They might do it knowingly or unknowingly: people who assess personalities like recruiters and interviewers classify applicants’ style of smart into two categories — those who are book smart and those who are street smart.
Book smart people are known for their academic excellence. They have a rich body of knowledge formed by theories, facts, and rules.
Street smart people, on the other hand, are known for their excellent situational understanding. Their body of knowledge consists of experiences, pragmatism, and practicality.
The truth is, most people, by nature, fall into one of these two categories.
Recruiters may favor a type of smart depending on the position open. Book smart people have the foundation; street smart people have the pragmatism.
But to get an edge over applicants, it is entirely possible to get the best of both worlds and strike a balance between the two.
You can train yourself to adapt learning styles that will give you both the foundational body of knowledge and the practical skills to apply these. These two learning styles are practical learning and theoretical learning.
- What is Practical Learning?
- What are the Advantages of Practical Learning?
- What is Theoretical Learning?
- What are the Advantages of Theoretical Learning?
- Advantages of Achieving a Practical Learning and Theoretical Learning Balance
- 3 Steps to Find the Balance between Practical and Theoretical Learning
- Combining Practical Learning and Theoretical Learning
What is Practical Learning?
Practical learning, simply put, is learning by experience. It is usually defined as taking up information in which the learner observes and then carries out, controls, or interacts with real-life variables.
This process is also called experimental or hands-on learning.
What are the Advantages of Practical Learning?
1. Practice Makes Perfect
While there is nothing wrong with being just a theoretical learner, some things are best taught by watching and then doing. As the famous saying says: “Practice makes perfect”. Practical knowledge gives you a different perspective of the information at hand through personal experience.
For some professions such as medicine and nursing, carpentry, music, and culinary, some skills need to be honed by hand and take years of practice to perfect.
2. You Are Prepared for Anything
Information in your mind tends to be placed in an ideal setting where you can think of all the variables you can control and everything that could and could not happen. However, it is different in the real world.
Inevitably, some things will go wrong during the process of practical learning. Through these fumbles and misfortunes, you learn how to deal with things, something that you would not usually learn in books or when sticking to pen and paper.
3. Different Kind of Confidence
In the end, practical learning gives a different feeling of confidence and competence in the skills and techniques that you are learning. Doing things with your hands gives you a distinct sense of accomplishment and victory.
4. Real-world Application
Degrees that require a holistic approach such as nursing mean getting the real-life experience you cannot get in a lecture theatre, and it can prepare you for anything you may face in your future career. Practical learning is also a great way to build industry connections for when you qualify.
A Health Information Management Degree such as the one offered at Kaplan University offers an internship in a hospital or health care facility, and this can give you an opportunity to gain a professional network that may lead to a job once qualified.
What is Theoretical Learning?
While practical learners focus on learning how things work, theoretical learners focus on why things work.
The theoretical learning definition is taking up information by learning the foundation of the task and the theories, history, and facts about it.
What are the Advantages of Theoretical Learning?
1. Understanding the “Why”
One significant component of the theoretical learning definition is that you get to understand the reason behind why things work. This kind of foundational information is crucial in your line of work and in passing on the knowledge to another person.
Also, this kind of foundational information will give sense to the things you try on practically.
2. Different Appreciation for the Process
Theoretical learning gives you a different appreciation for the task or process at hand. Because you know the task, the method, or the skill through and through, it will give you a different view of the profession and further appreciate it. It gives you a sense of fulfillment in what you are doing.
3. Allows for Cautiousness
Theoretical learning also gives you the time to think before doing something. Since foundational knowledge is in-depth and you understand how things will and will not work, it gives you the sense of consciousness that may usually lack in practical learning alone.
While both practical and theoretical learning carries advantages over the other in certain aspects, the best way to take up information is by knowing how to apply both in your personal or professional life. In your professional life, finding the right balance between the two will give you a distinctive edge over other candidates and help you excel in your work.
