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Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Improve Critical Thinking

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Improve critical thinking with Bloom's Taxonomy

As an instructional designer by training, I often use Bloom’s Taxonomy to design learning and assessments. While Bloom’s Taxonomy is often used by educators, I have found that managers and supervisors can also use the taxonomy to identify and develop the critical thinking level of their staff.

In 1956, educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues wanted to answer a critical question on what educators were designing their learning for and from their research, they published a taxonomy of educational goals commonly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The Taxonomy can be looked as a classification of different levels of learning. An image from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching can illustrate this hierarchy of learning.

According to the original Bloom’s Taxonomy, learning in the cognitive domain can be structured into 6 levels. These levels are:

1. Knowledge

The learning in this level involves mainly recalling data and basic concepts. It involves the ability to memorise and reproduce information and concepts. For example, a waiter can recall and recite the 7-step hand washing technique.

2. Comprehension

Refers to the ability to understand, explain and interpret the information and concepts. For example, the waiter can explain the importance of hand hygiene and the dangers of poor hand hygiene to diners.

3. Application

Refers to the ability to apply, use or demonstrate the procedures, concepts or methods. For example, a kitchen staff can apply the 7-step Hand Washing Technique to ensure proper hand hygiene before handling food.

4. Analysis

Refers to the ability to break information down to develop clarity on the issues, examine the issues and distinguish between causes and symptoms. For example, when there is a food poisoning case in the restaurant, the staff can analyse the factors and isolate the root cause of the problem.

5. Synthesis

Refers to the ability to make sense of the information, put things together and construct something new. For example, the supervisor can create a new SOP to ensure overall high standards of hygiene in the restaurant.

6. Evaluation

Refers to the ability to judge, assess, evaluate or critique ideas, conclusions, concepts etc. For example, the staff can assess the cost and benefit of implementing the new SOP on hygiene standards.

In the new version of Bloom’s Taxonomy developed in 2001, there is a switch between Synthesis and Evaluation in recognition of the reality that learners are expected to create and design new things as the highest order of thinking skills. In adult learning, we can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create learning activities that teach and assess at different levels of cognitive abilities and skills.


However, managers and supervisors can also use this model to develop and assess the thinking and problem-solving skills of their staff.

First, managers and supervisors can conduct On-the-Job Training (OJT) for their staff to address each thinking level of Bloom’s Taxonomy systematically and progressively. For example, the OJT on maintaining good hygiene practices for trainees can start with enabling new staff with the ability to recall important facts on hygiene in the workplace and moving towards application of the actual hygiene practices. Tests can be designed to assess the specific Bloom’s level that can be demonstrated by the trainees rather than just a typical MCQ or oral questions that only test the Knowledge Level.

Another way that Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used in the workplace is to develop problem-solving skills. For example, when a restaurant has received a complaint about poor customer service, instead of jumping to conclusion, easy fixes or denial, the company can gather a team to address the Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation cognitive levels of the complaint. The team can analyse the facts and information surrounding the issue, ask questions to identify potential gaps in people or processes and isolate the various causes. The team can then develop their conclusions and recommendations based on the analysis of the various information.

Lastly, the team can develop new procedures to close any possible process gaps or new training if it is a lack of skills.

Using the Bloom’s Taxonomy, managers and supervisors can intentionally design work tasks and assess the level and quality of thinking of their staff to determine the competency gaps.

They can then develop and coach staff to address the competency gaps by targeting the specific thinking level in the Bloom’s Taxonomy.


If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.


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