Educators will certainly know this from their training. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom identified three domains of educational activities, namely, Cognitive (mental skills, or Knowledge), Affective (awareness of feelings or emotional area, or Attitudes), and Psychomotor (manual or physical abilities, or Skills). Trainers refer to these categories as KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes).

Educational psychologists have recently suggested a fourth learning domain, that of Conation (attributed to Huitt in 1999). The Conative domain deals with the instinctive, and deals with part of the mind that drives one to act according to his or her instincts. It’s that “gut reaction” that causes one to decide, feel or act, for reasons they cannot explain.

I believe there are three elements that provide validity to this claim. First, my personal theory that three leads to four leads to five in order to provide a complete explanation of the system at work. Second, the fourth element (in this case, Conation) is actually a combination of the past experiences of the other three elements. Third, there is a fifth element that is created by virtue of the fact that the fourth element relates to all three of the other elements in some meaningful way. It is this fifth element that connects them all together. While the fourth element relates to the other three, and may be viewed as an “emergent principle” of the three elements, it becomes a fourth element once the fifth element is found.  Therefore, the fifth element is not an “emergent principle” of the four working together, but rather, a new element.  These five elements working systemically, however, do form an emergent principle of the system.

Some researchers may describe systems which contains six distinct elements, but many times, upon closer examination and in-depth research, it can be argued that one of the six elements is that emergent principle of the other five working together.  The system becomes a complete system when all 5 elements are present.

As a side note, consider the four elements described above – knowledge, instincts, skills, and attitudes.  Knowledge is associated with one’s mind, instincts with one’s “gut,” skills with one’s physique, and attitudes (or emotions) with the heart.  If the skills of one’s physique can be equated with one’s shoulders (as an allusion to carrying burdens), then if you would touch your head, then your gut, then each of your shoulders, you’d realize that your actions cross each other over your heart, and make you aware that these learning domains form a sign associated with our great teacher.

These articles, collectively titled “Tetrahedronics,” examine the workings of this “3 leads to 4 leads to 5” theory of systems thinking.

For instance, here are 5 elements which are essential for a school’s success today:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Enthusiasm
  • Encouragement
  • Edification

Education deals with how students are educated both physically and mentally, not only acquiring knowledge but the ability to put that knowledge effectively into action. Experience relates to the “lived” experience which the student personally undergoes in the school, touching the affective learning domain as well as the Societal domain (a potential fifth domain to complete the system described earlier in the article). Enthusiasm is the visible result of the conative learning domain. Enthusiasm cannot be taught; it must be “caught”…through a moment of epiphanicity (the “aha” moment) or some other revelatory experience. Encouragement is provided by teacher, fostering a student’s learning in order that the learner can achieve to his or her potential, while edification points to the learner’s need to have those achievements recognized in some way personally meaningful to the learner.

As for the 5th element to complete the system formed by Cognitive/Affective/Psychomotor/Conative domains, may I suggest the Societal domain as a “potential” fifth domain, since, as we’ve seen today, society through social media and technology, as well as our personal environment, shapes our learning.  While it could also be the Spiritual domain, but then upon closer examination, we realize that the Holy Spirit continues to enlighten us through ALL those other elements, including the Societal domain, if we are open to the will of God. When you consider the potential systems that can be created through the interaction of these domains, the results can have dramatic consequences for today’s educational environment.

As for the 5 “E” elements, it is because of the interaction of these five “E” elements that the “Environment” could be considered as the “emergent principle” which results from the system.  Such an awareness can bring a whole new meaning to what an “Effective Environment for Learning” looks like, regardless of whether or not it happens in a brick and mortar building, or via a wirelessly connected community.  With a eye to “Enlightenment,” which could be used instead of “Edification,” this article was first published in 2012, when online learning environments just started to gain significant traction.  In 2020, as our coronavirus pandemic put a stranglehold on our ability to gather in person, if schools had not established a way to deliver online learning, they found themselves struggling to maintain, since they were mired in a “That’s the way we’ve always done it” mindset.  In the words of former General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch, we now know why it’s important to “Change before you have to.”

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2021