Put the 21st-century's most insightful pedagogical model to work

and why Bloom's Taxonomy is a 20th-century Relic

It's a veritable tragedy that in 2021, school curricula remain focused on producing a person capable of economic self-reliance to the almost total neglect of that which nurtures our soul.

20th and 21st century school curricula are based on the 19th century philosophy that the primary emphasis of education ought to be on the socialization process and the acquisition of pragmatic knowledge and utilitarian skills.

Since the 19th century, the overarching goal of school curricula, was and still is, to provide the individual with the means to be economically self-reliant.

From the mid-1800's onwards, education was viewed as a means of perpetuating the national-cultural identity of the country. The system ferreted out a select group of male students who were further educated in the established universities. Thus, an elite corps of intellectual and political leaders self-selected from the general populace, with the primary function of debating and preserving the tenets of the common cultural identity and guiding its further evolution.

Industrialization of the economy required a disciplined and industrious working class. This was achieved by structuring schools on a factory model that focused on the self-discipline of the work ethic, on knowledge that would be economically beneficial to the individual and to the social economy, and on processes of character building that molded the individual’s character to the moral and ethical standards of the society. These were the requirements of the educational system through which the child developed a relationship to the whole society and came to understand his/her place in that society.

The emerging common culture in the United States and colonies like Australia, was Eurocentric and, essentially, reactive against the cultural influences of imported slaves and the indigenous populations.

Together, these influences gave definition to the common cultural identity of the nation. They also shaped the psychological, pedagogical, and curricular foundations that defined how the individual would be trained to assimilate society's cultural identity and their role and place in their society.

19th century industrialization needed a specific format for learning that graduated people who could be applied to the needs of a rapidly developing class of wealthy industrialists.

It's a veritable tragedy that in 2021, school curricula remain focused on producing a person capable of economic self-reliance to the almost total neglect of that which nurtures our soul - creativity.

In 1953 the world of learning heralded a new Pedagogical model as both a revelation and a revolution. Bloom's model literally shook the education industry to its core.

Compared to 2021, the world was obviously a very different place in the 1950s, perhaps even unrecognizable for a person born in the 21st-century, and yet we still find that educators rely on the Bloom model to inform curricula design.

Bloom's Taxonomy should have been left behind in the 20th-century

The fundamental philosophy of the common school in the 20th-cenury was that all children from all classes of society would be educated together. The purpose of education was to instill a common set of beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and values in the populace. These were the bases of intellectual self-governance and conformity to the Protestant ethos: the work ethic, individual self-discipline enforced by strict discipline in the schools, and the virtue of industry—the systematic labor that instills a system of values.

The goals of the common school were to train the working classes, middle classes, and gentry in a common set of social beliefs, values, and behaviors, expressed in a rational, social self-discipline under the direction and will-power of the individual’s active consciousness. These demanding requirements were intended to produce a virtuous and industrious working class.

It's in this environment that Bloom's Taxonomy was born.

In 1956 the inaugural Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was published, complete with a triangular diagram showing how educational attainment rises through six different orders of learning, from basic information recall through application to analysis and evaluation. Today, more than 60 years later, Bloom’s taxonomy—the fruit of an academic committee’s eight years of labor—is arguably the single most influential work in American education, shaping the content and delivery of learning everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to graduate laboratories. Though it was initially intended simply as an assessment aid, it became an emblem for curriculum design, used to set learning objectives and design classroom activities.

Here at the Skills Studio, we felt that the Bloom model was long overdue for an overhaul. 

There were 3 primary reasons we knew Bloom's Taxonomy was an artifact of the 20th-century:

1. The model is heirarchical and that makes it highly inflexible and does not convery the subtle connections and interdependencies of the pedagogy. The model emphasized the broader use of the taxonomy as a tool for curriculum planning and delivery as well as assessment.

2. It was designed primarily to aid assessments, and also to support curriculum design so that curricula enabled easy and reliable assessements.

3. It uses a mere six orders of learning. It’s understood today that students “create” knowledge in their own minds as they engage in meaningful learning, but Bloom’s taxonomy does not take this constructivist perspective into account. It can't because it was modelled in a very different age with objectives that are simply no longer relevant or helpful.

Recent revisions of the model portrays Bloom’s orders of learning as interlocking cogs (a kind of phonetic symbol for “cognition”) with the highest order, Create, as the largest wheel in the centre, and all the others connecting to it. Often labeled 'Bloom's Rose', it's a dense and difficult representation of Bloom's taxonomy and once digested, reinforces why it's not a student-centric model.

Many educators believe Bloom’s taxonomy helps establish learning outcomes for a course by encouraging instructors to be crystal clear about what students will learn: the knowledge they will gain, and how they will be able to manipulate it. Teachers can pinpoint which order of learning students need to attain, and describe it with precision. 

And therein lies one of the key reasons that Bloom's model is no longer helpful for students. "Teachers can pinpoint which order of learning students need to attain, and describe it with precision" - but how does that help students to develop cruciual skills they need throughout their life?

It helps the education industry because education is still based on assessments, which is how schools and teachers compare each other's performance, and sadly how parents generally still decide on a suitable school for their children. 

Kids are in effect grist-for-the-mill that is the education industry.

The Skills Studio uses a pedagogical model based on experiential learning.

Skills Studio programs helps people of all ages, but likely from about 16 to about 75. We know that the age range is broad and that the motivation for learning these skills varies according to age; a younger person is thinking about their career and an older person may simply want to expand their intellect.

The Skills Studio program can be taught as two themes, focused on Life or STEM skills. Both streams, Life, and STEM comprise nine skills, four of which are common to both streams. The skills equip people to explore their innate potential in the 21st century and to understand their strengths and interests.

Why did we design the models as a matrix?

When we began our research work on this project we were focusing on the skill of Creativity. Our belief was that Creativity is so important and that life in general tends to suppress creativity of students, employees, and even very young children.

Then as we researched the issue of skills development in general it became clear that students graduate full-time education, high school or college, with a dearth of skills relevant to the realities of life in the 21st-century. That realization led to an expansion of the research and the realization that there were several skills that regular education literally ignored.

That's not a commentary on teachers. It's a commentary on the curricula teaches are required to follow.

Long story short, is that we began to consider what skills are really important and we consciously kept the list short, ultimately there were nine skills on the list.

We also decided that a list, as in a numbered list, did nothing to help understand the relationship between the nine skills. 

As we experimented with how they could be presented, the idea of a matrix was proposed and because there nine skills it felt right that we had a 3x3 matrix.

That layout enabled some key insights about the relationship of the skills and also made clear that the columns and rows are in effect learning themes.

It also gave us a wonderful insight because the central skill, that is the skill in the middle of the columns and rows, is Resilience, or being Resilient.

It was clear that the framework just felt right. We all know how vital it is to learn to be resilient and face life's challenges.

I'll explain the learning themes that emerge from the matrix in another Blog Post.

What began as a focus on the humanities led to further research for the skills that are important in a STEM career. We took a similar approach and again were delighted when the STEM skills matrix revealed clear themes and the central skills being that of a collaborator, a skill that is vital for the great majority of STEM careers.

The two programs share 4 common skills which enable a hybrid program that starts with the common skills and then branches to Life or STEM skills, reflecting the interests of the learner.

Each skill has 3 specific behavioral traits that provide an indication of competency and potential also enable an assessment or grade. For the skills shown below, each lists the 3 behaviors that are indicators of competency enabling a teacher to grade or assess students.

About the Author:

Greg Twemlow is a Sydney-based Social Enterprise Founder | Startup Mentor | CEO | Writer | Speaker | Designer at the Skills Studio

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