The Many Lenses of Significant Learning Experiences

In Learning

Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning attempts to answer the question: What are the ways in which learning can be significant?  He shares how significant learning is interactive and multidimensional:

“In the process of constructing this taxonomy, I was guided by a particular perspective on learning: I defined learning in terms of change. For learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner. No change, no learning. And significant learning requires that there be some kind of lasting change that is important in terms of the learner’s life. With this perspective in mind, I created a taxonomy that includes six kinds of significant learning.

If we have or can develop a language and a conceptual framework for identifying the multiple ways in which learning can be significant, then teachers can decide which of various kinds of significant learning they want to support and promote in a given course or learning experience.”

His taxonomy enables us to view ‘significant learning’ through the lenses of:

  1. Foundational Knowledge — understanding and remembering key information and ideas.
  2. Applied Knowledge — improved skills; critical, reflective, and practical thinking; transfer of learning to projects, etc.
  3. Integrated Knowledge — the ability to connect people, everyday life, and related ideas.
  4. Human Dimension — learning something about themselves, or others.
  5. Caring — this is about encouraging enthusiasm, and developing new interests, feelings, and values.
  6. Learning How To Learn — becoming a better learner, a more self-directed learner.


Similar to the CanMeds’ medical expert roles, Fink’s taxonomy and the CanMeds framework both kaleidoscope the interactive and multi-dimensional nature of learning.  Regarding development of the The CanMeds framework, the The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada notes:

“The process of identifying the core abilities involved translating the available evidence on effective practice into educationally useful elements. The result was a new multifaceted framework of physician competence that comprises numerous competencies. To be useful, these were organized thematically around “meta-competencies” or physician Roles for CanMEDS. Traditionally medical education has articulated competence around core medical expertise. In the CanMEDS construct, Medical Expert is the central integrative Role, not the only one. Domains of ability that have long been described for or displayed by the effective physician were made more explicit and re-emphasized. Hence the seven CanMEDS Roles.”