SOLO Taxonomy
Background
Biggs and Collis (1982) set about developing a learning taxonomy that would take into account
criticism’s of Bloom’s taxonomy. These criticisms centred mostly around the use of Piagetian
learning theory and the nature of the research tasks used to establish the various levels. They
wished to develop a taxonomy that would capture the quality of a student’s learning rather than
levels of thinking (Bloom).
Levels
To evaluate this quality they developed the SOLO taxonomy – Structure of the Observed Learning
Outcome. This taxonomy has five levels:

Pre-structural;

Unistructural;

Mulitstructural;

Relational; and

Extended abstract.
Judgements
Judgements about the quality of a student’s learning are made on the assumption that a
student’s responses show increasing complexity as a student learns more. This complexity is
evident as more detail and the extent of integration of this detail into what a student
already knows – the connections made.
The judgement is made by observing how the student applies and integrates facts, concepts
or skills.
Last Updated: 29/10/2012
Centre for Learning and Development Telephone: +61 8 6304 2554 Email: [email protected] Web: www.ecu.edu.au/cld
Levels and Features
Stage
Pre-structural
Unistructural
Connection
Feature
Acquire pieces of
No organisation, no overall
unconnected information
sense
Make simple and obvious
Significance of the
connections
connections is not
demonstrated
Multistructural
Make a number of
Significance of the
connections
relationship between
connections is not
demonstrated
Relational
Extended abstract
Demonstrate the
Relationship between
relationships between
connections and the whole is
connections
demonstrated
Make connections beyond
Generalise and transfer the
the immediate subject area
principles from the specific
to the abstract
(From Fetherston, 2007, p95
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Use
This taxonomy can be used the same way as Bloom’s: To either make a judgement as to the
level quality) of a student’s learning, to generate objectives or to construct assessment
tasks. Mostly it is used for making judgments. Here is a list of verbs and the corresponding
levels that can be used to construct objectives.
Stage
Phase
Verbs
Pre-structural
Quantitative
Name, spot
Unistructural
Quantitative
Identify, memorise,
complete a simple tsk
Multistructural
Quantitative
Enumerate, classify,
describe, list, combine, do
algorithms
Relational
Qualitative
Compare, explain, cause,
integrate, analyse, relate,
apply
Extended abstract
Qualitative
Theorise, generalise,
hypothesise, reflect,
generate
(From Fetherston, 2007, p96)
In authentic assessment, the first step is to identify what we want students to know or to be
able to do. The verbs above can be useful here. Then a decision is made as to how they
could demonstrate that they had met the standards. Criteria are then usually specified and
this is followed by the creation of a rubric to measure student performance on the task.
By checking the verb from above against the stage then some indication can be made as to
the level of learning.
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Surface and Deep Learning
Deep learners are excited by learning, form connections and try to organise and structure
their learning. Surface learners focus on unrelated parts, treat tasks as an imposition, and
often simply memorise.
Deep learners tend to give relational or extended abstract responses; surface learners tend
to give unistructural responses.
We usually aim for deep learning so we aim for the higher levels of the SOLO taxonomy
when writing objectives and setting assessment tasks.
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