Is Online Learning Focused Only on Lower Order Thinking Skills (Part I)

Is Online Learning Focused Only on Lower Order Thinking Skills (Part I)

Last week in the comments, Edgar raised a question about higher order vs. lower order thinking skills as they relate to blended learning. I’ve been thinking about this a bunch and now am working on a series of posts about this topic.

In thinking about this, I realized that I hold in my mind a very hazy sense of what “higher order thinking skills” even means. So for the purposes of discussion, I will reference Bloom’s taxonomy to define lower order thinking skills as “remembering and understanding,” and to define higher order thinking skills as “analyzing, evaluating, and creating.”

One could make the case that blended learning should go like this: online tools are used to support students in developing basic content knowledge (lower order thinking) and the teacher is there to help the students develop higher order thinking skills through the use of strategies like problem based learning or project based learning.

But I’m not crazy about this distinction. What do you think? Are online tools properly focused only on lower order thinking skills?

Written by Ben Daley

Ben Daley

Chief operating officer for High Tech High


  1. irrationaljared

    A lot of higher order thinking skills require lower order thinking skills as a foundation. In order to analyze and create something new you have to have a very intimate understanding of it. Online learning is a fantastic resource to help people understand material better, making it easier for people to engage in higher order thinking.

    If you never give students the opportunity to engage in higher order thinking, focusing only on the memorization and understanding components because they are more easily delivered through online learning, though, then you have a problem.

  2. Based on my observations of blended school models, most attempt to leverage online learning for lower-order thinking in order to free up teacher time to support higher-order thinking and complex skill development. For instance, a school might rely on Khan Academy or DreamBox to ensure students master basic computational skills, which in turn frees up their teachers’ time to develop and implement project-based learning that utilizes those skills.

    However, even when online learning is relegated to just teaching lower-level skills, many blended school leaders and teachers appear dissatisfied with its performance, particularly outside of math. I fully expect that this emerging customer dissatisfaction will force online content publishers to evolve their products so that they at least become highly effective and efficient at teaching lower-order thinking, and I suspect at least some of the more innovative providers will find novel ways to move up Bloom’s effectively as well.

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