Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Benjamin Bloom

It’s very heartening that some non-educational specialists in the WEA are interested in knowing more about the thinking behind the best quality of teaching and learning.

Various thinkers have made lasting contributions to the theories of adult learning that tutors and teachers apply in their day-to-day practice. Some of their ideas are not known very widely outside the world of education but they can help us to develop our own thinking and learning in all sorts of settings.

Who should be in an ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’?

Benjamin Bloom (1913 – 1999) is a strong candidate. He was the American educational psychologist who classified educational objectives in a model known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom believed that education should be more than just the dull transfer of ‘facts’ to unquestioning students. He encouraged active and engaging teaching and learning that promoted higher levels of thinking.

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom developed a clear and logical model showing different levels of learning. Various versions have appeared since 1956 but his basic ideas have stood the test of time with slight revision.

He defined the lowest level of learning as simply the absorption of facts – including learning ‘by heart’ or ‘by rote’ without necessarily understanding the ‘knowledge’ being taken in. The higher levels of learning are increasingly complex with much more active student participation and originality. The most exciting, lively and stimulating learning is at the higher levels.

Simplified version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

The poet Robert Frost described himself as, ‘not a teacher, but an awakener’. Bloom’s Taxonomy gives us a practical checklist to aim for the same claim. We can use it as a prompt for planning, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of our teaching and learning.

The classification can be used beyond formal learning environments. Do we believe everything we read in the papers – or online or even in traditional books? Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a good reminder to think about and to question information. Google and other search engines provide some answers to the questions that we might ask, but should we always accept the answers that we are given or should we be thinking at higher levels?

Who else should be in an Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame? Any suggestions – or volunteers willing to write a short guest blog on someone who influences teaching and learning in adult education?

You can leave a comment on the blog or send me an email at awalker@wea.org.uk if you’re willing to write a guest blog.

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About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

12 Responses to Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Benjamin Bloom

  1. Pearl Ryall says:

    My vote goes to Kurt Lewin. He pioneered democratic learning, had a major impact on our understanding of groups dynamics and developed action research which is the basis of experiential learning described by Kolb (who may also wind up in your Hall of Fame). Lewin was born in 1890 in Prussia. A radical thinker, he taught philosophy and psychology and would have been at home in the WEA as he also organised and taught adult education programmes. He studied different group leadership models – democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire – and concluded that there was more originality, group-mindedness and friendliness in democratic groups! He designed an education programme that encouraged group discussion and decision-making, where tutors and students treated one another as peers. But he was concerned that groups and individuals had a lack of information about their performance so he introduced ‘feedback’ a term he borrowed from electrical engineering! For Lewin feedback was a group discussion where the difference between the desired (planned?) and actual outcome was evaluated. When accompanied by close observation and a cycle of incremental change you have the process of Action Research which is how we learn and improve our practice. He left Germany in 1933 and became a US citizen n in 1940. He died in 1947.

  2. Andria Birch says:

    My vote would still go to Freire

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Freire

    Although I think in coming years some of the innovators in development and use of technology, flipping the classroom, crowd resource development and other mass applications will come to be recognised for their contributions to democratising knowledge sharing and real community learning. Currently still often dismissed by traditional educationalists I think we will see the likes of Jimmy Wales et al joining the halls of educational fame in the not too distant future.

  3. V Beauchamp says:

    My vote too would be Freire. I found his ‘Pedagogy of Freedom’ an inspiration. Freire recognized that teaching is very much a two way process and that life experiences of students have to be taken into account. These are the quotes I found most inspiring:
    “There is no teaching without learning”
    “To know how to teach is to create possibilities for the construction and production of knowledge rather than to be engaged in a game of transferring knowledge.”
    “Hope is something shared between teachers and students. The hope we can learn together, teach together, be curiously impatient together, produce something together and resist together the obstacles that prevent the flowering of our joy”.
    “Respect for the autonomy and dignity of every person is an ethical imperative and not a favour to concede”.
    With the diversity of students/learners within the WEA I have never failed to learn as much from them as they have from the courses I run.

  4. Hazel Richardson says:

    One of the influential educational thinkers in the area of literacy teaching is Mary Hamilton. She worked with Barton to develop a theory of literacy as social practice. Hamilton challenged the view that learning literacy competence can be recorded simply in terms of levels of skills; this leads to a narrow view of literacy, as literacy differed from other skills-based subjects. She wrote that “popular culture and mass media is in danger of being dismissed or considered to be the cause of falling literacy standards”. She maintained that to concentrate on the skills involved with reading and writing without linking the activity to social structures within which they take place is to ignore “what people do with literacy”. She also developed the notion of vernacular and dominant institutional literacies, where often vernacular literacies are not considered “real reading and real writing.” Her work has had a great influence on teaching literacy in general and hopefully in the way I approach literacy teaching with my community groups. It also encourages us all to question the way we assess literacy levels and may even help to add another dimension to the present debates of inflated grades and falling standards.

  5. Andria Birch says:

    This is an excellent film for anyone interested in considering the role of technology in learning and flipping the classroom. It is well worth watching whole flim, but specific discussion on flipping starts about 10 mins in:

  6. Pearl Ryall says:

    Thanks Andria – compulsive viewing

  7. Henry Tam says:

    John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jane Addams (1860-1935), both of whom integrated visionary progressive philosophy, championing of democracy and social reforms with community activism and holistic education for all ages.

  8. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments and suggestions so far – a very good basis to continue exploring a wide range of influences on the best quality of teaching and learning in adult education.

    The video raises many questions, as does the internet’s role as a resource for sharing knowledge more democratically. There’s no doubt that the web has opened up communication and information for millions of people, but many are also being left behind by digital exclusion and inequality. Who has affordable and easy access to broadband and web authoring tools – and the confidence to use them? What do we know about the demographics of people who write Wikipedia entries? Who controls the search engines?

    What challenges do these issues raise for educators?

    The WEA is responding to some of the issues. Andria is the manager of the Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network and we will soon be starting a new ‘View’ project in the North West Region which will culminate in a student-led TED* type conference that will be filmed and available online. ‘View’ will be supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund (http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/clif¬).

    The comments show that there is a wealth of educational theory from the past and present that we can apply to teaching and learning as we adapt to constantly changing technology and circumstances. It’s good to share those ideas and to learn from each other.

    * See http://www.ted.com/pages/about to find out more about TED talks.

  9. Ann Walker says:

    An updated version of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives is available at bit.ly/K7A2C

  10. Pingback: Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Robert Gagne, Jerome Bruner and Howard Gardner « WEA Director for Education's Blog

  11. Pingback: 10 quick lessons from educational thinkers | WEA Director for Education's Blog

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