Self-guided learning II: The Knowledge Dimension
In the previous article, we looked at what Bloom's Taxonomy was and where it is used. We began to look at ways a solid grounding in the taxonomy can help learners to scaffold their own learning (by knowing, given any specific topic, where they are in the taxonomy, and by providing a route to higher levels of proficiency), and how educators and curriculum developers use the taxonomy to craft learning objectives. In the article after this one, we will look at some of the tools we can use to construct learning scaffolds which link learning objectives together. In this article, we'll look at another aspect of the taxonomy – the Knowledge Dimension – and how we can use metacognitive knowledge to develop appropriate strategies for rapid learning. We'll also look at some examples of these strategies, and how the taxonomy helps us to select the right ones to use in particular learning contexts.
The Kinds of Knowledge (Knowledge Dimension)
Before embarking on learning a particular topic, try to recognise what sort of knowledge you are being asked to acquire. The 2001 revision of Bloom's taxonomy splits topic knowledge into four 'kinds':
- A. Factual Knowledge - The basic elements that students must know to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems in it.
Aa. Knowledge of terminology
Ab. Knowledge of specific details and elements
- B. Conceptual Knowledge - The interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure that enable them to function together.
Ba. Knowledge of classifications and categories
Bb. Knowledge of principles and generalizations
Bc. Knowledge of theories, models, and structures
- C. Procedural Knowledge - How to do something; methods of inquiry, and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and methods.
Ca. Knowledge of subject-specific skills and algorithms
Cb. Knowledge of subject-specific techniques and methods
Cc. Knowledge of criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures
- D. Metacognitive Knowledge - Knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one's own cognition.
Da. Strategic knowledge
Db. Knowledge about cognitive tasks, including appropriate contextual and conditional knowledge
Unlike the taxonomy of cognitive processes, no 'kind' is 'harder' or 'more complex' than any other. In addition, these 'kinds' are not exclusive to the Knowledge level of the cognitive process taxonomy: for example, you can Analyse your own self-knowledge, or Evaluate another's explanation for a specific skill.
Of the kinds of knowledge, D (metacognitive knowledge) is most important for self-guided learning (and especially adult learning). This is supported by cognitive science, information processing, neuroscience, educational theory, and so on.
Using Bloom's Taxonomy and Kinds of Knowledge in self-guided learning
Understanding and applying Knowledge Dimension D (metacognition, first proposed in 1979) allows learners to structure their learning meticulously. Paraphrased:
D. Metacognitive Knowledge - Knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one's own cognition.
- Da. Knowledge of useful learning strategies
- Db. Knowledge of when is the right context to apply them, and why
- Dc. Knowledge of which strategies work best for you & what motivates you best
Let's look at each of these, concretely, and how you can use them.
Da. Learning Strategies
- Useful for lower-level cognitive processes (Remember and Understand)
- For example, repeating words to yourself
- Essentially 'rote learning'.
- Useful across all cognitive processes, especially Understand
- Create a mnemonic (e.g. SOLID in Object-Oriented Design)
- Summarise or paraphrase a recalled topic description
- Identify the main ideas within a topic
- Teach an idea to someone else, adapting your teaching to their learning
- Translate an idea into a different domain, e.g. by analogy
- Essentially, develop a recalled fact beyond the terminology you already know.
- Useful across higher cognitive processes, especially Analyse and Evaluate
- Outline a topic, extracting key points
- Concept-map a topic, linking key topic points together and differentiating between them
- Diagram or graph a topic
- Create physical aide-memoirs relevant to topic Understanding
- Take notes in a style unique to you (arrows, images…anything goes, whatever makes sense)
- Essentially, abstract a concept.
- Vital at all levels of cognitive process
- Set subgoals
- Monitor your own cognition by asking questions designed to pinpoint you on the Cognitive Process taxonomy
- Re-reading things you got wrong
- Checking answers against rubrics, and constructing or improving rubrics based on how helpful they are
- Moving up and down the taxonomy depending on your confidence at different levels
- Using and creating appropriate resources
- Essentially, focussing on and developing your own learning around a topic.
- Especially useful at Analyse, Evaluate, and Create
- Working backwards from a solution
- Avoiding circularity or fallacies in logical thinking
- Drawing inferences from multiple sources of data
- Essentially, abstract and reconstruct a concept in a concrete way.
Db. Knowing the right context
To use learning strategies effectively, you have to know when's the right time to apply them. This process is pretty intuitive:
- Where is this task on the taxonomy? Am I being asked to remember, explain, analyse, build…?
- Which are appropriate strategies for this level of cognitive process?
Other, non-taxonomic contexts can influence which learning strategies are appropriate. For example, working in a team on an analysis problem may first involve definition of that problem using Modelling, where a single student might be able to jump straight to Organising the solution.
Dc. Knowing what works for you
Finally, knowing your own aptitudes for particular learning strategies can inform which one is right to use.
Helpful things to consider are:
- What your strengths and weaknesses are in the taxonomy (i.e. 'I can remember almost everything, but I hate trying to evaluate others' explanations');
- What your strengths and weaknesses are in tasks (i.e. 'planning an Object-Oriented Design? A-OK! Implementing one? Not so much'), and
- Whether you over-rely on one or more learning strategies and so are inflexible when others are called for (i.e. 'I'm great at Organising information on my own but suck at clarifying problems in a team').
You can then change up your use of learning strategies or taxonomic levels to adapt.
Motivation is critical to learning – drudging through a task you hate doing will leave you much less likely to remember how to complete it. Part of self-knowledge involves knowing how your own motivation varies depending on:
- The taxonomic level (i.e. ‘I suck at explaining things but can remember almost everything’);
- The task in question (i.e. ‘I hate working in a team but am way awesome on my own’);
- The domain of study (i.e. ‘I love politics but really struggle with math concepts’), and
- The learning strategy being used (i.e. ‘I hate taking notes, I love diagramming everything instead’).
To solve motivation problems, adjust your use of learning strategies, and practice different approaches to certain tasks.
Self-guided learning is the ideal learning scenario. Effective self-guided learning involves high metacognitive ability (i.e. knowing how you think and actively directing your learning in response to this). There are some practical tools you can use to improve and scaffold self-guided learning:
- Self-evaluation (using the taxonomy to understand where you are in relation to the topic as a whole), and
- Learning strategies which are context-appropriate and suit your own motivational requirements.
In the next article we'll look more deeply at Taxonomy tables. We'll see how the insights from Bloom's taxonomy can be used to craft curricula that scaffold students rapidly up the taxonomy, while placing as much of the onus on self-guided learning as possible.