effective domain learning


Krathwohl et al. (1964) wrote the seminal book describing what Bloom and others called the
affective domain. The affective domain includes all things that limit or enhance learning in
addition to basic thinking. The affective domain describes learning objectives that emphasize a
feeling, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection. Affective characteristics vary from
simply paying attention, to complex qualities of character and conscience.
The affective domain involves many things that at first seem unconnected, but Krathwohl et
al. (1964) arranged them in a hierarchical order (Figure 1) related to an individual's level of
commitment to learning. The Science Education Resource Center website has a good summary
of the affective domain (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/intro.html). The
key idea is this: receiving information is the first and easiest part of learning. More important is
Figure 1. The affective domain as described by Krathwohl et al. (1964).

 Krathwohl et al.
organized the domain into a hierarchy based upon an individuals commitment to
living and valuing.
8 Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn
that you respond to what you learn, you value it and organize it and eventually use it to guide
your lives. A key part of this process is developing good attitudes toward learning and what you
learn. Motivation and values are important. In fact, a recent study by Dweck and others
demonstrates that student views of learning often have significant effects on student grades.
The affective domain, according to current educational literature, is essential for learning.
Yet, it receives little attention from most teachers. Instead, most teachers focus on the cognitive
aspects of the teaching and learning and most of the classroom time is designed for cognitive
outcomes. Additionally, many affective characteristics are nebulous or hard to quantify making
it difficult for both teachers and students to specify goals and to evaluate whether those goals are
met. Perhaps the most important consideration of the affective domain occurs when you assess
your own learning. You can consider and evaluate motives, attitudes, and other things in a way
that your teacher cannot. You can identify and deal with affective roadblocks to learning that
can neither be recognized nor solved when using a purely cognitive approach.
In response to a need for a broader consideration of learning, Fink (2003) proposed a
taxonomy of “significant learning” 

(Table 2) that involves aspects of both the cognitive and
affective domains. This taxonomy was developed to emphasize that learning involves changes in
the learner. Significant learning is characterized by “some kind of lasting change that is
important in terms of the learner’s life” (Fink 2003). Each of Fink’s rather broad categories
includes several related specific kinds of learning. However, unlike in Bloom’s taxonomy, the
categories in the Fink (2003) taxonomy are interactive rather than hierarchical.
According to the Fink scheme, foundational knowledge includes knowledge and
understanding of basic facts, ideas, and perspectives. Foundational knowledge also includes
understanding the conceptual structure of factual knowledge within a subject, essential when
applying factual knowledge in other areas. Foundational knowledge is also essential for other
kinds of learning to be useful, hence the term foundational.
In addition to being able to recall information and ideas, one also needs to be able to apply
one’s knowledge or skills to new situations; this is application. This category includes learning
to engage in new kinds of thinking (critical, creative, practical) as well as certain skills (e.g.,
communication, playing an instrument). 

Critical thinking, discussed in more detail below, refers
to the process of analyzing and evaluating, whereas creative thinking is the process of creating
new ideas, designs, products, or forms of expression (Sternberg 1989; cited in Fink 2003).
Practical learning occurs when foundational knowledge is applied to answering questions,
solving problems, or making decisions. In the Fink taxonomy, the real intellectual power comes
from integration, which involves being able to make connections between specific ideas, people,
or different realms of life. This includes interdisciplinary learning, learning communities, and
connecting academic work with other areas of life. The human dimension of learning describes
the type of learning that occurs when a student learns something important about himself or
Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn 9
herself, or what they might desire to become. This new self-knowledge enables them to
recognize the personal and social implications of their knowledge and to function and interact
more effectively with others. (Others are broadly defined by Fink to include interacting with
technology). These kinds of learning (human dimension) are broadly similar to “emotional
intelligence,” which Goleman (1998; cited in Fink 2003), describes as including self-awareness,
self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Both authors note the importance of
understanding self and others, and of the reciprocity of learning about oneself and others.
When a learning experience has a profound effect on a student, it can result in a greater sense
of caring for the subject, for themselves, others, or learning in general. Greater caring can lead
to new interests, energy for learning, or a change in values. Finally, it is also important to learn
how to learn. This includes learning how to diagnose one’s own need for learning and how to be
a self-learner. This type of learning enables students to continue learning with greater
effectiveness and is a particularly important skill with the recent explosion of knowledge and
Table 2. Fink’s (2003) Categories of Significant Learning.
Learning Categories Specific Kinds of
Examples from Geology
Foundational Knowledge Understanding and
Remembering Information &
Understand important geologic features,
processes, and concepts sufficiently well
to explain and predict other observations
Application Skills; Critical, Creative, and
Practical Thinking; Managing
Be able to find and analyze information to
solve problems from a geologic
perspective; learn to manage complex
tasks; develop new skills such as
language, communication, music, dance,
Integration Connecting Ideas, People, and
Realms of Life
Identify the interactions between geology
and other realms of knowledge such as
biology, politics, or economics
Human Dimension Learning about Oneself and
Be able to identify ways in which one’s
own life affects and is affected by
interactions with the Earth; learning how
to be a leader or a team member;
developing character and ethics;
becoming culturally sensitive and serving
others; taking responsibility for one’s
own life
Caring Developing New Feelings,
Interests, and Values
Be interested in the Earth and continue
learning about it; wanting to be a good
students; being excited about a subject or
Learning How to Learn Becoming a Better Student;
Inquiring About a Subject; SelfDirecting Learners
Be able to interpret the significance of
new geologic information; learning how
to inquire and construct knowledge;
developing a learning agenda and plan
10 Wirth & Perkins - Learning to Learn
The lecturer pumps laboriously into sieves.
The water may be wholesome, but it runs

. A mind must work to grow.
C.W. Eliot
At best, most traditional college courses and curricula are designed to provide students with
foundational knowledge and the skills for self-directed learning after graduation. How does one
develop the other aspects of significant learning? That’s a question for both the learner and the
instructor. For an overview of the skill and value objectives considered by teachers when
designing courses, view the Teaching Goals Inventory (http://www.uiowa.edu/~centeach/tgi/).
The bottom line is this: there is a lot more to learning than memorizing, recalling, or even
understanding, facts. Stated another way: there is much more to learning than content. The
successful student must also know how to apply knowledge to new areas; integrate knowledge
with other aspects of life; understand the implications of knowledge for self and others; care
about learning; and learn how to learn. None of these learning categories can be neglected
because learning in one area enhances learning in other areas (Fink 2003).

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