How Fink’s Taxonomy Can Improve Your Curriculum Part Two: Foundational Knowledge

By: Danielle T. Miller MD

In the previous post So You Have Been Inspired to Make a Curriculum, But Is Your Curriculum Inspiring? I provided an introduction to Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning.  L. Dee Fink proposed that learning only occurs when there is change, or what he refers to as “significant learning.”  Significant learning occurs at the center of six domains of learning:

  1. Foundational Knowledge
  2. Application
  3. Integration
  4. Human Dimension
  5. Caring
  6. Learning to Learn

This post will discuss Foundational Knowledge and how to incorporate this domain into a curriculum. Let’s begin with a case.

The Case:

So you have been inspired to make a curriculum on diabetes management for medical students in their pre-clinical years. You would like to incorporate all six domains of Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning into the curriculum for your medical students to achieve significant learning. Today you are focusing on incorporating Foundational Knowledge into your curriculum. 

What is Foundational Knowledge?

Foundational Knowledge is the learning domain in which students understand and remember facts, concepts, and ideas. Foundational Knowledge has been a component of many learning taxonomies including Bloom’s Taxonomy and Miller’s Pyramid and is what the learning community thinks of  as “traditional learning.”  In the case above, examples of foundational knowledge include the ability of a student to explain the physiology of the pancreas and liver, describe insulin receptors, list the common presentation and laboratory studies for a patient with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) versus hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS), or explain the mechanism of action for different oral hypoglycemic medications. 

What questions can help formulate Foundational Knowledge learning goals and objectives for a curriculum?

The general learning goal for students in this domain is:

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to understand and remember key concepts, ideas, and themes.

To aid in designing specific learning objectives for a curriculum, here are some questions that generate Foundational Knowledge learning objectives:

  • What key information do students need to know and understand by the end of the curriculum?
  • What key perspectives and ideas do students need to understand in this curriculum?

What are the types of learning strategies that incorporate Foundational Knowledge into a curriculum?

There are many different learning strategies that can be used for Foundational Knowledge including:

  • Independent study: textbooks, free open access medical education materials, podcasts
  • Didactics: online or in person
  • Large and small group sessions
  • Multiple choice questions

Consider using learning strategies that do not solely focus on memorization, but rather on understanding. For instance, design a didactic on DKA and HHS with active debate and discussion. The goal is to have students holistically understand a concept, so that the students can be successful in the next learning domain: Application.


Foundational Knowledge is one of six learning domains in Fink’s Taxonomy. These learning domains are interactive. By incorporating all six domains into a curriculum, learners can experience significant and lasting learning. The next post will discuss the learning domain Application. 

Learn More

Biography of L. Dee Fink
Full Text of Creating Significant Learning Experiences  
Information about Learning Taxonomies Peak Performance Center.   St Emlyn’s Emergency Medicine  
Application of Fink’s Taxonomy to Medical Education Jeremy Branzetti, Michael A. Gisondi, Laura R. Hopson & Linda Regan (2019) Aiming Beyond Competent: The Application of the Taxonomy of Significant Learning to Medical Education, Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 31:4, 466-478, DOI: 10.1080/10401334.2018.1561368