Going SOLO

Not Han Solo. Not Napoleon Solo. Not the terrible 1996 Mario Van Peebles film. In this case SOLO stands for the Structured Overview of Learning Outcomes, the 1982 taxonomy proposed by John Biggs and Kevin Collins.

Educational theorists like taxonomies. They like ordering the world so that this is connected to that or so that this is better than that. Perhaps the most famous educational taxonomy is Bloom’s taxonomy devised in 1956 by a panel of educators chaired by the Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom. That progresses from knowledge at the bottom through to synthesis at the top (or creativity if you follow the 2000 update).

In the SOLO taxonomy there are five levels:

  • Prestructural: I know nothing
  • Unistructural: I know one thing
  • Multistructural: I know several things
  • Relational: I can make connections between the things that I know
  • Extended abstract: I can take the things that I know and make new knowledge

So, unlike most taxonomies facts aren’t at the bottom. However, this is only because Biggs and Collins have introduced knowing nothing as one of the levels. At first glance, it does not seem entirely clear why Biggs and Collins have felt it necessary to distinguish between knowing one thing and knowing several things, nor what the difference between the relational and extended abstract levels are. In a sense, there is an immediate danger that you can simply the SOLO taxonomy by reducing five levels to two:

  • Multistructural: I know some things
  • Relational: I can make connections between the things that I know

Or, to put it another way, surface and deep learning. For my next post I think I’ll have to focus on making sense of the ‘extended abstract’ level to see whether the SOLO taxonomy really has something new to say about how we design and describe learning.


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