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Ensuring higher order thinking skills development in distance learning.

Knowledge, the first level of cognitive learning, is a no-brainer for distance learning curriculum development. In fact, direct, explicit teaching of knowledge is a no-brainer for any curriculum development. It gets a little more difficult as the learning scales the hierarchy of Bloom's taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) to comprehension, analysis, application, synthesis, and evaluation skills. Distance learning experiences should ensure higher order thinking skills development.

Any course syllabus should include a course description/introduction, course objectives (knowledge and skills), texts, course assignments, and grading procedures. These basic tenets are expected and appropriate; however, the course assignments component is the place course writers and curriculum developers can ensure higher order thinking skills by developing learning opportunities for distance learning students.


Knowledge level thinking skills typically include the lower level thinking skills of Bloom's taxonomy: knowledge and comprehension. These lower level thinking skills are pretty forthright in learning activity development. They involve learning activities that require students to know and to comprehend content information. Table 1 provides examples.


Lower level thinking processes and subsequent activities are usually part of coursework. This ensures a transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the learner, but to aspire to provide higher order thinking skills development activities, course writers/developers must go further. Table 2 presents a simple ways to do that.

Including the activities outlined above will ensure that students are interacting with the knowledge they are gaining from reading assignments. This interaction will expand their learning experiences to become more meaningful and intrinsic.

Students in traditional face-to-face classrooms that involve assigned readings then "listening" to lectures will fare no better than distance learners who read and "answer questions." It is good teaching in any setting to include student opportunities to interact and process knowledge that is being imparted.


Higher order thinking skills learning products can be assessed through most traditional assessment means, including objective tests, but lend themselves more to performance tasks that use rubrics for assessment. Traditional objective tests can include assessments that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation through the use of carefully crafted multiple choice, multiple answer, ordering, matching, and fill in the blank test items.

Performance tasks that include rubrics for assessment typically include essays, reports, or projects. Rubrics can be easily developed to assess the content and skill levels of students and should be a regular part of student distance learning experiences. Rubrics allow students to conceptualize up front the depth and breadth of the learning outcomes expected. These standards serve as motivators for student interaction with presented learning activities. Table 3 presents a simple rubric format that outlines expectations.

The rubric offers examples of evaluating thinking skills learning products/outcomes. The educator committed to going past a simple transfer of basic knowledge to students can easily include activities to spur student thinking and can develop simple, manageable ways to assess their learning outcomes.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Longman

Teresa Nichols, Faculty, University of Phoenix, and Councilor, City of Pelham, AL, 234 Beaver Creek Parkway, Pelham, AL 35124. Telephone: (205) 733-1295. E-mail:
Table 1.

Thinking         Thinking Skill
Skills           Activities              Thinking Skill Products

Knowledge        Describe,          * Describe the process of ...
                 identify, list,    * Identify the components of ...
                 define, label,     * List the major reasons for ...
                 name, match        * Define the following terms .
                                    * Label the parts of .
                                    * Name the patriarchs of ...
                                    * Match the theorist to ...

Comprehension    Interpret,         * Interpret the results of .
                 predict,           * Predict the outcomes of ...
                 summarize,         * Summarize the steps in ...
                 order,             * Order the stages of ...
                 paraphrase,        * Paraphrase the theory of .
                 trace              * Trace the lineage of ...
Table 2.

                  Higher Order
Higher Order      Thinking Skill    Higher Order
Thinking Skills   Activities        Thinking Skill Products

Application       Demonstrate,      * Demonstrate the effect of ...
                  chart, change,    * Chart the instances of ...
                  illustrate        * Change the variables of ...
                                    * Illustrate the theory of ...

Analysis          Classify,         * Classify the following herbs ...
                  compare and       * Compare and contrast the
                  contrast,           theories of ...
                  diagram,          * Diagram the process of ...
                  outline           * Outline the steps in ...

Synthesis         Combine,          * Combine the concepts of ...
                  formulate,        * Formulate a model using ...
                  rearrange,        * Rearrange a presentation
                                      using ...
                  compile,          * Compile the events that ...
                  reorganize        * Reorganize the steps ...

Evaluation        Assess,           * Assess the effectiveness of ...
                  measure, rank,    * Measure the daily incidents ...
                  test, appraise    * Rank the occurrences of ...
                                    * Test the effects of ...
                                    * Appraise the benefits of ...

Table 3.

Learning           Excellent         Good              Not Evident

Knowledge          Highly            Correct           No definition
(Student           developed         definition is     evident.
defined ...)       definition is     evident.

Comprehension      Highly            Correct summary   No summary
(Student           developed         is evident.       evident.
summarized ...)    summary is

Analysis           Highly            Correct chart     No chart
(Student           developed chart   is evident.       evident.
charted ...)       is evident.

Application        Highly            Correct           No compare/
(Student           developed         compare/          contrast
compared and       compare/          contrast is       evident.
contrasted ...)    contrast is       evident.

Synthesis          Highly            Correct           No compilation
(Student           developed         compilation is    evident.
compiled ...)      compilation is    evident.

Evaluation         Highly            Correct           No measurement
(Student           developed         measurement       process
measured ...)      measurement       process is        evident.
                   process is        evident.
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Author:Nichols, Teresa
Publication:Distance Learning
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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