Tabula rasa

It’s the last post of the month. To date, I think that I’ve been sceptical about the merits of the SOLO taxonomy, so I thought that it was time to switch perspectives and argue its case.

It is certainly better than starting to write learning outcomes with nothing but an empty head and an empty page. Writing learning outcomes is hard. I’ve supported a number of academics in doing so, and if you have no framework it appears impossible to capture years worth of stuff into 10 or so neat phrases. The most tempting thing to do is to describe those things that are easiest to measure, which can mean that learning outcomes sink to the lowest common denominator. By framing knowledge in this way, the SOLO taxonomy provides a valuable way of reminding teachers that outcomes should match rather than than limit ambition.

Equally, if we stick with the tried and tested binary of surface and deep learning, we may be in danger of over-simplification. Learning either becomes good learning or bad learning. At least with the SOLO taxonomy we get a sense in which new knowledge builds on and is connected to old knowledge. It may still be an abstraction, but at least it has enough shades of grey to give educators more nuance in how they describe what it is that they think that a student should be able to demonstrate at the conclusion of his or her studies.

Biggs and Collins should also take no responsibility for those who use it dogmatically. The SOLO taxomony, as with the Bloom taxonomy before it, should be judged on its usefulness. It is there as a handy guide to educators rather than a statement of absolute fact. As such, the true test of its worth will be its ability to stand the test of time. If people are still referencing it in 20 years time it has clearly served its purpose.


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