Biggs and Collis (1982) based their model on the notion that in any “learning episode, both qualitative and quantitative learning outcomes are determined by a complex interaction between teaching procedures and student characteristics”. They emphasized the roles played by: the prior knowledge the student has of the content relating to the episode, the student’s motives and intentions about the learning, and the student’s learning strategies. As a consequence, the levels are ordered in terms of various characteristics: from the concrete to the abstract, an increasing number of organizing dimensions, increasing consistency, and the increasing use of organizing or relating principles. It was developed to assess the qualitative outcomes of learning in a range of school and college situations and in most subject areas; hence the title of the taxonomy: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome.There are four major ways that the four levels can increase in complexity:


Each level of the SOLO taxonomy increases the demand on the amount of working memory or attention span. At the surface (unistructural and multistructural) levels, a student need only encode the given information and may use a recall strategy to provide an answer. At the deep (relational or extended abstract) levels, a student needs to think no only about more things at once, but also how those objects inter- relate.


Each level of SOLO refers to a way in which the question and the response interrelate. A unistructural response involves thinking only in terms of one aspect and thus there is no relationship possible. The multistructural level involves a many aspects but there is no attention to relationship between these aspects. At the relational level, the student needs to analyse and identify an appropriate relationship between the many ideas, and at the extended abstract level, the student needs to generalize to situations not experienced or beyond the given environment.

Consistency and closure:

These refer to two opposing needs felt by the learns. On the one hand, the student wants to come to a conclusion and thus answer or close the question. But on the other hand, the student wants to experience consistency so that there is no contradiction between the question posed, the material given, and the answer provided. Often, when there is a greater need for closure, less information is utilized resulting in an answer or response is that is less consistent. In contrast, when a high level of need for consistency is required, a student may utilize more information when conceiving an answer, but may not be able to reach closure if external factors do not permit. At the unistructural level, the student often seizes on immediate recall information, but at the extended abstract level, the student must integrate potentially inconsistent ideas and must tolerate the possibility of inconsistency across contexts.


The unistructural response takes one relevant piece of information to link the question to the answer. The multistructural response takes several pieces and links them to the question. The relational response identifies and makes use of an underlying conceptual structure and the extended abstract requires a generalized structure such that the student demonstrates an extension beyond the original given context.

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