Choosing a Taxonomy

Design a course with the taxonomy that suits your subject, field of study and institution.

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Why choose a taxonomy?

Taxonomies are classifications of types of learning outcomes. While the definition is boring, a taxonomy will help you better understand and organize the changes you would like to see in your students. This, in turn, will guide the development of your course curriculum and choice of instructional methods and assessments.

Why should I care about taxonomies?

Educators use taxonomies to tease out the many dimensions of knowledge in their discipline in order to choose, organize and teach what is most relevant for their students. The taxonomy you choose reflects the nature and quality of learning you think is important to your discipline and the best way to acquire these.

Since the publication of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956 many others have been developed. Among these are the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge and Fink’s Significant Learning Outcomes — the two most commonly used taxonomies.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Knowledge

Bloom's Taxonomy represented as a pyramid showing orders of cognition from bottom to top: remembering; understanding; applying; analyzing; evaluating; and creating.

The revised Bloom’s taxonomy classifies thinking according to six cognitive levels, from simple to complex and concrete to abstract. The goal is meaningful learning which, according to the designers of this taxonomy, is learning that promotes retention and transfer.

Fink's Significant Learning Outcomes

Fink's Significant Learning Outcomes showing six different kinds of significant learning: foundational knowledge; application; integration; human dimension; caring; and learning how to learn.

Fink’s taxonomy classifies learning according to the changes in six different kinds of significant learning that go beyond cognitive to include metacognitive and affective elements. These are not hierarchical or sequential but interactive. Significant learning, according to Fink, is lasting change that is significant to the learner’s life.

Here’s how you might use this

There are several factors when making a decision on which taxonomy to use. Your first step is to check with your department to find out if there is a preferred taxonomy. If there is, or if others in your department tend to use one in particular, it will make courses more consistent from your students’ perspectives.

Also, does your department or discipline have any specific standards you need to identify or adhere to in your course? Even if the outcomes are predefined, you should still organize learning processes in order to align the assessment and learning activity elements.

If defining learning outcomes is up to you then choose a taxonomy that best aligns with your teaching and learning philosophy. The pedagogical goals you outline there should relate directly to the goals you have for your students in your course. How you want your students to grow, what skills and habits they should acquire, and the ways you would like them to have changed at the end of your course should be consistent with the taxonomy that you choose. You can even make this information explicit in your syllabus so students know what the course offers and what you expect from them.


The following articles and guides are great resources for more information on using taxonomies when designing your course.