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Domains Of Learning

| September 7, 2021 | By: Severe VFR
Cockpit View Over Southern Wisconsin

The domains of learning provide a framework to understand how individuals learn and think. 

The domains of learning are of high importance to flight instructors and flight instructor applicants since it provides a way of determining where students are in their knowledge, as well as what should be expected of a student. 

It also helps instructors develop lesson plans as it provides an easy way to build students up from the most basic to the most complex topics. 

Developed by Dr.Bloom, the domains of learning are broken down into 3 basic parts:

  1. Cognitive Domain: How students think.
  2. Affective Domain: How students feel.
  3. Psychomotor Domain: What students do.

Cognitive Domain

The cognitive domain is one of the best-known educational domains and is what most people believe to be what is considered "learning." 

The cognitive domain revolves around knowledge and information. Such as remembering specific facts and concepts as well as being able to use intellectual abilities and skills. 

Within the cognitive domain are six major categories starting from the simplest tasks to the most complex:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation


The first and simplest category of the cognitive domain is the ability to remember information or knowledge. 

When a student is just beginning their training or learning a new topic, they will begin by remembering information. The type of information will be basic in nature such as the temperature at sea level on a standard day, or by being able to define what a logbook entry is. 

The skill of recalling information can also be applied to other types of knowledge such as definitions, identifying parts of an aircraft, labeling aircraft instruments, and listing v-speeds to name a few. 


When students begin to be able to explain the meaning of information, they are said to have reached a level of comprehension. 

At this level, students will be able to describe, generalize, and discuss questions rather than just answer basic information. 

To determine if a student has reached the comprehension level an instructor may ask "why does aviation use standard temperature?" instead of asking "what is the standard temperature at sea level."

This requires the student to understand what a "Standard Atmosphere" is. The student must understand that the properties of the atmosphere vary with time and location. In order to make a standard reference, a standard atmosphere of 15 degrees C at 29.92 inches of mercury was developed. 

This standard reference gives the ability to compare and evaluate aircraft performance, as well as calibrate aircraft instruments to the same reference point. 


The application level of competence marks the halfway point for a student's level of understanding. 

At the application level, the student or learner will be able to use abstractions in a concrete situation. Students will be able to solve problems and apply teachings to a practical issues. Students may also be able to begin teaching the material back to the instructor at this level. 

Keeping with our example of the standard atmosphere, a student would be able to demonstrate their understanding at the application level if they could determine what the temperature would be at a pressure altitude of 6,000ft using a standard lapse rate. 


Students reach the analysis level when they begin to break down whole concepts into individual parts. 

Students are capable of comparing information, as well as distinguishing individual pieces of the whole. Students will be capable of pointing out differences and recognize and prioritize different aspects of the idea. 

A student capable of comparing different temperatures at certain pressure altitudes based on the standard lapse rate would be at the analysis level. Students that can determine the requiring information for an aircraft logbook entry would also be at the analysis level. 


If the analysis level involved breaking down a whole into parts, the synthesis level involves putting those parts together for a new and integrated whole. 

Students at the synthesis level will be capable of organizing information, as well as being able to generate or model new ideas. The synthesis level revolves around the students creating, planning, and designing new ways of depicting information and requires the student to create something new. 

Examples could include students creating a chart depicting temperature for altitudes up to 12,000ft or writing a new aircraft logbook entry for an oil change. 


The evaluation level of the cognitive domain is the last level of competence. At the evaluation level, the student will be capable of making judgments based on ideas and be able to determine if those ideas hold any merit or weight. 

Students should be able to come up with a final conclusion and should be able to compare and contrast information. Students should also be able to defend their claims and support their final judgment. 

Students can make a judgment as to why keeping aircraft logbook entries are necessary. Students can also evaluate why understanding standard atmosphere, lapse rate, and temperatures at various altitudes are important for pilots.

Affective Domain

The affective domain revolves around the learner's emotions toward the educational experience. Under the affective domain are the student's personal feelings, enthusiasms, and attitude toward training. As well as their own individual values and motivations to becoming a pilot. 

Instructors trying to assess a student's affective domain involve asking questions such as how the student approaches learning as a whole and if they are motivated to learn. Instructors should also determine the student's confidence in learning new material - with a high emphasis on the student's own personal attitude towards safety and risk mitigation. 

Similar to the cognitive domain, the affective domain is broken down into a framework for teaching that encompasses five levels:

  1. Awareness
  2. Response
  3. Value
  4. Organizing
  5. Integration

The affective domain is more difficult to measure than the cognitive domain, but it may be the most important component of any learning. 

Students traversing the affective domain will begin at the awareness level. At this level, students will be open to learning and will be willing to listen, and pay attention, to the instructor. 

As the student learns more they will begin to enter the response level. At this level, students will begin to actively participate in training such as by asking questions or having the instructor elaborate on concepts being taught. 

Eventually, the student should begin to accept and put value to the training being received. This stage is especially apparent when the student begins to start incorporating safety and risk management into their flight training. 

Students will eventually begin to organize their training into their own personal belief system. This develops the student's character and is largely what is used when a pilot discusses their own personal minimums. The student had to apply some personal beliefs as to the correct way of operating an aircraft to their skill level and abilities. 

Finally, the student will internalize their teachings and reach a state of mind that was guided by the instructor. Proper training should result in the student being safety orientated with proper risk management skills, as well as high regard for safety and the regulations. 

Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain is concerned with the use of physical movement and coordination, as well as the development of individual motor skills. 

Students develop skills within the psychomotor domain through repetitive practice. Instructors measure a student's development within the psychomotor domain in terms of speed, precision, distance, and technique. 

Students train and progress within the psychomotor domain in the following order:

  1. Observation
  2. Imitation
  3. Practice
  4. Habit

At the observation levels, the student will observe a more experienced person perform a given skill. Such as a steep turn or landing. 

Instructors should have the student observe the sequences and relationships that lead to the completed maneuver. Instructors should talk the student through the steps to perform the maneuver while performing the maneuver.  

Supplemental material can also be used such as an instructional video, diagram, or written flow. 

Once a student has observed a maneuver, maybe even more than once, the student will be allowed to imitate the instructor. At the imitation phase, the student will attempt to copy the maneuver while being observed by the instructor. 

As the student gains more experience they will enter the practice level. At the practice level, the student will attempt a specific maneuver over and over multiple times. The practice level does not necessarily require the instructor to be present for the student to gain proficiency. 

A student is said to be at the habit level if they can perform a specific maneuver in no more than twice the time it takes the instructor or expert to perform. This means a maneuver that an instructor can perform in 1 minute, should be performed within 2 minutes by the student. 

If the student continues to perfect a skill it will eventually become a skill performed at the expert level. 

Skills within the psychomotor domain can include a variety of additional actions outside of a flight maneuver. Precision approaches, programming avionics, and performing cockpit flows can all be considered skills within the psychomotor domain. 

Students and instructors should be aware that as tasks become more physical and complicated the requirement for integrating cognitive skills with physical skills becomes more apparent. 

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