The Conative Domain

Teachers teach. What exactly they should teach, what they actually do teach, and the degree of consensus about what they teach and the degree to which they are doing it are very contentious issues today. Most would agree some of the curriculum belongs in the

  • Cognitive domain which comprises the information and concepts students should understand. In biology, some of this is declarative and not disrupted by practitioners; DNA contains heritable information about building proteins that make enzymes is an example. Some of it is useful in framing explanation and predictions; life evolves over time is an example.
  • Affective domain which comprises values, attitudes, and feelings. Far from being “touchy feely” parts of education, learning in this domain helps hone one’s emotional connection to the declarative knowledge they learn. Indeed, ideas like “humans deserve respect and dignity regardless of the color of their skin” is a lesson we learn as we become educated as we learn the differences folks claim exist between racial groups do not exist (at least if we are objective in our analysis of the data).
  • Psychomotor domain which comprises one’s ability to move in effective ways. In science, this woold include skill setting up and using laboratory equipment to collect data.

Most educational practitioners are content if students demonstrate new learning in these three domains. I maintain that a fourth domains is necessary if our students are going to demonstrate they have learned what they need to have learned.

  • Conative domain which comprises the ability to make sound decision and act accordingly. Increasingly, we see ethics not as a collection of “dos and don’ts,” but as a design problem. Those who have developed conative skills will be able make decisions, evaluate the consequences, then adjust their actions accordingly. Their judgements will be dynamic, informed both by lessons learned from others’ experiences and their own observations.

Perhaps the most recognizable (and needed) skill of those with conative skill is the ability to improve their decisions.