The Six Levels of Knowledge
True or false? The purpose of learning is to accumulate a mental database of facts and formulas.
If you answered “true,” you’ve fallen for a fallacy that impairs many educational systems. Accumulating information is the first stage of learning, but only the first stage. Developing one’s potential to the fullest, and using it for maximum benefit of the world, comes at the highest level of a process comprising multiple stages.
While reading through the following list, consider at which levels your students or children rank—and how to encourage them (and yourself) to move higher.
Level 1: Remembering
Traditional “rote learning”; emphasizes the accumulation and recall of known (or accepted) information.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Reciting a mission statement, list of rules, or multiplication table.
Based on: Definitions, descriptions, labels, outlines, recognition.
Taught Through: Flash cards, reading, repetition.
Value: Limited mostly to situations requiring effective functioning of an established system.
Level 2: Understanding
Also common in traditional learning, especially mathematics; requires comprehension of a problem and the ability to solve it or (where multiple solutions are possible) state it in one’s own words.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Teaching a basic task. Putting information into a chart.
Based on: Comprehension, examples, paraphrasing, simple hypotheses.
Taught Through: Group projects, note taking, storytelling, use of reference works.
Value: Good for learning the basic how-to’s of everyday functioning.
Level 3: Applying
Used at some level by most high school and higher-education systems; requires putting a known concept to use in a new situation.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Using a style guide to edit a manuscript, or a policy manual to calculate vacations and salaries.
Based on: Computing, discovery, manipulation, modification, predictions.
Taught Through: Book reports, brainstorming, science projects.
Value: Helpful in transitioning classroom knowledge to work situations, also in putting soft skills to use.
Level 4: Analyzing
Well-known to science and engineering instructors; distinguishes between facts and inferences, and puts organizational structure to use.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Fixing and troubleshooting complicated equipment. Spotting fallacies in reasoning.
Based on: Analysis, comparisons, diagrams, illustrations, inferences, outlines, separating material into component parts.
Taught Through: Debates, hypothesis testing, supervised and observed activities.
Value: At the root of most technological advances.
Level 5: Evaluating
Expected in higher-level science and research projects (though useful at most levels); emphasizes passing reasoned judgment on ideas, capabilities, or systems.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Implementing a solution to a complex problem. Hiring new employees. Planning and explaining a new budget.
Based on: Appraisals, comparisons, critiques, interpretations, logic, understanding.
Taught Through: Creative projects, exploratory science, survey and interview research.
Value: The core of material growth and improvement. Defines the principles that lead to improved technology and long-term business success.
Level 6: Creating
Used in art and other original projects at all levels of education, though frequently undervalued; assembles coherent structure and pattern from diverse elements, with emphasis on creating something new.
Examples of Such Knowledge: Writing a company operations manual. Designing a new robot. Revamping a system for improved outcome. Writing a novel.
Based on: Composition, design, imagination, modification, organization, planning.
Taught Through: Group projects, models, writing projects.
Value: Essential for any individual—and whomever/whatever he or she affects—to develop to maximum potential.