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Theoretical vs. Practical Knowledge in Masters Studies

When considering theoretical vs. practical knowledge gained during Masters studies, it is important to remember that they are not mutually exclusive. Theory and practice are essential elements of most graduate programmes and they both contribute greatly to the cumulative knowledge and experience gained by students. So how do universities manage to find the sweet spot between the two? And what should you, as a prospective Master’s applicant, look for in a degree?

Practice and theory make perfect

If you find yourself getting bored with theory and leaning towards a more practical approach – or vice versa – take a step back and think through your learning goals. Most prospective students look for a well-established curriculum with interesting courses and diverse topics as well as strong career prospects after graduation. The trick is that theoretical knowledge and real-life practice are both primary pillars for having a truly valuable learning experience.

Theoretical studies such as reading academic papers, exploring academic research, and delving into research methods helps students learn the ins and outs of their field or specialisation. It shows them the best practices as well as the recurring challenges that other academics and professionals have experienced before them. Moreover, studying theory enables students to calibrate their moral compass. Many experts in academia claim it has a positive impact on the decision-making skills that students will need to apply later in life and at work.

Research universities and universities of applied sciences

Although theory and practice usually go hand in hand in most Master’s programmes, some universities put distinct focus on one or the other. In some countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, prospective graduate students can choose to enrol in a research university or in a university of applied sciences.

As the name itself suggests, research universities are not dedicated solely to teaching but also invest in a significant amount of research. As such, their focus lies in studying abstract and theoretical questions and teaching analytical skills. Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes in research universities also tend to have a wide range of courses and specialisations enabling students to acquire knowledge in different areas.

While research universities deal with the “why”, universities of applied sciences focus on the “how”. The latter’s graduate programmes prepare students to go directly into the workforce by relying on more concrete and practical courses. Programme participants immediately learn how to apply their knowledge and how to work in a solution-oriented way.

No doubt it will take some time to settle on the perfect mix of practice and theory to satisfy your academic aspirations. How­ever, all it takes is a little soul-searching and fact-finding to embark on your grad­uate study adventure – one that will ulti­mately bring value to your work and per­sonal life. “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.


By Zornitsa Licheva,
Publisher Access Master

Tarikh Input: 28/09/2021 | Kemaskini: 30/09/2021 | aslamiah


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