Learning Domains and Delivery of Instruction
Learning domains, sometimes referred to as categories of learning
outcomes, are critical to consider as you plan your lessons. By
analyzing the type of learning domain or outcome that you want,
you can determine which activities, assessments, and representational
modes (face-to-face, video, online, multimedia) are optimal based
on the learning outcome desired. With the access to learning technologies
more available to faculty and with greater numbers of students having
access at home and work, it is possible and desirable to use multiple
representational modes to increase the probability that students
will attain higher levels of learning.
The following is a brief overview of learning domains with examples
of how you might represent content, provide activities, and assess
mastery of that domain. These domains include cognitive, affective,
psychomotor, and interpersonal.
This domain focuses on intellectual skills and is familiar to educators.
Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis,
synthesis, and evaluation) is frequently used to describe the increasing
complexity of cognitive skills as students move from beginner to
more advanced in their knowledge of content. The cognitive domain
is the core learning domain. The other domains (affective, interpersonal,
and psychomotor) require at least some cognitive component.
The cognitive domain is well suited to the online environment.
Face-to-face courses benefit from using the web as a way to supplement
classroom lectures that are cognitive in nature. These supplemental
material may include the following:
Additional explanations of key concepts
Graphics to show relationships between ideas
Organized class notes
Tables that provide summary information
- Additional examples
- Self-check quizzes
A discussion board
- Drill and practice of content that must be memorized
- FLASH animations or simulations of challenging and key concepts
Practice questions with answers and “expert”
- Links to similar information presented in a different way
Courses that are hybrid (presented in both an online and face-to-face
format), often present the cognitive portion of the course via the
web and use classroom time for the more affective, psychomotor,
and interpersonal learning outcomes.
As we move up the cognitive domain especially as we get to synthesis
and evaluation, collaborative assignments requiring students to
engage in problem-based or project-based activities serve as important
ways to determine if students have reached that level of learning.
These projects can be done online, but often lend themselves to
at least some face-to-face interaction. If face-to-face interaction
is not possible, synchronous mediated events such as web casting,
interactive video, or conference calls facilitate project development.
Also, higher cognitive skills provide opportunities for student
to develop interpersonal domain learning. To the extent that we
desire interpersonal learning outcomes, we should consider how to
facilitate face-to-face interactions.
The Affective Domain
The affective domain is critical for learning but is often not
specifically addressed. This is the domain that deals with
attitudes, motivation, willingness to participate, valuing what
is being learned, and ultimately incorporating the values of a discipline
into a way of life. Stages in that domain are not as sequential
as the cognitive domain, but have been described as the following:
- Receiving (willing to listen)
Responding (willing to participate)
Valuing (willing to be involved)
Organizing (willing to be an advocate)
Characterization (willing to change one’s
behavior, lifestyle, or way of life)
We do not necessarily expect our math students to become math instructors
or mathematicians, but we want them to be willing to “show
up” for class, participate in class, and become involved with
the content. We expect students to expend effort in their courses
and sustain the effort throughout the duration of the course.
We also would like our students to take the next higher course or
another course in the curriculum because they value what they have
The affective domain is not best handled with just text on a screen.
Class meetings or an initial class meeting to support an online
course might be used for affective development. Videos and audio
clips are also excellent ways to engage the affective domain. These
should be short and may include the following:
Former students giving tips on how to be successful
The instructor informing the students of the
value of the course
- Professionals who are using the knowledge from the course in
An overview of the program with key support
personnel and facilities visible to the student
Streaming audio files throughout the course
encouraging students and providing helpful tips
Short video clips of the instructor explaining
Additionally, chunking information into small steps and designing
opportunities for the students to be successful facilitate affective
learning for students. Face-to-face courses can include affective
online components by allowing students to have a place to post questions,
get feedback, and hear encouraging messages from the instructor
(with a text accompaniment). Encouraging students to set goals for
themselves that are reasonable can also enhance affective learning.
To the extent that students are challenged or are new to a content
area, we would expect instructors to include more affective learning
The psychomotor domain focuses on performing sequences of motor
activities to a specified level of accuracy, smoothness, rapidity,
or force. Underlying the motor activity is cognitive understanding.
In the higher education environment, we see psychomotor learning
in content including the following:
Lab courses for science classes
Physical education courses
Training in using specified equipment such
as computers, cameras, musical instruments etc.
The stages of the psychomotor domain have been described as follows:
The psychomotor domain is best assessed in a face-to-face situation.
Since there is a cognitive component underlying motor skills, these
can be effectively viewed in videos, demonstrations, online text
descriptions, or with pictures of each step in the sequence. Simulations
can be used to help people learn the steps or practice variations
of a motor sequence; but ultimately, the student should perform
the skill with an instructor or designee judging if the skill was
performed to a set standard. Sometimes, simulations are used for
learning without “hands on” opportunities, because the
psychomotor activity is dangerous or equipment is not readily available.
Students who are new to a content area will generally benefit more
from “hands-on” learning than from mediated learning
within the psychomotor domain. As students become more expert, videos
and pictures can be used to teach the skill.
The Interpersonal domain focuses on people interacting with others.
As we redesign our courses using the 21st Century Learning
Outcomes Project (http://socrates.fhda.edu/fh/staff/century/centurycomps.html
as a guide, the interpersonal domain takes on greater importance
than perhaps in the past. The levels in this domain should not be
considered hierarchical as in the cognitive domain, but more as
a list of skills. These include the following:
Seeking/giving information (asking for and
Proposing (putting forward an idea)
Building and supporting (helping another person’s
idea move forward)
Shutting out/bringing in (excluding or involving
Disagreeing (appropriately offering a difference
Summarizing (Restating in a compact form a
discussion or collection of ideas)
The above list is not exhaustive. Other skills to add to the list
might include negotiating, compromising, facilitating, and leading.
Interpersonal skills are learned by seeing models, practicing the
skills, and getting feedback in the form of coaching. While short
videos, good explanations, and checklists can facilitate the conceptual
learning of the skills, the actual acquisition of the interpersonal
skill is best done with face-to-face contact and lots of instructor
feedback. With the use of forums and classroom meetings online,
we might be tempted to believe that face-to-face is no longer necessary
and interpersonal skills can be taught in a virtual environment.
While technical innovations allows us more collaboration than in
the past, if our core learning outcome is interpersonal, some face-to-face
interaction is desirable.
This table provides a summary of what has been described above.
Drill and practice
Short answer essay
Project or problem-based activities
Web-enhanced materials supplementing classroom
Hybrid course with cognitive content on the web
Multimedia simulations of challenging and key
Project based for higher cognitive skills
Multiple choice or short essay questions
Self-reflective writing in a journal
Practice tutorials designed for student success
Streaming audio explanations and encouragement
Interactive video, web casts, conference calls
Self-assessment using check-list
Pre/post attitude survey related to course content
Retention/success in course
Practice of desired skill with feedback
Arranging sequences of an activity in correct
Pictures with audio and text explanations
Interactive video demonstrations
Performance of skill matches set standard as
observed by an instructor or designee
Structured team projects with debriefing
Analyzing video models and identifying correct
from incorrect performance
Face-to-face small group coaching and feedback
Check lists, examples, videos and other cognitive
support material presented online
Team, instructor and self assessment measures
Analysis of video taped student performance of
desired interpersonal skill
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