Advantages of Achieving a Balance Between Practical Learning and Theoretical Learning
Practical learning and theoretical learning, by themselves, are both effective ways to process knowledge and information. A practical learner brings out the best in people who are more hands-on in their work, while a theoretical learner brings out the best in people who like to research, plan, and pay attention to details.
However, both types of learning also have their disadvantages. That is why learning how to use both processes brings one’s knowledge full circle. It gives a complete view of the information or task at hand and makes for holistic learning. It also elevates a person’s competence in whatever they will do if the person applies both practical and theoretical learning.
To be an expert in any field, people who know how to strike a balance between theoretical learning and practical learning are most successful. The most efficient learning experience is a proper mix of both.
For example, in the field of human resource and recruitment, people who are more likely to be a theoretical learner will primarily base their assumptions on a prospective client on the resume they bring to the table: what level of experience the applicant brings, which school did he or she come from, what is his general weighted average upon graduating, what certifications he or she garnered in his professional life, among others.
Meanwhile, people who are more likely to be a practical learner will focus on how the applicant will do on an interview: how he or she composes himself or herself, how the applicant is dressed, what kind of gestures is he or she using, is he or she welcoming to the questions, is he or she interested, among others.
But a well-rounded learner will focus on both: he or she will look at the resume, as he or she knows that this contains pertinent information and foundation the applicant needs to carry out his or her potential responsibilities in the company.
He or she will also look at the applicant’s composure and how the applicant carries himself and herself because he or she knows that this is important in problems solving and social situations.
3 Steps to Find the Balance between Practical and Theoretical Learning
Step 1 — Know What Kind of Learner Are You
Everyone learns differently. Not all people will realize by observing and copying the same way that not everyone will know only by reading several books.
In 1986, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford categorized human learning styles into four different sub-sectors.
These four distinct learning styles or preferences include:
- the activist,
- the theorist,
- the pragmatist,
- and the reflector.
Understanding your particular learning style will help you get in touch with your deeper self and know how you best absorb knowledge. This way, you can build on your strengths and start working on your weaknesses in learning new information or skills.
By knowing what kind of learner you are, you can detect beneficial opportunities for you as they come. This makes your learning process easier and more effective. Also, you will get to understand what kind of learning strategies you need to work on to develop the ability to learn in other ways.
Among the four categories, activists and pragmatists are the practical learners.
Activists are people who learn best by being hands-on and doing the task themselves. These people need to get into the heart of the action and learn by experiencing everything first hand. These people usually carry the characteristics of being open-minded and adventurous.
Their first step is to immerse themselves in the situation and learn what and what not to do as they go along. These people can’t usually learn from a distance. They come into the case without any biases of previous experiences and love new situations.
Meanwhile, pragmatists learn best when they start to see how abstract concepts and ideas are applied in real-life.
Conceptual ideas and theories are just a bunch of words stringed together for them, but when they see how these ideas and theories apply in day-to-day activities, they start to get it, and that’s when their optimum level of learning begins. These people usually don’t do well with concepts and thoughts. They do well when they realize what the concepts mean in the practicality of their lives. They love experimenting and testing and demonstrating real-life applications.
Meanwhile, the other two — theorists and reflectors are the theoretical learners.
Theorists seek to understand every theory behind situations or actions. This gives them a sense of how things started, how it is going, and how it will evolve. These people love concepts and abstract ideas as they can play with these in their heads. They work best in the following models and using facts to learn about the subject matter.
These types of information expand their minds and keep them wanting to learn more. In a given task, they also appreciate as much background knowledge as they can to deliver effectively. They usually don’t learn well in upfront and unplanned situations.
Reflectors, on the other hand, are prime researchers. They learn best by observing from afar. They process information by watching people from afar and analyze what is happening. While they are at the sidelines, they can study and scrutinize information, collect data, and work towards an appropriate solution or conclusion to the situation at hand.
Like theorists, they will not do well if you let them dive into the experience headfirst without background knowledge, and in this care, statistics of what could and could not happen.
