I especially appreciated this article as it clearly delineated between education and learning; while acknowledging the role of the latter in the former, the author emphasizes that education is “a process of changing the behavior patterns of people.” Although written 60 years ago, the distinction between “needs” as a gap between a current set of behaviors and a desirable norm (TAKS), and “needs” as an equilibrium state was eye-opening.

The author discusses three means for determining educational objectives:

  1. learners
  2. culture (contemporary life)
  3. subject matter experts

In a forward-looking manner, he advocates using culture as the primary basis for determining objectives. He also distinguishes between education for things that are important today versus things that are important for conditions that will be encountered in the future.

The discussion of subject matter experts could have been more prescriptive when the author asked the experts, “What can your subject contribute..?” The admonition from Wiggins to discover the central questions of a discipline was more useful.

The coverage of learning theory, constructed as a dichotomy between S-R behavioral learning and Thorndike’s “generalizable” learning, was just as useful (although perhaps not as research-based) as the tripartite theory models explored earlier; constructivism and cognition both fall into the generalizable category. However, the two-dimensional chart was the real contribution of the article; not only did it provide a specific application of the ideas advanced in the article, but it also made clear the definition of objectives covering both the “kind of behavior” and the “content (context) or area of life in which this behavior is to operate.”


Wiggins becomes even more specific in discussing how to craft understandings. Understandings are identifiable by being abstract, transferable, and opaque. Non-understandings are general, aimless or rote, and simplistic. The specifics include the direction to use complete sentences, even to the point of recommending the form: Students should understand that…

The features of understandings were useful, but I admit I’m getting a little bogged down in (and weary of) all the number sets. Why are there 6 facets that map to 5 features that tie to 6 criteria? However, the features seemed less an ordered list than a set of characteristics:

  • specific and drawn from expert experience
  • enduring beyond a specific topic
  • abstract and easily misunderstood
  • best acquired by uncovering or doing
  • summarizes strategy in skills

The Zen-like aspect (for me) is that understandings must transcend a specific time and place. However, they must be constructed from specific (even down to the level of each learner’s individual prior experience) situations.

One aspect I enjoyed was the connection Wiggins drew between understanding and fact. While understanding is inferred from facts, a learner who knows the facts can only recite them, while a learner who understands the facts “gets it” and can generalize to non-identical situations. A similar parallel might be drawn in the skills area:  a learner who knows the steps can only teach them, while a learner who understands the steps “does them.” BTW, that’s not a slam on P.E. teachers.

My best moment: the absence of resolution that seems to characterize most of Wiggins was filled by the quote from Grant (note to self: look up his research):

There may be no right answers, but some answers are better than others.

Do you understand the way I understand?

I didn’t find this chapter as useful as Gagne’s, not because I didn’t agree that there are different types of understanding but because it wasn’t as specific (but that might be good for me). So, I thought I’d translate what I understood Wiggins to say (in terms of the six facets) into how I might apply them:

  1. Explanation – accomplished via generalizations; not just telling because “why” and “how” are inferred; might be used as PBL to require students to explain not just recall answers; related to Bloom’s analysis and synthesis levels
  2. Interpretation – accomplished via telling stories; varies with context but students must defend positions; present students with inherently ambiguous issues
  3. Application- accomplished by requiring students to use in new situations; context-dependent; performance-based; seems identical to Bloom’s level
  4. Perspectives – accomplished by presenting the big picture; require students to take an alternate point of view
  5. Empathy – accomplished when students can identify value in other perspectives; seems to require an attitudinal assessment
  6. Self-knowledge – accomplished when students can perceive their own limits; achieved by using reflection; make certain students are not using binary answers; also seems to require an attitudinal assessment

All six facets are manifestations of transfer according to Wiggins, but I need to think how to prove that.