Why I prefer the SOLO Taxonomy to Bloom’s

11 Apr

Bloom’s Taxonomy is without a doubt the most often used taxonomy for educational outcomes, but in many ways the SOLO taxonomy of Biggs & Collis (1982) represents a more useful tool for assessing the levels attained in students’ work. SOLO stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome.

The taxonomy enables teachers to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not in terms of what they got right and got wrong. There are five levels, rising in complexity and competence. At the lowest level, (pre-structural), students miss the point entirely. At the next level (unistructural), students are able to identify only one aspect of a topic, At the third level (multistructural) students are able to identify several aspects but they are unrelated. At the fourth level (relational) students can integrate different ideas into a whole. Finally, at the highest level (extended abstract), students are able to generalise and hypothesise.

soloWhat I find particularly useful about this approach is that it looks at the work students produce in ways which are intuitive and easy to understand. This makes it a usable framework. One of the problems with Bloom’s taxonomy is that it focuses on behaviours which are often hard to discern. How does one know when a response reflects analysis rather than knowledge, or synthesis rather than comprehension? Anyone who has ever tried to differentiate between elements of a student’s response will understand what I mean. This is compounded by the fact that few students ever attain any ability to display the higher order thinking skills. Perhaps this only really happens at post-graduate level. Many students are, however, capable of multi-structural or relational thought, and some of abstracting to new situations or contexts.

The taxonomy is more relevant for high school, and less tainted with the charge of being Behaviourist. SOLO was designed within a Constructivist framework. And this is where its usefulness really comes to the fore – as a tool for helping students think about their own thinking and how to make it more complex, using simple rubrics.

There’s a level at which everyone can understand the phrase, “You’ve used several ideas, but you haven’t made connections between them to make an argument” while telling a student that they have analysed but not synthesised is pretty meaningless for all concerned. Teacher and student can then focus on particular thinking skills to help progress to the next level. Pam Hook’s website is a fantastic resource, filled with ideas on how to go about this.




6 responses to “Why I prefer the SOLO Taxonomy to Bloom’s

  1. kennethfetterman

    April 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm


    Thank You for posting my extensive (follow-up) comments regarding Bloom’s Taxonomy!
    I spent much effort on the reply (I hope it was evident); and … anyway thanks.
    You are a very intelligent educator! If you would like to send “personal” correspond via e-mail?
    Here is my e-address:

    PLEASE DELETE (do not approve) this personal correspondence! It is being sent to provide you with my e-mail address. (It is not intended to be published) — Best wishes — Ken

    P.s. Also, I must thank you for teaching me something new (i.e. expanding my vocabulary)!
    –(i.e. POLEMICAL)–


  2. kennethfetterman

    April 15, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Digi–Thank you for your support! Please post this extensive comment.

    Yes, we do have much in common! Yes, I do think that you misunderstood the framework in which I was presenting my comment (i.e. that I had not considered the potential of Bloom’s Taxonomy to determine outcomes and/or assessment strategies). It is always difficult to put into a few words-concepts that span over the two manuscripts which I have published @

    I shall devote my entire morning (i.e. available time) responding to your comment — with the intent of clarifying my “innovative conceptual framework”. Having said this; I will respond to your comment about my … regarding outcomes/assessment. In my original comment; I “assumed” that a vague notion of the assessment strategies that will be employed are conceived when curriculum is being developed. That is to say that a vague notion of the assessment strategies (that may be employed) will be based on a dichotomous framework (i.e. is the curriculum going to be teacher-centered or student-centered)? WHAT? Well, is the curriculum based on a specific competency requirement (i.e. mixing something)? or Will learning opportunities unfold via a series of student-centered experiences that are based on a multifaceted construct (such as a social issue)?

    When we have determined “if” strategy X or Y is most appropriate given the objective/outcome selected (i.e. curriculum); then, we will be capable of determining more precisely how the learning experience/instruction will unfold (and this includes the assessment strategies that are most appropriate). If practitioners begin with the assumption that a particular “strategy” (i.e. X or Y — which both include an assessment component) is going to be employed before selecting the content — then, the strategy “may” be inappropriate for the content identified (i.e. the curriculum is competency-based–but outcome-based assessment strategies are employed, or vice versa). I think that this may be why problems … experienced are occurring.

    You see; I cannot convey the extent of my knowledge in this response! However, I want to give you the primary (i.e. simple) assumption that underpins my innovation in thought (regarding teaching & learning). So (here it is)! Start with a Curriculum Decision — Then, determine … (Is this an essential competency requirement)? or (Is this curriculum more conducive to establishing a multi-faceted/open-ended learning experience)? What? Well, are you going to teach students to utilize a specific tool such as a computer program, or have you selected a piece of the curriculum that addresses one or more social issues? My book: THE DICHOTOMY of INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN is essential reading for all educators. As a poor scholar–I have staked my reputation on my scholarly efforts! Please visit to sample/purchase works. You WILL NOT be disappointed! Also, the manuscript: “A Discovery of Technological Systems” is appropriate for your students (i.e. grade-levels). This work epitomizes my concept of outcomes-based education.

