Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Personality: Confused by Bloom's Taxonomy

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In middle school, I was introduced to the concept of Bloom's Taxonomy as a way of evaluating the complexity of intellectual activity. When participating in the Future Problem Solvers activity, we were always evaluating our work in terms of the levels in the taxonomy.

The six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy were rank-ordered from the most basic to the most sophisticated. As I learned it, the levels were:
(1) Knowledge - Basically, the regurgitation of information
(2) Comprehension - Demonstrating the ability to understand the information, such as placing it into a new context or expressing it in different language
(3) Application - Using the information to solve problems or to gain insight into a different situation
(4) Analysis - Looking for patterns in the information or otherwise breaking it down into sub-concepts or finding hidden meanings
(5) Synthesis - Using the information to come up with new, creative ideas
(6) Evaluation - Judging and comparing ideas, recognizing their relative value

Most of the time, we were operating at the application or analysis level during Future Problem Solvers, and most of the discussion was about whether our presented ideas rose to the level of analysis, or simply represented the application of information that had been given to us.

Above that, though, I never understood why evaluation was at the top of the taxonomy, and synthesis was considered less sophisticated. I rarely had any problem evaluating ideas and opining on their relative worth, knowing whether this judgment was objective and could be backed up with evidence and informed logic, or was simply subjective. On the other hand, I found synthesis to be very difficult. It was very rare that I would come up with a truly original idea that wasn't just an application of existing information. If I could ever come up with any synthesis, I had no problem with the evaluation of it, but often I could never get past the synthesis and would only get credit for analysis.

When I learned the personality theory related to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Meridian Stretching, the reason for this paradox became apparent. Benjamin Bloom must have come from the "thinking world," which looks toward the future and thinks analytically and proactively. Thinking types are known for bringing disparate ideas together and seeing how they can work together to do something exciting, especially if it is in the future. In other words, they know how to synthesize. On the other hand, to other types, they seem to have no filter. They have lots of ideas, some of them quite useful, but others that are almost useless, and they don't seem to have any way to tell the difference. In other words, they are not great evaluators. From a "thinking" world perspective, the taxonomy makes sense--synthesis is comparatively easy, but evaluation is comparatively hard.

On the other hand, the "spiritual world" takes a timeless perspective and tends to be reactive instead of proactive. It thinks logically rather than analytically, and thus needs ideas to follow closely from one another, rather than jumping between disparate ideas. For those coming from the "spiritual" world, synthesis is hence quite difficult--they have to be practically force-led the logic behind new ideas, rather than a grand vision. On the other hand, because of their embrace of logic, they have a much easier time evaluating ideas. They can dissect ideas to the point that they can tell which are superior, and only focus on the ones that are useful. Evaluation for them is second nature, but synthesis is hard. Needless to say, I come from the perspective of the "spiritual" world.

An obvious conclusion is that efficient problem solving would involve both "thinking" types and "spiritual" types. The "thinking" types would come up with a long string of ideas, and the "spiritual" types would evaluate them and decide which ones are worthwhile. The partnership could conceivably be quite powerful.

For the other two worlds in this personality system, the "physical" world which is present-focused and active, and the "emotional" world which is past-focused and retroactive, I suspect there is some influence of the balancing worlds (most "physicals" are balanced by "spirituals" and hence would have a subconscious that could evaluate better than synthesize, and most "emotional" types are balanced by "thinking" types are hence have a subconscious better suited to synthesis) but that they substantially find both synthesis and evaluation difficult.

I understand that there is now a revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy floating around that reverses the positions of synthesis and evaluation such that synthesis is the highest function. I suspect the revision must have been done by a bunch of "spiritual" types!

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