis and evaluation and must be mastered before the students can complete the domain. Specific behaviors, actions, and examples accompany the analysis stage that demonstrate mastery.Analysis


In the analysis stage, students build upon application to move towards interpretation. They should be able to understand how the different aspects of a topic relate to each other and interpret the connections in a logical way. This interpretation includes:

  • Elements
  • Principles of organization
  • Structure

Their behaviors should also reflect their ability to analyze and logically view the quality and reliability of components.


The actions in the analysis stage display the ability to identify logical relationships. These actions would include:

  • Identify process parts
  • Deconstruct methods
  • Qualitative assessments of relationship parts
  • Measure needs
  • Measure requirements
  • Qualitative assessments of values
  • Troubleshoot
  • Recognize misconceptions

The list of actions is not complete, but they are commonly used. The keywords and learning outcomes should align with the actions of the analysis stage. Being familiar with example words will expand your understanding of analysis and recognize behaviors that students express.


Example words or keywords are terms that predict and show how students display analysis in the cognitive domain. They are used in teacher objectives to determine and assess performance. These example words include:

Adult Learning Principles

When using keywords and goals in lesson planning, it is important to begin with action verbs so that it is obvious when students are mastering the analysis level of the cognitive domain.


When implementing the analysis stage of the cognitive domain in class, you must require the students to practice logic skills.  An example of implementation from this stage would be having a group of students engage in debate. Troubleshooting equipment would also improve analysis skills. The focus of the analysis stage is making sure that students understand the difference between what is inferred and what is factual. The subject of the instruction will determine the best implementation techniques that you can use.

6. Synthesis

Analysis and synthesis work together in the cognitive process. Analysis is the ability to break down information logically, but synthesis is the ability to take the parts and make them into a whole. Students need to master both to be successful. Successful mastery is shown in the behavior and activities that students demonstrate both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. 


Once students understand and develop analysis, they are able to develop synthesis behaviors. They will demonstrate behaviors that include creative thought. Their behavior will show that they can make new and distinctive items and concepts:Benjamin Bloom Synthesis


  • Structures
  • Systems
  • Models
  • Ideas
  • Approaches
  • Operations

The behavior that shows synthesis will use many various elements in creation and have either a unique structure or meaning.


The actions in the synthesis level display consistency will show creativity and the ability to complete projects. Actions that demonstrate synthesis include:

  • Creating solutions
  • Develop procedures
  • Integrate new methods
  • Build teams
  • Make new protocols
  • Design objects
  • Revise processes

The list of actions is not all-encompassing, but they are commonly used and a good starting point. The keywords and learning outcomes will align with the actions of the synthesis stage. When you are familiar with example words, you will expand your understanding of synthesis and help you recognize actions.


Example words or keywords are terms will predict how students show mastery of synthesis in the cognitive domain. These keywords are used in teacher objectives and learning domains to help teachers evaluate and assess performance. At this stage, the focus will be on completion and creativity. Examples of keywords include:

Bloom's Taxonomy - Synthesis

These are just a few keyword examples. When developing keywords, remember to make sure that you use action verbs.


At the synthesis stage, the implementation must consider the ways to develop creativity and show students how they can develop new ideas on their own. Without promoting creativity, it is not possible to develop synthesis skills. For example, asking students to revise something would connect application and develop synthesis.  Developing networking and essay construction skills would also help implement synthesis in the classroom. The important thing to remember at this stage is giving students the opportunities to grow and develop their creative skills.


7. Evaluation

Evaluation is the top of the original cognitive domain. It is a stage in the domain that is not included in every class. The stage, however, is included in doctoral programs. Instructors at the evaluation stage need to be very careful because it is not easy to measure success at this point. The behavior and actions, however, will give clues to the student achievement.Learning Taxonomy - Evaluation


At the evaluation stage, it is important to understand that students, will be able to use qualitative and qualitative assessments themselves.  The goal at this stage is to judge the value of different resources and concepts. Behaviors that indicate that students are exercising evaluation include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Evaluate effectiveness
  • Assess external criteria
  • Compare and review strategically

Students who demonstrate these behaviors will do so after building on the synthesis stage of the domain.


At the evaluation stage, students will engage in numerous actions. Since this is the pinnacle of the domain, you will see it include and expand on actions of the previous stages. Actions will reflect the students’ abilities to make the best decisions and discover solutions. These actions include:

  • Review of strategic options
  • Conduct sustainability ROI
  • Evaluate sustainability
  • Calculate and defend financials
  • Perform risk analysis
  • Complete SWOT analysis

At the point of evaluation, the students will act in a way that demonstrates the ability to act independently in the decision-making process.


Example words or keywords are terms teachers implement to establish when students master evaluation in the cognitive domain. These keywords are typically found in teacher objectives and learning domains, but they are effective in different methods of assessment. Examples of keywords include:

Evaluation in Bloom's taxonomy

This is not a complete list, but it is a good start. When developing keywords for examples, remember that action verbs are necessary.


The implementation of the evaluation stage of the cognitive domain is more complex than other stages. There are, however, ways to implement learning of evaluation in the classroom. Evaluation is enhanced when students have the ability to use reports and case studies and also work in small groups. Surveys and papers will also improve skills in the evaluation phase. At this stage, the students will show more expertise in their abilities than they will in earlier domains with the same exercises.


