3 Domains of Learning: Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor

Updated June 24, 2022

Educators recognize that students learn in different ways, requiring them to establish teaching methods that emphasize each student’s distinctive strengths. These concepts have influenced the field of education by encouraging a more holistic approach to learning. In this article, we discuss what the domains of learning are, why they're important and define the stages of each domain that students use to process information and develop skills.

Explore Teacher jobs on Indeed
View more jobs

What are the domains of learning?

The domains of learning are a series of learning objectives created in 1956 by educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom. They involve three categories of education, and each one requires a different instruction style to achieve its intended outcomes. Each domain has specific features and objectives designed to engage students who learn to solve problems, process information and build their skills using different perspectives. This helps make learning easier and more enjoyable.

Related: Learn 5 Instructional Strategies for Differentiated Learning

Why are the domains of learning important?

The domains of learning teach students to think critically by using methods that make the most sense to them. They benefit students by teaching them various ways to approach new ideas and concepts. 

They also give teachers tools to cater the learning experience to the specific needs of each student. By assigning tasks with a learning domain in mind, teachers can help students understand and retain information based on how they learn best. Educational researchers have continued to expand upon the learning domains since they were first introduced in 1956.

Each domain of learning has benefits that extend into real-world situations that students can take into the career they choose. For example, a student who excels in the psychomotor domain may perform well as an architect or surgeon. The domains often overlap, sharing factors that students may find helpful.

Related: 8 Common Types of Learning Styles

Upgrade your resume
Showcase your skills with help from a resume expert

Types of learning domains

Here are the three domains of learning and the areas of student development they influence:

The cognitive domain

The cognitive domain focuses on six intellectual skills that educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom organized based on the sequence in which students develop them. This concept is known as Bloom's Taxonomy. For each skill, Bloom refers to active verbs that describe how students apply what they've learned. The original Bloom's Taxonomy includes the following skills that build from the most basic to the most complex:

  • Knowledge: Recalling or recognizing information previously learned. Instructional verbs that represent this foundational level of the cognitive domain include write, list, label, name and state.

  • Comprehension: Comprehending or interpreting information based on material previously learned. Instructional verbs include explain, summarize, describe and illustrate.

  • Application: Selecting and using data principles to fix a problem independently. Instructional verbs include use, solve, demonstrate and apply.

  • Analysis: Understanding or breaking down assumptions made by a statement or question to make conclusions. Instructional verbs include compare, contrast and analyze.

  • Synthesis: Combining ideas to build a new concept or plan. Instructional verbs include create, design, invent and develop.

  • Evaluation: Making assessments based on established criteria. Instructional verbs include judge, critique and justify.

In 2001, one of Bloom’s former students and colleagues revised the taxonomy to reflect its use in modern school settings. Most elements remained the same but received new names. They also swapped the position of the last two components. This is the newest version of the cognitive domain:

  • Remembering (formerly knowledge)

  • Understanding (formerly comprehension)

  • Applying (formerly application)

  • Analyzing (formerly analysis)

  • Evaluating (formerly evaluation)

  • Creating (formerly synthesis)

Related: The Importance of Cognitive Ability in Your Career

The affective domain

The affective domain of learning represents skills that foster appropriate emotional responses. In this domain identified by Bloom’s colleague, David Krathwohl, students understand and develop their feelings, attitudes and values. Like the cognitive domain, the five areas of emotional response from simple to complex include:

  • Receiving: Receiving involves a passive awareness of emotions and feelings and a student must succeed at this level to learn at later stages. For example, a student at this stage waits to speak until someone else finishes speaking. Instructional verbs include ask, choose, identify and use.

  • Responding: A student actively engages in the learning process by receiving it and reacting to it. For example, a student participates in a class discussion of a book they read. Instructional verbs include assist, discuss, read and write.

  • Valuing: A student values a concept when they express its worth or what it means to them. For example, a student may write an opinion article about a social topic they feel strongly about, discussing and defending their stance. Instructional verbs include complete, explain, propose and study.

  • Organizing: A student develops a value system by arranging their values or beliefs in order of priority. For example, a student trying to make honor roll realizes they should prioritize studying for an upcoming test over going to the movies with friends. Instructional verbs include arrange, complete, modify and prepare.

  • Characterizing: A student acts according to the values they have developed and internalized as a personal philosophy. For example, a student accepts that cheating is unethical and completes a difficult assignment independently even though a friend offers to let them copy their answers. Instructional verbs include display, perform, question and solve.

Related: Emotional Intelligence Skills You Need in the Workplace: Definition and Examples

The psychomotor domain

Bloom identified the psychomotor skills domain and educators like Elizabeth Simpson expanded them into a simple-to-complex order in the 1970s. The psychomotor domain focuses on physical skills such as the development of hand-eye coordination and the use of motor skills. Psychomotor skills help people perform physical tasks in daily life and at work. The areas of this domain include:

  • Perception: Students use sensory cues to guide their motor activities. For example, a student may listen to a teacher's lesson and write down corresponding notes. Instructional verbs include distinguish, identify and select.

  • Set: Students feel ready to act upon challenges and resolve them. For example, a student who wants to improve their grade is motivated to study for their next test. Instructional verbs include assume a position, demonstrate and show.

  • Guided response: Students begin learning complex skills often through trial and error or following instructions. For example, a student learns how to build a simple circuit by watching an instructional video. Instructional verbs include attempt, imitate and try.

  • Mechanism: Students develop basic proficiency when performing particular tasks often through practice. For example, a piano student feels confident playing a song assigned by their teacher after weeks of practicing. Instructional verbs include perform, complete and duplicate.

  • Complex overt response: Students learn to perform a task with advanced proficiency. For example, a piano student knows how to play a song without needing to look at the keys. Instructional verbs include carry out, operate and perform.

  • Adaptation: Students have developed their skills and can change them to meet specific requirements. For example, a culinary student knows how to adjust their recipe to meet particular dietary restrictions. Instructional verbs include adapt, change, modify and revise.

  • Origination: Students learn how to develop a new skill using principles learned while gaining the original skill. For example, a student who has taken ballet classes choreographs a dance for a recital. Instructional verbs include create, design and originate.

Related: 8 Qualities of a Good Teacher (and Tips To Develop Them)

Is this article helpful?

Related Articles

36 Math Teacher Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

Explore more articles

  • How To Change the Language in Chrome in Windows and Mac®
  • Top Work Ethic Skills (And 4 Tips To Improve Yours)
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA): Examples, Benefits and Steps
  • How To Open, Read and Convert DAT Files (With FAQs)
  • How To Measure Success of a Marketing Campaign With Metrics
  • 12 Bad Study Habits (And How To Fix Them)
  • Performance Reviews: Sample Questions and Answers
  • How To Remove Dashes in Excel: A Step-by-Step Guide
  • What To Do if the Job You Applied for Is on Hold
  • The Key Differences Between Short- and Long-Term Planning
  • What Is Academic Writing? Definition and 7 Types to Consider
  • How to Write a Testimonial (With Examples)