Learning taxonomies provide guidance and structure for creating meaningful and educational learning experiences. There are other taxonomies as well (Bloom’s Taxonomy, SOLO Taxonomy, and Six Facets of Understanding; all links to posts on this blog), and all have their supporters and critics. But one thing is true: they all aspire to make learning more significant!
Taxonomy of Significant Learning was first presented in 2003 in a book by an American education consultant, L. Dee Fink, titled “Creating significant learning experience.” The idea behind it is based on the concept that for the knowledge to stick, there needs to be some kind of lasting change, a change important to the learner themselves.
According to the foundations behind Fink’s Taxonomy is a notion that when we teach, we engage in two distinct but related activities: designing the course (gathering information, forming a learning path, deciding how particular elements of the path will be taught), and student-teacher interactions (as we implement the course). This relation contributes to how the learning experience should be designed in order to have the most significant impact on the student. Considering that for many designing a course is a task handed to them – instead of taught – and that the world progresses and new ideas/theories are being formed, designing a course is usually the most limiting part.
Following this, and having in mind the best significant impact on the learner, Fink proposed to change the most natural approach to designing (i.e. I want my student to learn XYZ) to change into a deeper question of: “What would I like the impact of this course to be on students, 2-3 years after the course is over? What would distinguish students who have taken this course from students who have not?” Based on his research that included many interviews, observation, and pedagogy studies, the Taxonomy of Significant Learning was coined. In contrast to the others, Fink’s Taxonomy is not linear and doesn’t graduate the experiences from easy to difficult. Instead, it goes beyond and includes other aspects, such as human behavior or caring.
+ Foundational knowledge focuses on the ability to understand and remember ideas and pieces of information. The goal here is to make the learner understand important facts, notions, terminology, and principles. This is the basic foundation necessary for all other kinds of learning.
+ Application focuses on actually applying the knowledge. There must be the development of skills needed to manage tasks; those skills can be practical (solving problems, making decisions), critical (analyzing issues, critiquing), or creative (generating ideas and new points of view).
+ Integration focuses on links and interactions between ideas, views, experiences. Here the learner is able to understand links between various situations or notions.
+ Human dimension focuses on effective working relationship with others. There are two levels to human dimension: personal (living own life, making choices for one’s live) and social (interacting with others).
+ Caring focuses on treating each other with kindness and respect, but also how to get interested and care about new ideas and plans. It’s about becoming fascinated and excited about certain activities or notions (this, in turn, makes the learner long to know more).
+ Learning how to learn focuses on gaining techniques and tips on how to gather new knowledge and become better at learning. This is both for becoming aware of own tactics and tips on how to be better at acquiring knowledge, as well as how to structure knowledge to get the most of it.
To plan a significant learning experience, all kinds of knowledge should be included. As mentioned, they don’t necessarily go gradually, but should all be included in planning a learning outcome. To help out, Fink also presents a list of associated verbs:
This approach to kinds of knowledge is quite interesting, especially from a vocational point of view. If you’d like to know more about this taxonomy, Fink’s research papers are available online, as is his self-directed guide to
+ Fink, L.D. “Creating Significant Learning Experiences.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln. https://www.unl.edu/philosophy/%5BL._Dee_Fink%5D_Creating_Significant_Learning_Experi(BookZZ.org).pdf. Accessed 2 Apr, 2019 (pdf).
+ “Dee Fink and Associates. https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/index.php/resources/. Accessed 2 Apr, 2019.