8. Updated Version of Bloom’s Taxonomy

The cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy was updated by Bloom’s student, Lorin Anderson as well as David Krathwohl in 2000. The new version of the domain employs a more active view of learning and also employs verbs rather than nouns in the stages. The changes need to be noted to determine which method would be most effective.

Updated version of Bloom's taxonomy

Remembering and Understanding

Remembering is the new name for the knowledge phase of the domain. In remembering, the student is expected to recall information. It is almost identical, but it focuses more on active memory rather than the ability to find data. Recitation is an example of remembering as is the ability to bring up facts and other data.

Understanding replaces comprehension in the updated domain. Again, it is very similar to the original phase. In each, students demonstrate their ability to extract meaning. The original domain focuses on the material in general, and understanding is taking meaning based on different functions, including activities as well as written material.

Applying and Analyzing

Applying is the equivalent of application. Again, they only have minor differences related to the activity. In applying, students are able to apply what they have learned. In applying, the students implement procedures. The information in this instance also includes situational learning through different techniques such as simulations and presentations.

The original analysis is the ability to break down components while analyzing and also breaking down objects into parts to understand how they relate. The actions that are associated with analyzing include: organizing, differentiating, attributing, and distinguishing. These are specifically mental actions that are shown in graphs, charts, and diagrams.


In the original domain, evaluation is the judgment of value. Evaluating replaces synthesis in the updated version of the cognitive domain, switching from the final stage. In evaluating, students make decisions by using criticism based on standards. The evaluation in this taxonomy is a process that can be seen reports, recommendations, and demonstrations. According to the updated cognitive domain, it is necessary to develop evaluating skills before effective creation, which would be synthesis in the original cognitive domain. 


Creating changes places with evaluating and is similar to synthesis. With synthesis, the students combine parts to create new resources. In the creation stage, the students put the parts together to generate a whole through reorganizing, generating, producing, and planning. In creating, the students must put parts together in a way that is unique, not a reproduced. According to Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl, this is the most complex stage of the cognitive domain.


9. Types of Knowledge

Bloom’s original cognitive domain identified three different types or levels of knowledge. These were factual, conceptual, and procedural. The updated domain added a fourth level, the metacognitive. Understanding these levels of knowledge and their differences is necessary for implementing the cognitive domain.

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.           Plato


Factual knowledge is the information that students must be familiar with in order to problem solve or use to become familiar with the students’ field of study. There are subtypes associated with factual knowledge according to the theory by Anderson.

Types of Knowledge in Bloom's taxonomy

Factual knowledge includes basic facts. For example, the American presidents, parts of the anatomy, or the musical works of a composer are all examples of factual knowledge. 


At the conceptual level, the students focus on concepts and ideas. The elements of larger structures and how they operate should be recognized at this level. Students see the interrelationship and how each element works together. The recognized subsets include:

Bloom's taxonomy - Conceptual level

Examples of this knowledge would include the theory of gravity, time periods, or models of government.


The procedural level of knowledge is where students know how to do things. At this level, the students develop inquiry methods, skill criteria, techniques, methods, and algorithms, according to the second taxonomy. The established subtypes are:

Procedural Level of Knowledge

At this level of knowledge, students should be able to engage in literary criticism. Procedural knowledge would also be able to create art and analyze.


The added knowledge level is metacognitive. This level of knowledge is defined as being cognizant of general and personal cognition. This final stage includes the subtypes, according to the updated domain:

The added knowledge level is metacognitive

Examples of metacognitive knowledge are the use of organizers, mnemonic devices, and understanding of personal motivation.


10. Training

The training in the cognitive domain requires careful planning and implementation. This is where familiarity with the teaching models and assessments comes in handy, making it easier to complete plans and improve success. This is a beneficial introduction that you should build on in the in the cognitive domain


There are examples of different teaching and training models and concepts that can be implemented in the cognitive domain to improve understanding at separate phases:

  • Memory model – Move students through the sensory stage with relevant information to short-term memory. Chosen information is placed in long-term memory.
  • Concept models – There are different concept models, but they focus on teaching concepts and using tools such as concept mapping.

The number of training examples is extensive. The important thing to remember is that students should be met at their skill level with relevant information.

Problem Solving

Problem-solving is higher in the cognitive domain. There are typically four different stages of problem-solving. These are:

  • Identify the problem
  • Discover possible solutions
  • Look at solution alternatives
  • Evaluate and choose

Problem-solving should be modeled and is particularly effective in research projects and experiments.

Qualitative Assessments

Qualitative assessments are effective in establishing student progress and are implemented in the cognitive domain, where students should know how to practice them. Qualitative assessments are more inductive than deductive. Methods of qualitative assessments that can be implemented in the classroom include:

  • Observation
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Documentation

When employing qualitative assessments, you must develop the criteria for evaluation.

Create Plans

Lesson plans help establish the object and work towards goals in education. The information from the domain, including actions and keywords, will help guide the creation of plans. A typical lesson plan uses a matrix, and there is more than one way to create a lesson plan matrix. The goal should be established and used to guide the planning matrix.


Cognitive Level of Learning



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