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

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

One way to define higher order thinking skills is to reference Bloom’s taxonomy. But I think I hold in my head the idea that lower order thinking refers to simple memorization whereas higher order thinking refers to “thinking hard.” I tend to think of this in a judgmental kind of way. Lower order = bad. Higher order = good.

In the Udacity class on computer science, I often have to think really hard in order to answer a question, even the multiple choice questions. So I was thinking of this as higher order thinking skills. But upon reflection, many of those questions that I am thinking hard about are really about me demonstrating knowledge, not applying, evaluating, or creating something. For example, here is a screenshot from week 1 of the udacity computer science course:

Quiz from week 1 of Udacity computer science 101.

The answer to this question was not immediately obvious to me. I am frequently thinking hard before answering a multiple choice question in the Udacity class. But maybe I am thinking hard in a lower order kind of way, and maybe that’s OK?

Written by Ben Daley

Ben Daley

Chief operating officer for High Tech High


  1. irrationaljared

    For what it’s worth I’m a professional software engineer and that quiz looks painful to me.

    I do think lower order thinking is worse than higher order thinking. Or maybe I should say that lower order thinking is more pointless. That quiz is a good example. The question it presents is painfully obvious, but the context that it presents it in makes it painful for even a professional to figure out. It’s partly painful because it feels so pointless. It feel pointless because as a professional I never ask myself that question. I simply know the answer because I’ve done it so many times that I recognize the patterns.

    It’s a bit like asking whether a word is a noun or a verb. You really don’t need to know that information in order to communicate. You do need to know that information in order to talk about communicating, but I think it’s better to figure out how to communicate before you start to abstract away in order to discuss communication itself.

    If you just started programming, a higher order thinking process, then you would immediately begin to recognize the pattern of inputs and outputs from a function. That’s pretty much all programming is. You may not be able to verbalize it as a “string giving the value of the next url”, but you would have an intuitive sense of what it was doing. There’s no reason not to start with the higher order thinking and then, as you start to recognize patterns, begin to explore this material so that you can communicate those abstracted patterns more effectively.

  2. I am currently a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and most of the learning here is lower order at least for English classes it is. Do you know of a site that might introduce higher learning for lower learning students for English courses? Thank you.

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