The first step in striking a balance between practical learning and theoretical learning is knowing which style you are most comfortable doing and the one you apply the most.
When faced with a new skill to learn, observe yourself: what are you inclined to do? Do you want to know more about how the new skill came about, or do you want to try it in the spur of the moment and see how it works? Do you want to research before coming up with a plan, or do you like to test if the skill concept applies well in real-life immediately?
Once you know what style of learning you usually do, you are now more open to trying new styles to broaden your learning process.
Step 2 — Explore How Other Styles Learn and What Activities They Implement to Learn
Now that you have figured out your learning style, you will need to learn how to adapt to other learning styles’ learning practices. By being aware of their best practices and how they know, you can adopt bits and pieces of their strategies to broaden your learning horizon and gain more in-depth insight on whatever new skill or new knowledge you are trying to acquire.
Here are some of the practices of different learning styles that you can learn how to do and learn how to avoid your holistic learning experience.
How Activists learn:
- By getting involved in new experiences.
- Participating in brainstorming activities.
- Managing and leading a group.
Activists need improvement in:
- Listening to lectures and reading long pieces.
- Data analysis.
- Textual interpretation.
How Pragmatists learn:
- Finding links between an idea or problem and real-life application.
- Determining the practical cost and advantages of new programs.
- Replicating other pragmatic theories on their situation.
Activists Need improvement in:
- Processing big ideas without practical uses yet.
- Executing tasks without clear guidelines.
How Theorists learn
- Through activities founded on the formulation of ideas and concepts
- In a structured environment with clear guidelines and goal
- In an environment with space for questioning and investigation
Theorists need improvement in:
- On the spot situations
- Emotionally charged learning experiences
- Unstructured learning paths
How Reflectors learn:
- Through research and observation.
- Through thought and investigation.
- By being given a chance to review and observe feedback.
Reflectors need improvement in:
- Meeting tight deadlines.
- Doing things without preparation.
- Situations with vague rules and regulations.
Step 3 — Follow Kolb’s Learning Cycle
In 1984, David Kolb published a learning style model he developed to apply flexibly in a wide range of learning situations. This learning style is said to “cover all the bases” in the learning process.
According to Kolb’s cycle, effective learning evolves from going through four particular stages:
- Concrete Experience.
- Reflective Observation
- Abstract Conceptualization
- Active Experimentation.
- The concrete experience phase or the “experience stage” is when a new experience or situation is presented to the learner as an opportunity to process new knowledge and information.
- In the reflective observation phase or the “reflection stage”, observe and analyze the situation. This is where you scan and scrutinize the information you may have gathered from the first step.
- The abstract conceptualization phase or the “conceptualization stage” is where you form new concepts, ideas, and theories about the new skill or information you are trying to learn.
- The active experimentation phase or the “testing stage” is where you try to test or apply what you have learned to real-life experiences.
Kolb’s cycle says that if you can execute all four learning stages, the acquisition of knowledge and ideas will be more in-depth, more holistic, and more applicable.
There is a strong association between the learning cycle and learning styles.
Each learning style will excel in a particular stage of Kolb’s learning cycle:
- Activists learn best at the experience stage, where learning is hands-on.
- Reflectors will perform best in the reflection stage where observation and analysis are needed.
- Theorists will be best at the conceptualization stage, where new concepts and ideas are made, and pragmatists will work best at the testing stage where learnings are applied to real-life situations.
After going through step three and learning what learning style suits you best, analyze Kolb’s learning cycle, and see which areas or stages you usually skip or ignore.
And then, apply the particular activities that each learning style uses in the corresponding part of the cycle. You may also ask your friends and family for advice on being more like an activist, pragmatist, theorist, or reflector.
Combining Practical Learning and Theoretical Learning
Both theoretical and practical learning are desirable methods of taking up information. People usually have one preferred method over the other.
However, it is essential to know how to balance the two types of learning and integrate them both in your personal and professional life.
By applying both practical and theoretical learning, you will gain an edge over other applicants in your job search or will excel in the work you have.