Higher education to cultivate higher learning, thinking & creativity


At its best, education cultivates lifelong learning that fosters growing understanding, competence, and creativity. Arguably, honors education, understood and practiced as transdisciplinary and transformative global education that cultivates global competence, is an excellent preparation for life and work in the 21st century, which will be increasingly global, complex, and challenging.

In 1956, a group of educational psychologists led by Benjamin Bloom, created Bloom’s Taxonomy, a classification of levels of intellectual operations, in order to promote higher forms of learning, thinking and creativity. Here is the original version from 1956:

Bloom's taxonomy original, old

In the 1990s, a group of cognitive psychologists, led by Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom, revised and updated the taxonomy to make it more relevant for the 21st century:

Bloom's taxonomy new, updated, revised

I prefer the inverted version of the new taxonomy as it reverses the emphasis from memory to creativity without at the same time discounting the importance of memory. It also better reflects the 4Cs of the 21st century skills movement, that are integral to global competence and considered essential by employers: Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity & complex real-world problem-solving.

This brief summary of the taxonomy acknowledges that most if not all higher-order thinking and meta-cognition is conceptual, and emphasizes skills and competence, i.e. what learners actually can do. Fittingly, it moves from the nouns of the old version to the verbs of the new version:

We must remember a concept before we can understand it.
We must understand a concept before we can apply it.
We must be able to apply a concept before we analyze it.
We must have analyzed a concept before we can evaluate it.
We must have remembered, understood, applied, analyzed, and evaluated a concept before we can create.

It is also useful to turn the pyramid into a wheel, giving us ‘the wheel deal,’ as we don’t always use all stages at the same time:

Bloom's wheel


Better yet, we can turn the wheel into a spiral to better show how each lower level is contained in each higher level. It is tempting, again, to frame this in the context of Hegel’s  philosophy of sublation in the threefold sense of overcoming, preserving, and lifting to a higher level. Thus, an ever widening and deepening spiral becomes a beautiful metaphor for lifelong, transformative learning (unfortunately I couldn’t find a spiral of the new taxonomy, so this one still uses the older terminology):

Bloom's rose, spiral, wheel

Bloom’s old and new taxonomy, wheel and spiral are closely related to the DIKW Pyramid, which tries to differentiate between data, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In analogy to the difference between tactics and strategy, whereas the first four ask whether we are doing things right, the latter asks whether we are doing the right things. While the former are about empiricism, methodology, theory, and technique/technology, the latter is about ethics and philosophy, about values and interests. As David Foster Wallace argues, the meaning of education is much less learning how to think and much more learning what to think about, what to value, and why. It has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with awareness, awareness of  what is most important and what, therefore, we should pay attention to, what we should attend to. Inquiring into what is best requires reflecting on what is good, which immediately raises the question: Good/better/best for whom and for what?


None of this of course is new. To give but one example, in 1926 social psychologist and London School of Economics co-founder Graham Wallas outlined the four stages of the creative process:

  1. preparation
  2. incubation
  3. illumination
  4. verification
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