How to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to get real business gains from your investment in training

by Bob Colclough on July 1, 2012

Discusion - Conference

Introduction

If you’re involved in commissioning, planning and delivering training this article is for you.

The article introduces you to the benefits of going beyond simple objectives in ensuring training really delivers the results you expect or need.

It considers both Smart objectives and the use of Bloom’s taxonomy (an awful title, I know, but bear with me for now).

Smart Objectives

You’re probably already aware of Smart objectives.

They’re widely used not only in training but throughout business to ensure clarity of thought when trying to achieve a particular aim.

They are invaluable in that they force to the surface, untested assumptions about the purpose or achievability of a project or task.

Smart stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed (or Achievable)
  • Realistic
  • Time-limited

We have worked with many trainers over the years, and regularly encounter draft objectives of this type:

  • “Increase awareness of health and safety throughout the organisation” or…
  • “Understand the importance of health and safety throughout the organisation”

Now the trainer might be very well-intentioned, in stating these as objectives. However, training outcomes would be extremely hard to measure.

These objectives might be more fit for purpose:

At the end of this course:

You will be able to:

  • Name the five health and safety policies that apply to your department and know how to ensure compliance amongst your team.

You will also believe in the importance of health and safety and have the determination to

  • Follow the policies yourself over future months and
  • Ensure also that your staff follow such policies

Bloom’s Taxonomy

So you’ve got a smart objective, surely that’s enough? Well, not quite.

There can be major difficulties in interpreting a Smart objective. Let’s take an example. Suppose your course objective is this:

“By the end of this course you will be able to successfully add a new task to the company’s project management system.”

It sounds okay, doesn’t it? Where can things go wrong?

The main difficulty is that your training course might achieve this objective but at very different levels.

1. At an elementary level, let’s call it level one, delegates may have had the chance to in add a new task to the companies project management by copying the trainer. The trainer may feel this is sufficient.

2. At a somewhat higher level, let’s call it level two, delegates may have acquired sufficient skill to be able to enter a new task, by following some instructions.

3. At a yet higher level, called level 3, delegates may be able to carry out the task of adding a new task to the project management system reliably, consistently, and without need for extra instructions that would not ordinarily be available.

There’s a world of difference between levels 1, 2 and 3.

In many training courses trainers who achieve level 1 with the delegates may feel they have done a reasonable job. Indeed in the time available for the training course, it may be very difficult or impossible to provide training at a higher level.

Level 2 achievement is certainly more useful. However again, such training may not be sufficient by itself. To ensure that the learner has the ability to carry out the task, further practice training and support will be required in the workplace.

At level 3, providing the training is successful, delegates will leave with the skill to carry out the task immediately on return to their workplace.

Classifying levels of learning in this way, was first pioneered by Benjamin Bloom and documented in one of his early books in 1956.

His initial classification system extended to both knowledge and attitude. It was subsequently extended further to cover skills.

It has been widely used in both education and business throughout the world to achieve more precision for training and learning objectives.

You can see more details on the detail of Bloom’s classification here.

Benefits of using Blooms Taxonomy

Business results match expectations

As an exercise on our courses, we ask delegates to assess:

  • The Blooms level, they realistically expect to achieve in their training.
  • The Blooms level that their management or the training sponsor expects the training to achieve.

In well over half of cases there is a difference. As you might guess, the business expects rather more than the trainer is expecting or is able to deliver. This does not suggest that the trainer is in some way in adequate. It almost always stems from a lack of prior discussion on exactly what the training can achieve in the time that is available.

By ironing out these differences in advance, the training is much more likely to deliver what the training sponsor is expecting.

Furthermore in cases where the training can deliver at level 2, but the business really needs achievement at level 3, the organisation can plan further workplace training support to follow the initial training.

There is a more rational basis of the training assessment

Assessment of training, whether formal or informal, is important in the whole training process. However without a Blooms assessment, it is difficult to get this right.

If the training is designed to deliver level 3 achievement than the assessment should match. So assessment must in this case test that the trainees can indeed carry out the skill without assistance consistently and repeatedly.

More clarity in course descriptions

If the course is designed to deliver achievement level 2, then this should be reflected in the course objectives. In this way, potential delegates will know what to expect as a result of the course.

It is a much fairer process for trainers

Many trainers are unable, in the time available, to produce results at level 3. Very frequently, the trainer only has time to deliver training at level one or two; whereas the course sponsor is expecting achievement at level 3.

By ensuring that everyone’s expectation of a realistic outcome is at the same level, it gives the trainer a much greater chance to succeed.

A trainer who feels confident in delivering against the objectives is much more likely to approach the course positively and successfully.

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