Understand the Difference Between Theory and Practice
I have always preached the importance of learning theory and applying it in practice. The first day in my first development position at the University of Louisville, I felt I had neither theory nor practice influencing me. That is an empty, scared and lonely feeling. I was thankful I had the ability to learn new concepts and seek research results. It served me well in quickly finding answers to questions.
I immediately looked for best of class examples and successful scenarios that I could employ to obtain answers to questions posed to me. I attempted to determine theory while seeking successful results from practice. The first thing I needed to do was seek the difference between theory and practice, and determine how they worked together in a blended fashion.
Dr. Albert Einstein has a famous quote: “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”
Steve Klabnik believes there is always a tension between theory and practice. These two separate realms are connected through a process of abstraction and application. To explain this process by way of theory, theory deterritorializes practice, and practice reterritorializes theory: A theory, which is becoming practice; and a practice, which is becoming theory.
To explain, theory is abstracted practice, and practice is applied theory. The only way you can get these two camps to talk to each other is to figure out what the theory says that provides value to those who practice.
DifferenceBetween.com explains that the differences between theory and practice are:
- It is all too easy to explain the concepts of thirst, pain and sorrow in theory, but the person realizes the difference only when he undergoes these experiences in real life.
- In theory, many assumptions are made to explain the phenomenon and concepts, whereas in real life, there are no assumptions and conditions are always unique.
- The dichotomy of theory and practice will remain as these two form the backbone of all learning procedures.
John Mariotti, president and CEO of The Enterprise Group, stated in his blog that in theory, there is very little difference between theory and practice; in practice there’s a hell of a lot of difference. Such it is in life and in business and in politics. Theory teaches us how things should work in a perfect world.
Experience teaches us how theory might or might not work in an imperfect world. More importantly, experience prepares us to seek other inputs and different kinds of solutions when the imperfections of the real world bite us. Only in the school of hard knocks does real world experience instill about how to deal with the difference between theory and practice. When experience is theoretical and not practical, mistakes are unavoidable and on-the-job fixes are all that is left.
To maximize one’s understanding of theory and practice, realize there is a balance between concepts. I encourage nonprofit professionals to read and understand theory to the greatest degree possible and seek to apply these theories in practice. You also need to realize there is no better education than on the job training.
By watching others and experiencing processes yourself, you will gain confidence over time and strive to seek a mastering state of mind. If you do not have an answer, research it. As the world changes, theories and practices change; be prepared to be adaptable. Develop an ability for life-long learning, and it will serve you well in our dynamic field of endeavor. Seek to understand an array of theories and have the willingness to apply them in practice. Do not be one dimensional. Understand the difference between theory and practice and when to use one, the other or both to your benefit.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.