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Bloom’s Taxonomy and 21st Century Skills

We draw on quite a few paradigms of thought when we develop games, and fortunately for us there is no shortage of taxonomies and frameworks to be found in the realm of education. Recently, during a casual discussion of educational frameworks (yes, we’re nerds) we decided it might be worth highlighting a few with regards to how they might be applied to game-based learning. We thought we’d start with Bloom’s Taxonomy.

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Simply put, Bloom’s taxonomy is a way to organize and classify the way we as human beings think and learn. Complexly put, Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. It’s used in education to build lesson plans and their corresponding assessments, and serves as something of a foundational bedrock to the way we approach learning objectives. The taxonomy is named for Benjamin Bloom, who created the taxonomy along with a committee of educators, with an aim towards creating a standardized methodology for teaching and assessment.

The Domains

The aforementioned domains cover three areas: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. What’s unique about these domains and Bloom’s taxonomy in general is that each domain is populated with a set of verbs that represent the kind of thinking and learning that happens within that domain. Since the world of education is primarily focused on the cognitive domain, I want to take a moment to list out those verbs in particular:

  • Cognitive
  • Remembering
  • Comprehending
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Synthesizing
  • Evaluating

It’s hard to argue that these things aren’t happening during pretty much any learning process, but in my estimation the importance of Bloom’s taxonomy actually lies in its prescient nature. Note that each of these verbs could also be classified as a “higher-order thinking skill,” which is very much in alignment with the modern pedagogical focus on 21st century skills that set students up for longterm success in their careers.

What Does This Have To Do With Games?

I’m glad you asked! The reason we were discussing Bloom’s is that it organizes learning into verbs, which are a key ingredient in our approach to game-based learning. As CCO Dan Norton once famously said,

“Play is driven through action. Players are granted specific means and constraints that govern how they interact with the game. These actions are then scaffolded and rewarded. This can be as simple as placing a tetris piece or as complex as constructing a budget for a railway empire. If the learning objectives speak to a specific action, and we can identify a way to build a digital equivalent (or metaphor) of that action, then it’s possible to wrap that action with feedback, rewards, increasing challenge, and complexity. The result is a core gameplay mechanic that deeply embodies your learning objectives.”

Essentially, game-based learning is at its best when the actions taken by the player embody the learning objectives of the content. With its representation of learning as a series of actions taken by the learner, Bloom’s taxonomy can do for game developers and educators what it was intended to do for educators in 1956 – that is, create a common language around learning and learning outcomes. Whether Bloom wrote his taxonomy in anticipation of The Oregon Trail is a matter for debate, but he certainly anticipated the need to balance our focus on what we learn with the equally important question of how we learn.


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