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Theoretical vs. Practical: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
Theoretical involves concepts or ideas, often not yet applied; practical refers to actual experience or the application of ideas.

Key Differences

Theoretical knowledge encompasses understanding concepts and principles that are often abstract and not necessarily applied. Practical knowledge, however, is based on actual practice and experience, often involving hands-on skills.
Theoretical approaches provide a foundation for understanding how things might work in an ideal scenario, whereas practical approaches deal with real-world application and the effectiveness of theory in actual situations. Theoretical can mean related to theory, something that is concerned with the theoretical understanding or principles of a subject, not its practice or application. Practical, in contrast, is focused on the actual implementation and how theory works when put into action.
Theoretical information is valuable for the development of hypotheses and models, guiding us toward understanding why things happen. Practical information, on the other hand, is crucial for applying these theories to solve problems or perform tasks effectively. When something is described as theoretical, it's often based on hypothesis, supposition, or abstract reasoning. On the flip side, when something is described as practical, it implies that it is related to real situations and may be more concerned with actual results or usability.
Theoretical discussions often involve analysis and intellectual processes, which might not directly translate into everyday actions. Practical matters involve actual experience or practice, often leading to direct and immediate outcomes or benefits. Theoretical concepts might predict outcomes, while practical experiences confirm or refute theoretical expectations.
In academia, a theoretical framework might guide research, but practical experiments or observations are used to validate theories. In vocational training, theoretical instruction gives students an understanding of the background knowledge, while practical training develops the skills necessary to apply that knowledge effectively.

Comparison Chart


Concerned with theory; hypothetical.
Concerned with actual application or use.


To conceptualize and understand principles.
To apply concepts and theories effectively.


Abstract, intellectual.
Hands-on, experiential.


In research and education.
In daily operations and problem-solving.


Ideas, models, possibilities.
Action, implementation, reality.

Theoretical and Practical Definitions


Pertaining to or based on theory.
His theoretical knowledge of physics is impressive.


Capable of being put to use or applied.
His practical skills in carpentry led to a successful career.


Being concerned with the general principles or ideas of a subject.
The course covers both theoretical and practical aspects of chemistry.


Concerned with the actual doing or use of something.
You'll learn the practical aspects of nursing in clinicals.


Involving the academic and not necessarily practical aspects.
She's doing theoretical research in quantum mechanics.


Focused on real situations and tangible outcomes.
We need practical solutions to these everyday problems.


Hypothetical or not proven.
The theoretical model suggests that the universe is expanding.


Suitable for actual use; sensible and realistic.
She has a practical attitude towards work-life balance.


Not yet applied or tested in a practical situation.
They devised a theoretical solution for the energy crisis.


Relating to practice or action rather than theory.
Her approach to teaching is very practical.


Of, relating to, or based on theory.


Of, relating to, governed by, or acquired through practice or action, rather than theory or speculation
Gained practical experience of sailing as a deck hand.


Manifested in or involving practice
Practical applications of calculus.


Can practical experiences contradict theoretical models?

Yes, practical experiences can sometimes challenge or refine theories.

Is theoretical knowledge necessary for practical application?

Yes, it often provides the foundational understanding for practical skills.

Can theoretical become practical?

Yes, if the theory is applied and proven in real-life scenarios.

Do theoretical studies involve experimentation?

They can involve thought experiments but not always physical ones.

What does theoretical mean?

It refers to ideas or principles not yet applied or tested in practice.

Do practical skills require hands-on experience?

Yes, practical skills are often developed through hands-on experience.

Are practical lessons always in a physical form?

Mostly, but they can also include simulations or virtual environments.

Should education balance theoretical and practical learning?

Many believe a balance is essential for a well-rounded education.

Are practical skills valued in the workplace?

Yes, employers highly value practical skills for their immediate applicability.

Can practical tasks be performed without theoretical knowledge?

It's possible, but theoretical knowledge often improves practical performance.

Is theoretical learning abstract?

Yes, it often deals with concepts that are abstract until applied.

Do all disciplines have both theoretical and practical components?

Most disciplines incorporate both to some extent.

Is a theoretical perspective always scientific?

Not always; it can be philosophical or based on other forms of knowledge.

Are theoretical results always replicable in practical settings?

Not necessarily, due to the complexities of real-world conditions.

Can someone be practical without being theoretical?

Yes, one can possess practical skills without deep theoretical knowledge.

Is practicality a desirable quality in all professions?

It is highly valued, particularly in fields that require tangible results.

Can theoretical knowledge evolve from practical experiences?

Yes, practical experiences can inform and enhance theoretical knowledge.

How do theoretical studies benefit students?

They help students understand the underlying principles of their field.

Can theoretical research impact practical developments?

Absolutely, theoretical research often lays the groundwork for practical innovations.

Are theoretical subjects less valuable than practical ones?

Value is subjective; both are essential in different contexts and professions.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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