    In closing, I want to convey the simple truth–we–must have Competency-based AND Outcome-based learning experiences in our schools. What a simple innovation! Best wishes, Ken
    P.s. Behavioral Objectives have nothing to do with Behaviorism. Citation Follows:

    Mager (1984) “notes” that:

    [The term “behavior” should not be associated with behaviorism or with behaviorists]…. Objectives describe performance, or behavior, because an objective is specific rather than broad or general and because performance, or behavior, is what we can be specific about. (p. 23)

    Of course this quote applies to competency-based curriculum! Outcome-based paradigms are most appropriate “when” we identify an outcome (i.e. write a paper about…) and then apply some “qualitative” measure to determine the extent that the requirement (i.e. desired outcomes have been realized). I believe the constructs associated with the SOLO strategy may be appropriately employed as “one” of the many potential assessment rubrics that may be applicable.
    So, you see–the concept is much broader than making a choice between two alternatives? Solo, is not an alternative to BLOOM’s it is merely a single option “within” the assessment component of …


  3. kennethfetterman

    April 14, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Digi–Perhaps you would consider “reposting” my latest Blog entry regarding the potential of revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy to facilitate 21st century educational reforms? Ken


    • Dorian Love

      April 15, 2014 at 11:17 am

      I have done so – to stand as a corrective to my own reluctance over Bloom’s.


  4. kennethfetterman

    April 14, 2014 at 4:39 am

    Digi–I have been following your Blog for some time! I am really disappointed with this post. Read the last sentence of your first paragraph in this post! … ” structure of the observed learning outcome “. Since students develop in “unique” ways–not all of their learning outcomes can be analyzed! Nor, should they be. The framework that you espouse is presented as a means of assessing outcomes. However, Blooms is intended to be employed as a means to organize curriculum “and” instruction. I think that the solo framework may be of “some” use in developing a set of criteria for assessing “some” vague objective (at best). Also, many students “can routinely” employ higher order thinking given an opportunity to do so. Want to learn more about the original (i.e. classic) Blooms (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which is still “extremely” relevant today?
    Please read my latest post (regarding this subject matter) @
    You may sample/purchase professional development resources @
    P.S. Don’t get discouraged! I’m still following–But, you really missed the mark here–I hope you examine my works. I have taken the time to write this review (to set the record straight) with the best of intentions! Best wishes, ken


    • Dorian Love

      April 14, 2014 at 10:55 am

      If I get your argument correctly, Ken, then you are saying that Bloom’s should never be used to assess student learning outcomes, only curriculum outcomes. This goes against much of the thrust of the debates around outcomes and objectives of the last sixty years or so. So much of the argument of behaviourists has rested on the notion that educational objectives are precisely observable, measurable student outcomes rather than the rather fuzzy aims and objectives that predominated in the great Liberal tradition. My understanding of Bloom’s is that it is precisely a taxonomy of learning outcomes.

      I use Bloom’s myself when doing lesson planning – see Like many teachers, my use of Bloom’s is mainly to ensure that I have a spread of objectives including higher order thinking skills. I never use Bloom’s to assess student work, however, so our positions may not be as dissimilar as you suggest..

      SOLO offers ways of assessing student work, and to my mind this is why it is preferable to Bloom’s for this purpose. In one sense we are comparing apples and pears, which is not a very useful exercise.

      The purpose of my blog was to highlight reasons why I prefer SOLO as a working taxonomy of outcomes to Bloom’s which I find difficult to use in the context of assessment. In the education system I work in, The Independent Examination Board in South Africa, teachers are expected to ensure that Bloom’s taxonomy is used to guarantee particular percentages of Higher Order thinking in any examination paper. Bloom’s is widely used in our schooling system, and I wanted to raise the possibility of using SOLO instead. Ours is an Outcomes Based Education system which is in deep crisis because we chose to follow Spady’s behaviourist interpretations of OBE rather than encouraging OBE aligned with more Constructivist or Connectivist conceptions of learning. In that sense this blog entry was somewhat polemical.

      I am somewhat ambivalent about the extent to which the HOTS are on display in most classrooms. The Thinking Skills programme at my school is designed to try and bring this about, but I am under no illusions that it is the norm. Until we adopt more connectivist learning scenarios too much of what we fondly see as analysis or synthesis is actually just recall and comprehension, with poor application to new situations. I speak as a teacher at grade 8 an 9 level, at any rate.

      I read your excellent blog, and will be following you with interest. I suspect we agree more than we disagree.



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