Teaching Skills: The Psychomotor Domain of Learning and Learning Objectives

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[This is the the seventh in a series of posts about learning objectives. We’ve now compiled all the posts into a single downloadable guide to writing learning objectives if you want to check that out.]

As we mentioned in an earlier post, Bloom believed there are three different kinds of learning: learning about things you can “know,” learning about things you can “do,” and learning about things you “feel.” We will refer to these as knowledge, skills, and attitudes, or “KSAs” for short.

In this post, we’re going to consider the “skills” domain more closely, looking at six different levels of skill. The information below is based on the theories of R.H. Dave (1975), and draws from explanations of those theories that appear at Don Clark’s well-known “Big Dog Little Dog” instructional design blog. Check out Clark’s material on learning domains to read more about this hierarchy and to learn about alternate versions of this hierarchy by Simpson and Harrow if you’re interested. I’ve written about Dave’s hierarchy because it’s the one that seems most useful to me, but the others are also popular, well-known, and well-regarded.

This information can help you create a more effective workforce training program.

Dave’s “Skill” or “Psychomotor” Domain of Learning Objectives

Dave includes five different levels of skill, from the most basic to the most advanced. We’ll list and explain each below, and we’ll give a list of behaviors that learners must perform to show they’ve mastered a skill at each level. This will help you pick the verb you’ll use when writing learning objectives dealing with skills.

Five Levels of Skills

Dave’s five levels of “skill” represent not so much different kinds of skills but rather different degrees of competence in performing a skill. The five levels, in order from most basic to most advanced, are:

  1. Imitation: Learner watches actions of another person and imitates them.
  2. Manipulation: Learner performs actions by memory or by following directions.
  3. Precision: Learner’s performance becomes more exact.
  4. Articulation: Learner can perform several skills together in a harmonious manner.
  5. Naturalization: Learner achieves high level of performance, and actions become natural with little or no thought about them.

The levels of the skills domain are often represented as different levels of a pyramid, with imitation, the simplest level, making up the bottom of the pyramid and naturalization, the most complex level, making up the top.

Dave's Five Levels of Psychomotor Learning Image

Creating Stronger “Skill” Learning Objectives

Now, let’s apply what we just discussed to the best way to write a “skills” learning objective. You probably remember that when you write a learning objective, one part of the objective describes a behavior the learner must perform, and this behavior is expressed as a verb. So, we can make it easier to write a learning objective by coming up with a collection of verbs that describe behaviors in each level of the skills taxonomy above. Check out the list below to get some ideas.

  1. Imitation: adhere, copy, follow, mimic, repeat, replicate, reproduce, trace
  2. Manipulation: act, build, execute, implement, perform, recreate
  3. Precision: calibrate, complete, control, demonstrate, execute, master, perfect, perform, show
  4. Articulation: adapt, combine, construct, coordinate, create, develop, integrate, modify
  5. Naturalization: design, develop, invent, specify

To see a longer list of skills-related verbs for your learning objectives, click here.

Keep these different levels of the “skills” in mind, and the verbs to use when writing learning objectives for each level, and you’ll not only create better learning objectives, you’ll create better training materials too.

Related Posts about Learning Objectives

You might also find any of these other articles learning objectives helpful:

For the free guide to creating learning objectives, just click the button immediately below.

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How to Write Learning Objectives

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Skills: The Psychomotor Domain of Learning and Learning Objectives

    1. Dina,

      Basically, the best way to do it (the most evidence-based way) is: provide a guided demonstration, showing how to do it, explaining common problems/mistakes, and pointing out “invisible” things like decision points; let the learner practice while you give real-time, helpful feedback; have the learner demonstrate mastery; build in opportunities for the learner to continue practice soon after on job and through spaced-practice training assignments.

      Hope that helps!

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