SOLO Taxonomy

Learners knowing where they are

​The SOLO Taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) is a common language to help students express in words, or through hand signals, where they feel their learning is.

​The Why

When you set out to put more learning at the hands of your students, or more project control in the hands of your team, it's vital that both learner and facilitator or teacher know where everyone's at. It's easy to get lost, unable to see the progress that's been made. Also, when the end objective of learning is still ambiguous in a rich project, we need some kind of process through which to indicate that we know we're not done learning in this domain, but we're maybe not yet sure what else remains to be learned or done.

The Experiment

SOLO Taxonomy is a thinking tool which stems from the early 1980s, but which has taken on significance in more student-led learning in classrooms, particularly in Australasia and the UK. We've been working with schools who are part of learning communities based around the use of the taxonomy, many of them related to consultant Pam Hook, based in New Zealand. Using the SOLO Taxonomy within complex design thinking projects has helped students take control of assessing their own progress through often ambiguous projects. It does this by asking students to develop and use rubrics through five levels of understanding:

  • Pre-structural - students' understanding or existing knowledge is limited or non-existent, or the task is approached from an inappropriate angle
  • Unistructural - students might know one key piece of knowledge but can't connect it to anything else
  • Multistructural - students can show understanding of several pieces of knowledge but are not yet able to tie them together
  • Relational - students' understanding of several elements is strong and they can make the connections between them
  • Extended Abstract - students can start to take their learning into new contexts, see their latest learning as part of a greater whole

Your Next Steps

  • Explore the explanations and free resources at Pam Hook's super website
  • Teach your students how to use basic hand gestures to show which level of understanding at which they feel they are operating, as you can see in Diane Farrell's (@fardef) mathematics class, above, in John Monash Science School, Melbourne, Australia (photo courtesy of Chris Harte)
  • Explore how the SOLO Taxonomy can be used to support students' exploration of rich Non-Googleable questions in your project-based learning.
  • Generate, with your students, the verbs that reflect different degrees of understanding in your subject area or project, using Pam Hook's verbs as a starter.
Ewan McIntosh
March 06, 2013