Learning Domains – Referenced

My blog series on Learning Domains (4 Learning Domains in PE, Refined and Hierarchy)  are easily my most read posts. They also generate the most emails, especially from trainee teachers. Most of the time they are asking whether they can reference it in their essays but there are much better references.

In 2010 I was promoted to Director of Sport in my current school. Time to finally put right all the things I thought were wrong. 3 years later things hadn’t improved, in fact they were in-decline. Grades were down, pupil evaluations were down, extra-curricular participation was down. This along with three transformational experiences, they key being a brutally honest conversation with a ex-student on a train journey to London, made me take stock. Perhaps I didn’t know everything? So I did something I hadn’t done in the previous decade of qualifying as a teacher, I began to read about Physical Education.

David Kirk in his excellent book Physical Education Futures makes a strong case that the dominant approach to teaching PE in the UK is something he describes as ‘sport as sport techniques‘. Essentially this is a multi-sport curriculum, where small blocks of time are given to various sports and the focus of learning is on discrete and decontextualised techniques needed to play the sport. Pupils were then judged on how well they could accurately reproduced those techniques compared to a perfect model. This pretty well summarised our provision. My return to reading theory, deep reflection and a number of key experiences forced me to think is there a better way?

My initial search took me to the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (The classification of educational goals), is an attempt for a complete taxonomy in three major parts- -the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor domains. This resulted in Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy, Karathwol’s affective taxonomy and a number of psychomotor taxonomies.

The next step on the journey was Richard Bailey and colleagues paper on the educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport. An academic review on the distinctive contributions PE and School Sport make to children, to schools, and to wider society. Whilst mainly for policy makers, it splits the benefits up into physical, cognitive, social and affective domains. The themes are followed up in Participant development in sport: an academic review. These are then positioned as legitimate learning outcomes of PE, with researchers such as Ash Casey, Vicky Goodyear and David Kirk arguing that these four learning outcomes go some way to facilitating students engagement with the physically active lifestyle.

Seeing the potential of PE beyond just sport techniques was something I espoused, but wasn’t something that was apparent in my practice. This idea of a holistic view of PE isn’t a new phenomenon. This vision of people as whole, bio-psycho-social beings was developed in PE many years ago, but hasn’t taken. Perhaps that is beginning to change? Margret Whitehead is a key advocate for physical literacy, a disposition which can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. As set out in the definition the three essential elements of the concept are the affective – motivation, confidence and commitment, the physical – physical competence, and the cognitive – knowledge and understanding. These elements are further developed by Andrew Frapwell in his book A Practical Guide to Assessing without levels, framing the curriculum around the head (cognitive domain), the heart (affective domain) and the hands (psychomotor domain), which seems to be guiding many other schools current practice.

With this holistic view as a lens I started to see multiple learning domains in texts that I had previously read but had ignored or missed. I’m fascinated by models based approaches and Michael Metzler in his book Instructional Models for PE recommends that when choosing a model we must ensure that it matches the learning intentions of psychomotor, social and cognitive with different models prioritising different domains. In Teaching Physical Education, Muska Mosston and Sara Ashworth, talk about matching the teaching style to the Developmental Effects. These are always related to human attributes along the cognitive, social, physical, emotion, and ethical Developmental Channels. Both methods and styles require us to explicitly ask ‘why and what for’ and the answers are often wider than just isolated technical development.

Recently my reading has taken me back to Peter Arnold and opened me up to Scott Kretchmar. Kretchmar cites Clark Hetherington in Fundamental Education (as far back as 1910) arguing that PE’s contribution falls under four objectives of biological, cognitive, psychomotor and affective. Kretchmar himself sees it through the values of health, knowledge, skill and fun. Arnold suggests that movement as a subject in the curriculum has three dimensions; education about movement (cognitive), education through movement (physical) and education in movement (affective/social).

All promote a holistic view of physical education, one that is beyond just the perfection of sports techniques. If we really want PE to have a place in a child’s education to learn to use movement as a means to flourish in their lives, we must adopt this broader view.  The challenge is, as Arnold puts it, not to see them as separate domains but overlapping, interdependent and interrelated. If can we do that, it may help us to build a PE curriculum that is more purposeful and meaningful for the children we teach.

If you have any other references please do signpost them for myself and other readers to follow in the comments section.


Arnold, P. J. (1979). Meaning in movement, sport and physical education. London: Heinemann.

Bailey, R., Armour, K., Kirk, D., Jess, M., Pickup, I., & Sandford, R. (2009). The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: An academic review. Research Papers in Education, 24(1), 1-27.

Casey, A. and Goodyear, V.A. (2015) Can Cooperative Learning Achieve the Four Learning Outcomes of Physical Education? A Review of Literature. Quest 67, 56-72

Frapwell, A. (2014). A practical guide to assessing without levels. 1st ed.

Hetherington, C. (1910) Fundamental education. Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association 48:350-357

Kirk, D. (2010). Physical Education Futures. London: Routledge

Kirk, D. (2013). Educational Value and Models-Based Practice in Physical Education. Educational Theory and Philosophy

Kretchmar, R. S. (2005). Practical philosophy of sport and physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Metzler, M. W. (2011). Instructional Models for Physical Education.3rd ed. Scottsdale, Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway.

Mosston, M. & Ashworth, S. (2008). Teaching Physical Education, First Online Version, (Sixth Edition).

Whitehead M. (2010). Physical literacy: throughout the life course. London: Routledge

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