Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK)

In the world of curriculum development and student assessment, there are many models that inform our work. Each model supports the design of relevant, engaging, and rigorous learning experiences. While Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy has served as the “go to” framework since the 1950s, it’s Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge system that has caught the attention of K-12 educators since the late 90s. His work continues to grow in popularity in higher education instruction as well.

What is Depth of Knowledge?

In short, Depth of Knowledge (DOK) is a framework for classifying content complexity in relation to the level and kind of mental demand that’s put on a learner to answer a question, solve a problem or to create a product. This work takes a different approach to learning frameworks than Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s work focuses on student action, the “what” of learning. DOK focuses more on the “how”.

Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels provide a vocabulary and a frame of reference when thinking about students and how they engage with the content. DOK offers a common language to understand “rigor,” or cognitive demand, in assessments, as well as curricular units, lessons, and tasks. Webb developed four DOK levels that grow in cognitive complexity and provide educators a lens on creating more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks.

  • DOK is NOT a taxonomy
  • ALL levels are important and are not linear levels
  • Each level has it’s own value
  • DOK is NOT about difficulty but is about cognitive demand
  • DOK is NOT based on verbs (like Bloom) but on the CONTEXT in which the verb is used and the depth of thinking required

Dr. Webb presents an overview of DOK

A Brief look at Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels

LEVEL 1 – Recall/Reproduction

    • DOK 1: A question you can answer by looking it up.
    • Every field requires a recall of facts, information or procedures.
    • Processing information on a low level.
    • We want students to be able to do things automatically. This is true in every field.
    • RECALL takes up about 30% of the curriculum, depending on what grade one’s in.

LEVEL 2 – Skill/Concept

    • DOK 2: A question or prompt that is routine but requires putting together more than one idea.
    • Use information or conceptual knowledge, two or more steps, etc.
    • If you think about level of complexity, connecting ideas, linking ideas, comparing and contrasting facts and information comes next.
    • SKILL covers about another 40% of the curriculum.

LEVEL 3 – Strategic Thinking

    • DOK 3: A prompt that requires a justified or supported response for one’s response, idea, opinion, or critique
    • Requires reasoning, developing a plan or a sequence of steps. There is some complexity and more than one possible answer.
    • This grew out of the notion of non-routine problem solving
    • Wanting students to do something they have never seen before, to apply what they know to something new leads to strategic thinking.
    • Students are reasoning, taking things apart and putting them back together again or creating something new
    • STRATEGIC THINKING covers about another 20% of the curriculum.

LEVEL 4 – Extended Thinking

    • DOK 4: Typically a project or research assignment, often a culminating work, often interaction with others is included or required — typically takes more time to respond to prompt
    • Requires investigation, time to think and process multiple conditions of the problem.
    • High cognitive demand and complex reasoning is expected.
    • This grew out of “wanting students to change the world.”
    • TIME is required to plan and execute– be it to research, explore, discover, create, etc.
    • EXTENDED THINKING covers about another 10% of the curriculum.

Some resources for applying DOK:

Learning Styles: How we engage with the world

If you have been following this blog, just a few months ago, we wrote about common learning styles and what effect they have on learners and teaching methods and practices, and that to a large extent these are not well-evidenced in either science or practice, but for some reason have a wide acceptance.

Today, we are tackling a different take on learning styles – rather learning preferences in ways we interact with the world along the continuum of how we do things (processing) and how we perceive things (think or feel, the perception continuum) as developed by Kolb and further modified by others.

I started doing research on reflective practice – one of many topics I am interested in! – and it eventually led me (should I say took me all the way back) to this source, which I found quite tangible. Reflective practice is an important process (practice) in professional and personal growth which starts with describing and identifying the problem, naming feelings associated with this, thinking through why a particular event took place, and finally developing a plan for dealing with a similar situation in the future or preventing it from happening in the first place, in a nutshell.

Then I ended up with Kolb’s learning styles (or preferences if you wish) and the continuums and the learning cycle, which all theorize learning in attempt to explain and leverage the process.


I believe that course design benefits from balancing a number of modes of student engagement and flexibility and student choice in the products they are required to submit as evidence of learning and mastery of concepts. Applying both Kolb’s learning styles/preferences and the modified learning cycle to a course, one can evaluate what sort of activities a particular course favors, if any, and if there are adequate (optimal) opportunities for engagement for all types of preferences.

If your course includes group work, are there also opportunities for students to reflect and process readings and thoughts? If your course is mostly based on readings and reflection, are there opportunities for students to take action in the real world and interact with other individuals in some capacity?

What are your thoughts about any learning styles, catering to various learning styles and this particular take on learning styles/preferences?