The mysteries of the affective domain – Veronica Brown, CTE

Image of rock with pool of water

I spent a lot of time during the past year thinking about assessment at all levels. In the Instructional Skills Workshop, we talk about pre- and post-assessments during a lesson to evaluate where our learners are before and after the lesson. During the Teaching Excellence Academy, we discuss assessment as it relates to the overall design of the course. Julie Timmermans and I presented on assessment for learning and asked participants to explore their own assessment philosophy at a recent workshop. Most of the curriculum work I support looks at assessment at a macro level as programs evaluate themselves.

Despite all this focus, the affective domain still remains a mystery. Back in the 50’s, Bloom and his colleagues created their Taxonomy of Learning and split learning into three domains: cognitive; psychomotor; and affective. Today, in course design and curriculum work, we simplify these to knowledge, skills, and values. The affective domain is meant to capture our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. It encompasses areas such as ethics, impact on society, diversity, creativity, humility, openness to failure, questioning, appreciating complexity, valuing teamwork, professionalism, exploration, critical thinking, etc. It ranges from simply knowing about a concept (i.e., being aware of a given phenomena) to fully internalizing that particular value.

If the affective relates to changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours, how can we teach it? Moreover, how are we supposed to assess it? Can we actually change behaviour? Should we? We’re expected to. Just look at accreditation requirements from the past 10 years. It’s no longer enough to teach specific subjects for a certain number of hours. Now, we must demonstrate how specific outcomes have been fulfilled, such as life-long learning, professional ethics, awareness of limits of knowledge, etc. But more importantly, we want to. When working with departments on their curriculum, we often begin with an “Ideal Graduate Brainstorm” during which department members list the knowledge, skills, and values they expect an ideal graduate to embody by the time they graduate from their program. And the list of values is often just as long as the knowledge and skills.

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring ideas surrounding assessment of the affective domain, specifically the use of media in teaching and assessing affective elements, Eisner’s Expressive Outcomes (Eisner, 1985), and what I’m going to call, the one-hit wonder phenomena. Throughout the blog posts, you’ll see one picture in each post. At the end of these posts on affective assessment, I’ll share the theme of the images with you (sorry – no prize if you guess the theme before it’s revealed).

See you next Tuesday,


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives : The classification of educational goals. New York: D. MacKay.

Eisner, E. (1985). The Educational imagination : On the design and evaluation of school programs (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.



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Veronica Brown

As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum & Quality Enhancement, Veronica Brown provides oversight and facilitative support for departmental and Faculty-wide curriculum planning initiatives. She also leads the development and implementation of the Centre’s assessment plan for understanding the impact and quality of our work.