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APMG ITIL Exams Getting Dumbed-Down

What it really means now that ITIL v3 certification uses Bloom’s Taxonomy, writes ITSM Watch columnist Rob England, formerly known as The IT Skeptic.
Aug 24, 2007

Rob England

When certification organization APMG announced that ITIL v3 certification structure was based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, everyone nodded sagely but I bet 95% of IT people can’t tell Bloom’s Taxonomy from Bloom's Syndrome.

It’s one of those emperor’s-new-clothes moments with nobody wanting to admit it. Investigating deeper reveals some concerns about the dumbing-down of ITIL certifications to meet training industry needs.

For all of you bluffers out there, according to the ever-useful Wikipedia:

The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, often called Bloom's Taxonomy, is a classification of the different objectives and skills that educators set for students (learning objectives) … Bloom's Taxonomy divides educational objectives into three "domains:" Affective, Psychomotor, and Cognitive. Like other taxonomies, Bloom's is hierarchical ... Most references to the Bloom's Taxonomy only notice the Cognitive domain … There are six levels in the [cognitive] taxonomy, moving through the lowest order processes to the highest:


  • Questions like: What is ...?
  • Comprehension

  • Questions like: How would you compare and contrast ...?
  • Application

  • Questions like: Can you organize _______ to show ...?
  • Analysis

  • Questions like: How would you classify ...?
  • Synthesis

  • Questions like: Can you predict an outcome?
  • Evaluation

  • Questions like: Do you agree with ...?
  • So to be precise, the ITIL v3 certification structure uses the first four of six levels from one of three domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy. While dropping Bloom’s name lends additional credibility to the announcements, it can be seen that the taxonomy is in fact a basic and fairly obvious hierarchy of learning that applied as much to the v2 certifications as it does to v3, though using it would have helped crystallise thinking.

    For all those readers (both of you) who looked into this deep enough to wonder about mentions of a revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, there was a revision in 2001 but it is designed for syllabus not assessment, and the changes do not materially affect us here. Of course, the revised framework may or may not have been used when designing the new v3 syllabus (no I’m not taking bets).

    The Psychomotor domain covers physical skills, which is not typically a strong-suit of IT nor a requisite. The Affective domain is the typical post-modernist claptrap about how people engage emotionally with the material, which IT is mercifully free from. So, since this is not naturopathy or carpentry, it is reasonable to stick to the Cognitive domain of the taxonomy.

    Less clear is why APMG refers only to the first four levels. Actually I think the Advanced certification will in fact cover the top three levels, which are often argued to be parallel not hierarchal, as in this illustration from Wikipedia. And “analysis” is being loosely used to refer to “analysis, synthesis and evaluation”.

    We have already moved to an approach where the illiterate and inarticulate can pass the v3 equivalent of a manager’s certification, now that it has been dumbed-down to a multi-choice exam model. I guess so long as newsletters, training, proposals, business cases and process documentation can be prepared by ticking multiple choices, then the diploma graduates will be competent.

    Of course, the move to multiple choice exams is entirely for the betterment of the ITIL community and would have nothing to do with the fact that multiple-choice papers can be marked automatically instead of using expensive human examiners.

    Likewise the ability to analyse could be examined using multiple choice questions but it is hard to imagine how creative synthesis or subjective evaluation could. One hopes the advanced certification is going to be about as challenging as a high-school paper. If that happens, the debasement of ITIL certification to feed the needs of the training industry will be complete. Granted, that is an awful lot to infer from one word. What do you think?

    Formerly The IT Skeptic, Rob England is an ITIL professional and active itSMF member. More thoughts from Rob can be found on his website. Rob’s latest project is BOKKED: The Body of Knowledge KnownError Database, where you can record errors you find in books such as ITIL v3.