Domains of Learning

As mentioned during the discussion of Cognitive Theory, Dr. Bloom played a central role in transforming the field of educational psychology. Interested in what and how people learn, he proposed a framework to help understand the major areas of learning and thinking. He first classified them into three large groups [Figure 2-8] called the domains of learning:

  • Cognitive (thinking)
  • Affective (feeling)
  • Psychomotor (doing)
Figure 2-8. An overview of the three learning domains.

Figure 2-8. An overview of the three learning domains.


Cognitive Domain

The group effort to classify the levels of thinking behaviors thought to be important in the processes of learning mentioned earlier in the chapter led to Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. One of the best known educational domains, it includes remembering specific facts (content knowledge) and concepts that help develop intellectual abilities and skills. There are six major categories, starting from the simplest behavior (recalling facts) to the most complex (evaluation). [Figure 2-9]

Figure 2-9. The six major levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain with types of behavior and examples of objectives.

Figure 2-9. The six major levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain with types of behavior and examples of objectives.

The four practical learning levels are rote, understanding, application, and correlation. [Figure 2-10] The lowest level is the ability to repeat something which one has been taught, without understanding or being able to apply what has been learned. This is referred to as rote learning. The fact level is a single concept. The key verbs which describe or measure this activity are words such as define, identify, and label. The comprehension or understanding level puts two or more concepts together and uses verbs such as describe, estimate, or explain. The application level puts two or more concepts together to form something new. Typical verbs at this level include “determine,” “develop,” and “solve.”

Figure 2-10. Learning is progressive and occurs at several basic levels.

Figure 2-10. Learning is progressive and occurs at several basic levels.

For example, Bill may explain the procedure for entering a level, left turn to Beverly. The procedure includes several steps: (1) visually clear the area, (2) add a slight amount of power to maintain airspeed, (3) apply aileron control pressure to the left, (4) add sufficient rudder pressure in the direction of the turn to avoid slipping and skidding, and (5) increase back pressure to maintain altitude. When Beverly verbally repeats this instruction, she has learned the procedure by rote. This will not be very useful to her if there is never an opportunity to make a turn in flight, or if she has no knowledge of the function of aircraft controls.

With proper instruction on the effect and use of the flight controls, and experience in controlling the aircraft during straight-and-level flight, Beverly can consolidate old and new perceptions into an insight on how to make a turn. At this point, she has developed an understanding of the procedure for turning the aircraft in flight. This understanding is basic to effective learning, but may not necessarily enable her to make a correct turn on the first attempt.


When Beverly understands the procedure for entering a turn, has had turns demonstrated, and has practiced turn entries until consistency has been achieved, she has developed the skill to apply what has been learned. This is a major level of learning, and one at which the instructor is too often willing to stop. Discontinuing instruction on turn entries at this point and directing subsequent instruction exclusively to other elements of piloting performance is characteristic of piecemeal instruction, which is usually inefficient.

The correlation level of learning, which should be the objective of aviation instruction, is that level at which the student becomes able to associate an element which has been learned with other segments or blocks of learning. The other segments may be items or skills previously learned, or new learning tasks to be undertaken in the future. When Beverly has achieved this level of learning in turn entries, for example, she has developed the ability to correlate the elements of turn entries with the performance in traffic patterns.

The three higher thinking skills instructional levels include analysis, synthesis and evaluation (or HOTS level previously mentioned in the learning theory section). The analysis level involves breaking the information into its component parts, examining, and trying to understand the information in order to develop conclusions, make inferences, and/or find evidence to support generalizations. This level uses such verbs as points out, differentiate distinguish, examine, discriminate, compare, outline, prioritize, recognize, or subdivide.

Synthesis involves putting parts together to form a new and integrated whole. Typical verbs for this level include create, design, plan, organize, generate, write, adapt, compare, formulate, devise, model, revise, or incorporate. The final level in the taxonomy is evaluation and involves making judgments about the merits of ideas, materials, or phenomena. The following example demonstrates the difference between learning on the first three levels versus learning critical thinking skills.

Bill provides a detailed explanation on how to control for wind drift. The explanation includes a thorough coverage of heading, speed, angle of bank, altitude, terrain, and wind direction plus velocity. The explanation is followed by a demonstration and repeated practice of a specific flight maneuver, such as turns around a point or S-turns across the road until the maneuver can be consistently accomplished in a safe and effective manner within a specified limit of heading, altitude, and airspeed. At the end of this lesson, Beverly is only capable of performing the maneuver.

