Assessment of Student Learning: Introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy

How to write Student Learning Outcomes using Bloom's Taxonomy verbs, includes an inventory of verbs for Bloom's Taxonomy.

Historically, discussions about student learning have been guided by a taxonomy of learning that has come to be known as Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956). This taxonomy is a hierarchical structure representing six levels of thinking and learning skills that range from basic learning objectives such as knowledge of content through higher-order learning such as synthesis, evaluation, and creativity. Bloom’s taxonomy formed the basis for early work on the development of instructional objectives for classes and curricula.

Image of Bloom's Taxonomy Revised

Shift to Student Learning Outcomes instead of Instructional Objectives using Bloom's Taxonomy

More recently, emphasis has shifted from instructional objectives, which describe what instructors do and the content of material presented during classroom instruction, to student learning outcomes, which describe what students can do as a result of their educational experiences. This change in emphasis is associated with changes in the language used and changes in expectations about instructional style. Instructional objectives were typically described as things (knowledge, understanding, content, facts) that could be delivered during a lecture or presented in written text. In contrast, student learning outcomes are described using concrete verbs (behaviors that can be observed in the student) rather than nouns. Along with this change in language is a change in emphasis on classroom instructional activity. Although passive activities such as lecturing can be efficient methods for transmitting basic facts and knowledge, active learning strategies that engage students in learning are expected to encourage the development of higher-order.

Comparison of Bloom's Taxonomy for Learning Objective and Student Learning Outcomes
Learning Objective Nouns Learning Outcome Active Verbs


Understanding Describe
Application Apply
 Analysis Compare
 Synthesis Construct
 Evaluation Argue

The careful reader will note that the same action words appear at multiple levels in the Bloom taxonomy. The sophistication of learning represented by a given action word can depend on the context of the task as well as the action word used. For example, although the student learning outcomes "Compute the average of ten values" uses the same action word as "Compute the expected utility for a decision," the context of the tasks clearly represent differing levels of expertise. See Stanny (2016) for a discussion of how faculty can use context as well as Bloom’s taxonomy to articulate student learning outcomes for beginning undergraduate, advanced undergraduate, and graduate courses and programs.

In a well-designed curriculum, students will develop basic learning skills and acquire foundation knowledge in their earliest courses. As they move to more advanced courses, they develop higher-order learning skills and more advanced understanding of the discipline. This developmental change can be described in terms of the increasingly sophisticated behaviors represented at higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy.

An important consequence created when Bloom’s taxonomy based on nouns is revised to describe student learning outcomes in terms of concrete actions is that these new descriptions can be used to create direct measures for curriculum assessment. The nouns used in the original taxonomy were frequently abstract concepts such as understanding that were not directly measurable. Similarly, passive verbs such as be exposed to are not helpful when developing direct measures. However, concrete action words such as remember and design can be used to operationally define direct measures that might be useful in an assessment plan.

Find Action Words for each of Bloom's Domains to use in writing Student Learning Outcomes

Action Words for Blooms Taxonomy for Bloom’s Taxonomy, 2016 (PDF)

Bloom Action Words 2014 original Bloom's Taxonomy List, 2006 (PDF)


Adelman, C. (2015). To Imagine a verb: The language and syntax of learning outcomes statements, Occasional Paper No. 24, University of Illinois and Indiana University, Urbana, IL: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Bloom, B. S., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman, Green.

Stanny, C. J. (2016). Revaluating Bloom’s taxonomy: What measurable verbs can and cannot say about student learning, Education Sciences, 6 (4), 37. doi:10.3390/educsci6040037

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Links to Tools Useful for Writing Student Learning Outcomes for Syllabi, Curriculum Maps, and CCR Submissions using Bloom's

Updated: 03/07/18 adm