Learning Domains and Delivery of Instruction

by Cindy Vinson Ed.D.



Learning domains, sometimes referred to as categories of learning outcomes, are critical to consider as you plan your lessons. By analyzing the type of learning domain or outcome that you want, you can determine which activities, assessments, and representational modes (face-to-face, video, online, multimedia) are optimal based on the learning outcome desired. With the access to learning technologies more available to faculty and with greater numbers of students having access at home and work, it is possible and desirable to use multiple representational modes to increase the probability that students will attain higher levels of learning.

The following is a brief overview of learning domains with examples of how you might represent content, provide activities, and assess mastery of that domain. These domains include cognitive, affective, psychomotor, and interpersonal.

Cognitive Domain

This domain focuses on intellectual skills and is familiar to educators. Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) is frequently used to describe the increasing complexity of cognitive skills as students move from beginner to more advanced in their knowledge of content. The cognitive domain is the core learning domain. The other domains (affective, interpersonal, and psychomotor) require at least some cognitive component.

The cognitive domain is well suited to the online environment. Face-to-face courses benefit from using the web as a way to supplement classroom lectures that are cognitive in nature. Supplemental material may include the following:

Additional explanations of key concepts

·       Graphics to show relationships between ideas

·       Organized class notes

·       Tables that provide summary information

·       PowerPoint slides

·       Additional examples

·       Self-check quizzes

·       A discussion board

·       Case studies

·       Drill and practice of content that must be memorized

·       FLASH animations or simulations of challenging and key concepts

·       Practice questions with answers and “expert” explanations

·       Links to similar information presented in a different way

Courses that are hybrid (presented in both an online and face-to-face format), often present the cognitive portion of the course via the web and use classroom time for the more affective, psychomotor, and interpersonal learning outcomes.

As we move up the cognitive domain especially as we get to synthesis and evaluation, collaborative assignments requiring students to engage in problem-based or project-based activities serve as important ways to determine if students have reached that level of learning. These projects can be done online, but often lend themselves to at least some face-to-face interaction. If face-to-face interaction is not possible, synchronous mediated events such as web casting, interactive video, or conference calls facilitate project development. Also, higher cognitive skills provide opportunities for student to develop interpersonal domain learning. To the extent that we desire interpersonal learning outcomes, we should consider how to facilitate face-to-face interactions.

The Affective Domain

The affective domain is critical for learning but is often not specifically addressed.  This is the domain that deals with attitudes, motivation, willingness to participate, valuing what is being learned, and ultimately incorporating the values of a discipline into a way of life.  Stages in that domain are not as sequential as the cognitive domain, but have been described as the following:

·       Receiving (willing to listen)

·       Responding (willing to participate)

·       Valuing (willing to be involved)

·       Organizing (willing to be an advocate)

·       Characterization (willing to change one’s behavior, lifestyle, or way of life)

We do not necessarily expect our math students to become math instructors or mathematicians, but we want them to be willing to “show up” for class, participate in class, and become involved with the content. We expect students to expend effort in their courses and sustain the effort throughout the duration of the course.  We also would like our students to take the next higher course or another course in the curriculum because they value what they have learned.

The affective domain is not best handled with just text on a screen. Class meetings or an initial class meeting to support an online course might be used for affective development. Videos and audio clips are also excellent ways to engage the affective domain. These should be short and may include the following:

·       Former students giving tips on how to be successful

·       The instructor informing the students of the value of the course

·       Professionals who are using the knowledge from the course in their lives

·       An overview of the program with key support personnel and facilities visible to the student

·       Streaming audio files throughout the course encouraging students and providing helpful tips

·       Short video clips of the instructor explaining course content

Additionally, chunking information into small steps and designing opportunities for the students to be successful facilitate affective learning for students. Face-to-face courses can include affective online components by allowing students to have a place to post questions, get feedback, and hear encouraging messages from the instructor (with a text accompaniment). Encouraging students to set goals for themselves that are reasonable can also enhance affective learning. To the extent that students are challenged or are new to a content area, we would expect instructors to include more affective learning outcomes.

Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain focuses on performing sequences of motor activities to a specified level of accuracy, smoothness, rapidity, or force. Underlying the motor activity is cognitive understanding. In the higher education environment, we see psychomotor learning in content including the following:

·       Lab courses for science classes

·       Vocational courses

·       Physical education courses

·       Training in using specified equipment such as computers, cameras, musical instruments etc.

·       Performing arts

The stages of the psychomotor domain have been described as follows:

·       Action (elementary movement)

·       Coordination (synchronized movement)

·       Formation (bodily movement)

·       Production (combine verbal and nonverbal movement

The psychomotor domain is best assessed in a face-to-face situation. Since there is a cognitive component underlying motor skills, these can be effectively viewed in videos, demonstrations, online text descriptions, or with pictures of each step in the sequence. Simulations can be used to help people learn the steps or practice variations of a motor sequence; but ultimately, the student should perform the skill with an instructor or designee judging if the skill was performed to a set standard. Sometimes, simulations are used for learning without “hands on” opportunities, because the psychomotor activity is dangerous or equipment is not readily available.

Students who are new to a content area will generally benefit more from “hands-on” learning than from mediated learning within the psychomotor domain. As students become more expert, videos and pictures can be used to teach the skill.

Interpersonal Domain

The Interpersonal domain focuses on people interacting with others. As we redesign our courses using the 21st Century Learning Outcomes Project (http://socrates.fhda.edu/fh/staff/century/centurycomps.html )

as a guide, the interpersonal domain takes on greater importance than perhaps in the past. The levels in this domain should not be considered hierarchical as in the cognitive domain, but more as a list of skills. These include the following:

·       Seeking/giving information (asking for and offering information)

·       Proposing (putting forward an idea)

·       Building and supporting (helping another person’s idea move forward)

·       Shutting out/bringing in (excluding or involving another)

·       Disagreeing (appropriately offering a difference of opinion)

·       Summarizing (Restating in a compact form a discussion or collection of ideas)

The above list is not exhaustive. Other skills to add to the list might include negotiating, compromising, facilitating, and leading.

Interpersonal skills are learned by seeing models, practicing the skills, and getting feedback in the form of coaching. While short videos, good explanations, and checklists can facilitate the conceptual learning of the skills, the actual acquisition of the interpersonal skill is best done with face-to-face contact and lots of instructor feedback. With the use of forums and classroom meetings online, we might be tempted to believe that face-to-face is no longer necessary and interpersonal skills can be taught in a virtual environment. While technical innovations allows us more collaboration than in the past, if our core learning outcome is interpersonal, some face-to-face interaction is desirable.


Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc (1994). The instructional developer workshop, Monterey, California.

Gagne. R. M., Briggs, J.J. and Wagner. W.W. (1992). Principles of instructional design. Fort Worth,

 TX.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Kemp, J.E. (1985). The instructional design process. New York, NY.: Harper and Row, Publishers.




                     This table provides a summary of what has been described above.

Learning Domain


Delivery Considerations



Self-check quizzes

Case studies

Drill and practice

Short answer essay

Project or problem-based activities

Web-enhanced materials supplementing classroom lectures

Hybrid course with cognitive content on the web

Multimedia simulations of challenging and key concepts

Project based for higher cognitive skills

Multiple choice or short essay questions

Case Studies


Goal setting

Self-reflective writing in a journal

Practice tutorials designed for student success

Face-to-face meetings

Motivational videos

Streaming audio explanations and encouragement

Interactive video, web casts, conference calls

Self-assessment using check-list

Pre/post attitude survey related to course content

Retention/success in course


Practice of desired skill with feedback

Arranging sequences of an activity in correct order

Face-to-face demonstrations

Demonstration videos

Pictures with audio and text explanations

Interactive video demonstrations

Performance of skill matches set standard as observed by an instructor or designee


Structured team projects with debriefing

Analyzing video models and identifying correct from incorrect performance

Face-to-face small group coaching and feedback sessions

Check lists, examples, videos and other cognitive support material presented online

Team, instructor and self assessment measures

Analysis of video taped student performance of desired interpersonal skill


http://pixel.fhda.edu/id/learning_domain.html                  http://ets.fhda.edu/