Internal Medicine

Solo Taxonomy

Solo TaxonomyIntroduction

The SOLO (structured observed learning outcomes) taxonomy was developed by Biggs and Collis in 1982. It
describes five levels of increasing complexity in a student’s understanding of a subject.

1. Pre-structural: Students acquire isolated elements of unconnected information, which have no organisation and make no sense. Textbook “facts” about disease are examples.

2. Unistructural
: Some fairly simple and obvious connections are made between the elements.

3. Multistructural:
A number of connections between the individual elements may be made, but the most important connections between them, those that support a unifying picture of the process, are missed.

4. Relational level
: The student is now able to appreciate the significance of the parts in relation to the whole. For instance, the student can use, analyse and evaluate elements from multiple areas – symptoms, signs, investigations, context – in order to work towards and make a diagnosis, instead of merely regurgitating a list of facts about the disease.
5. At the extended abstract level, the student is making connections not only within the given subject area, but also beyond it, able to generalise and transfer the principles and ideas underlying the specific instance to other situations applications.

The following diagram illustrates how building components are progressively related to each other until a workable house in an appropriate environment results. The analogy with the progressive incorporation of individual bits of factual information into a workable schema is apt. This diagram is modified from the reference below.

solo houses


The medical student who believes that one can prepare oneself for clinically-based exams (which includes written exams based on clinical material, such as MCQ tests set around clinical vignettes) offers a perfect example of this. Such swot work is entirely prestructural. Performance is hopeless; indeed, success cannot even begin to be achieved until the student moves into the relational level.

Adapted from: Atherton J S (2005) Learning and Teaching: SOLO taxonomy [On-line] UK: Available: Accessed: 5 February 2009

© R J Hift