How Fink’s Taxonomy Can Improve Your Curriculum Part Three: Application

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 Application and how to incorporate this domain into a curriculum. Let’s return to our case.

The Case Redux

You’ve 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 Application into your curriculum. 

What is Application?

Application is the learning domain in which students learn to use their knowledge in a practical way. Application as a learning domain, similar to Foundation Knowledge, has been a component of many learning taxonomies including Bloom’s Taxonomy and Miller’s Pyramid and is the natural extension of Foundational Knowledge. In this learning domain, students learn:

  1. How to think
  2. How to manage complex projects
  3. How to perform skills   

Within Application, students learn how to think; specifically, they learn three types of thinking: practical thinking, critical thinking, and creative thinking. Practical thinking is developing problem solving skills and decision-making skills. In the case above about medical students learning about diabetes management, an example of practical thinking would be if a learner decides to order a HgA1c after given a clinical scenario of a patient presenting with polyuria and polydipsia. The learner has applied her foundational knowledge of presenting symptoms in a patient with diabetes, in addition to her knowledge of correct laboratory tests to diagnose diabetes, to a clinical scenario. Critical thinking is a second type of thinking that is learned in the Application domain. Critical thinking is the development of analytical and critiquing skills. For example, having a learner compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of starting certain oral hypoglycemic medications would be critical thinking. Creative thinking is the third type of thinking that is learned in the Application domain. Critical thinking is the development of skills to create new ideas and projects. For example, asking a learner to create a concept map that differentiates diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) from hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS) would be creative thinking.

In addition to learning how to think within the Application domain, students learn project management. Project management is coordinating and prioritizing tasks. For example, a learner’s ability to efficiently order correct medications, communicate with a patient, and call consultations for a patient presenting in DKA is an example of project management.

Lastly, within the Application domain, students learn how to use their knowledge to perform both cognitive and noncognitive skills. Examples of skills include how to call a consultation for a patient in DKA and how to place an intravenous line in said patient.

What questions can help formulate Application 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 know how to use content.

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

  • What kinds of thinking should students be able to perform at the end of this course?
  • What skills do students need to learn?
  • What skills do students need to learn to manage complex projects?

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

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

  • Cases: individually, small group, large group
  • Simulation with debriefing
  • Concept Mapping
  • Journal Club

As this domain incorporates learning how to think, manage projects, and perform skills also consider incorporating competency-based assessments to evaluate the learning outcomes of the curriculum.

Conclusion

Application 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 Integration. 

Learn More

Biography of L. Dee Fink http://finkconsulting.info/
Full Text of Creating Significant Learning Experiences https://www.unl.edu/philosophy/%5BL._Dee_Fink%5D_Creating_Significant_Learning_Experi(BookZZ.org).pdf  
Information about Learning Taxonomies Peak Performance Center. http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/thinking/blooms-taxonomy/learning-taxonomies/   St Emlyn’s Emergency Medicine https://www.stemlynsblog.org/better-learning/educational-theories-you-must-know-st-emlyns/educational-theories-you-must-know-millers-pyramid-st-emlyns/  
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