Then Bill asks Beverly to plan for the arrival at a specific nontowered airport. The planning should take into consideration the possible wind conditions, arrival paths, airport information and communication procedures, available runways, recommended traffic patterns, courses of action, and preparation for unexpected situations. Upon arrival at the airport, Beverly makes decisions (with guidance and feedback as necessary) to safely enter and fly the traffic pattern. This is followed by a discussion of what was done, why it was done, the consequences, and other possible courses of action and how it applies to other airports. At the end of this lesson the student is capable of explaining the safe arrival at any nontowered airport in any wind condition.

For aviation instructors, educational objectives for the first three levels (knowledge, comprehension, and application) are generally gained as the result of attending a ground school, reading about aircraft systems, listening to a preflight briefing, or taking part in computer-based training. The highest educational objective levels in this domain (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) can be acquired through SBT training. For example, the student pilot learns to correctly evaluate a flight maneuver or the maintenance student repairs an aircraft engine. Sample questions for each level of the cognitive domain are provided in the graph. Thus, SBT correctly utilized reinforces the three higher level thinking skills.


Affective Domain

The affective domain addresses a learner’s emotions toward the learning experience. It includes feelings, values, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes. [Figure 2-11] For the aviation instructor, this may mean how the student approaches learning. Is he or she motivated to learn? Does he or she exhibit confidence in learning? Does the student have a positive attitude toward safety?

Figure 2-11. The affective domain (attitudes, beliefs, and values) contains five educational objective levels.

Figure 2-11. The affective domain (attitudes, beliefs, and values) contains five educational objective levels.

The affective domain provides a framework for teaching in five levels: awareness, response, value, organizing, and integration. In this taxonomy, the learner begins on the awareness level and is open to learning, willing to listen to the instructor. As the learner traverses the taxonomy, he or she responds by participating actively in the training, decides the value of the training, organizes the training into his or her personal belief system, and finally internalizes it.

The affective domain is more difficult to measure, but motivation and enthusiasm are important components of any learning. Therefore, the aviation instructor should be acquainted with this facet of learning. Motivation is discussed in depth later in this category.


Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain is skill based and includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. [Figure 2-12] Development of these skills requires repetitive practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, and techniques. While various examples of the psychomotor domain exist, the practical instructional levels for aviation training purposes include observation, imitation, practice, and habit. This domain is an important component of instruction when aviation instructors prepare students for the practical test.

Figure 2-12. The psychomotor domain (physical skills) consists of seven educational objective levels.

Figure 2-12. The psychomotor domain (physical skills) consists of seven educational objective levels.

At the first level, the learner observes a more experienced person perform the skill. The instructor has the learner observe sequences and relationships that lead to the finished product. Observation may be supplemented by reading, watching a DVD, or computer-based training. The second level is imitation in which the learner attempts to copy the skill under the watchful eye of the instructor.

The practice level is a proficiency building experience in which the learner tries a specific activity over and over. It may be conducted by the learner without direct oversight of the instructor, such as touch-and-go landings for the flight student who has flown a successful solo flight. The habit level is reached when the student can perform the skill in twice the time that it takes the instructor or an expert to perform. The evaluation of ability is a performance or skill test. If a person continues to perfect a skill, it eventually becomes a skill performed at the expert level.

Skills involving the psychomotor domain include learning to fly a precision instrument approach procedure, programming a global positioning system (GPS) receiver, or using sophisticated maintenance equipment. As physical tasks and equipment become more complex, the requirement for integration of cognitive and physical skills increases.


Summary of Instructor Actions

To help students acquire knowledge, the instructor should:

  • Ask students to recite or practice newly acquired knowledge.
  • Ask questions that probe student understanding and prompt them to think about what they have learned in different ways.
  • Present opportunities for students to apply what they know to solving problems or making decisions.
  • Present students with problems and decisions that test the limits of their knowledge.
  • Demonstrate the benefits of understanding and being able to apply knowledge.
  • Introduce new topics as they support the objectives of the lesson, whenever possible.

These additional levels of learning are the basis of the knowledge, attitude, and skill learning objectives commonly used in advanced qualification programs for airline training. They also can be tied to the PTS to show the level of knowledge or skill required for a particular task. A list of action verbs for the three domains shows appropriate behavioral objectives at each level. [Figure 2-13] Instructors who are familiar with curriculum development recognize that the action verbs are examples of performance-based objectives.

Figure 2-13. A listing such as the one shown here is useful for development of almost any training program.

Figure 2-13. A listing such as the one shown here is useful for development of almost any training program.