Procedural knowledge is a set of intellectual abilities aimed at knowing “how” to do something.
This type of knowledge provides information on how to tackle issues using procedures and consists of a variety of techniques and instructions for ‘getting things done’.
For example, procedural knowledge can help you learn how to bake a cake. A baker would need to know the ingredients required, the tools and equipment needed, and the steps for mixing the ingredients, baking the cake, and decorating it.
So, procedural knowledge is a type of implicit knowledge about how to do something rather than a set of explicit rules or instructions.
Definition of Procedural Knowledge
Procedural knowledge refers to the procedures, processes, and skills required to perform a task or activity. It involves executing actions or steps in a particular sequence to achieve a desired outcome or goal.
It is often acquired through practice, experience, and repetition and is typically stored in the brain as a sequence of motor movements or a mental model of the task.
According to Scott and colleagues (2017), procedural knowledge is “knowledge exercised in the performance of some task” (p. 63).
Miltiadis and Naeve (2006) state that procedural knowledge “consists of ‘knowing how’ to do something, that is, skills to construct, connect and use declarative knowledge” (p. 57). The latter refers to knowledge about facts, concepts, and ideas.
This type of knowledge is crucial for performing a wide range of tasks, from simple motor skills such as tying shoelaces to complex activities such as driving a car or performing surgery.
In simple terms, this type of knowledge is the “know-how” aspect of learning.
10 Examples of Procedural Knowledge
- Tying shoelaces: This is a typical example of procedural knowledge. It involves performing specific movements with the fingers and hands to tie shoelaces in a knot. This skill is usually acquired through practice and repetition.
- Riding a bicycle: This involves the execution of several coordinated movements to maintain balance on a bicycle. People learn how to balance, steer, and pedal through practice and experience.
- Operating a computer: Knowing how to use a computer involves a set of procedures, such as navigating through software and using keyboard shortcuts. These skills are often learned through experience and by following user manuals.
- Playing an instrument: Playing an instrument requires a combination of technical skills, such as finger placement, and artistic skills, such as interpretation and expression. As a result, it takes a lot of practice to become proficient at playing any instrument – from a violin to a saxophone.
- Driving a car: Driving a car involves several procedures, such as turning the steering wheel, controlling the speed with the accelerator, and using the brake to stop. It also consists in following the rules of the road, such as not exceeding speed limits or running a red light.
- Performing surgery: Surgeons must have a wide range of procedural skills to perform surgery, including how to use surgical instruments, how to make incisions, and how to close wounds.
- Swimming: Not all people know how to swim, but those who do have procedural understanding of the movements required to stay afloat and move through the water. Swimming skills are often developed through practice and experience. For example, the butterfly stroke requires a particular set of movements that involve coordination and strength.
- Gardening: Gardening involves various procedures, such as preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering plants, trimming hedges, and pruning trees. Knowing how to do these things requires a particular set of skills and knowledge, which can be learned through experience and observation.
- Dancing: If someone wants to dance like a professional, they must know how to move their body in a particular way. There are various types of dances, such as ballet, salsa, and tango, which require different sets of procedural skills.
- Writing cursive: Writing in cursive involves a set of specific hand movements different from printing. This skill is often learned in elementary school and requires practice to master.
Procedural Knowledge vs. Declarative Knowledge
Procedural knowledge centers around the recognition of how to complete an action, such as a process or task. Oppositely, declarative knowledge is knowing what something is—for instance, facts and theories.
Procedural knowledge is a type of skill-based knowledge that involves the ability to perform specific procedures, tasks, or skills. Declarative memory, on the other hand, involves knowing facts, concepts, or principles.
Procedural skill is often represented in the form of step-by-step procedures, recipes, or algorithms. In contrast, declarative knowledge is often represented in words, symbols, or equations (Ten Berge & Van Hezewijk, 1999).
For instance, someone who knows how to drive a car has procedural knowledge, while someone who knows the rules of the road (stop signs, speed limits) has declarative knowledge.
Procedural knowledge is often difficult to verbalize or explain in words, as it involves the ability to perform specific actions or procedures.
On the other hand, declarative knowledge is often easier to verbalize or explain in words, as it involves knowing facts, concepts, or principles (Ten Berge & Van Hezewijk, 1999).
Simply, procedural knowledge involves understanding how to do something, and declarative knowledge involves knowing what something is. Both types of knowledge are essential for learning and understanding the world around us.
Importance of Procedural Knowledge
Procedural knowledge is a crucial aspect of learning and development, as it plays a significant role in people’s ability to perform tasks and solve problems.
Here are five reasons why it is important:
1. Enables Task Performance
It is essential for performing tasks and activities efficiently and effectively (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990).
For example, knowing how to tie shoelaces, cook a meal, or ride a bike requires procedural knowledge acquired through practice and experience.
2. Facilitates Problem-Solving
Possessing procedural skillsets is essential for tackling any obstacle; it provides the necessary skills and strategies to successfully overcome intricate challenges (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990).
For example, doctors use procedural knowledge to diagnose and treat patients, and engineers use procedural knowledge to design and build complex systems.
Go Deeper: Examples of Problem-Solving
3. Supports Skill Development
Procedural knowledge is developed through practice and repetition, which helps us to improve our skills and abilities over time.
In addition, this type of knowledge allows us to refine our techniques and strategies, leading to increased proficiency and mastery of a particular task or activity.
4. Improves Task Efficiency
Procedural knowledge allows people to perform tasks more efficiently, enabling them to complete tasks with less effort and time. For example, a skilled typist can type faster and more accurately than someone just learning to type (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990).
5. Enhances Learning Transfer
The capacity to transfer procedural knowledge from one situation to another is priceless. It allows people to apply their learned skills and competencies in different contexts and contributes significantly towards growth and development.
Such transferability of acquired abilities has great potential for improving learning outcomes in new settings.
So, procedural knowledge is an important type of knowledge that enables people to perform tasks effectively, solve problems efficiently, and develop their skills and competencies.
Tips to Improve Procedural Knowledge
While there is no single ‘right’ way to improve procedural knowledge, there are specific strategies and approaches that can be used. They include prioritizing practice, active learning, using visual aids, encouraging reflection, and seeking feedback.
Here is a brief overview of common strategies and approaches on how to improve procedural knowledge:
- Prioritizing Practice: Practice and repetition are the best way to develop procedural memory. It can be done by breaking down the task or activity into smaller, manageable parts and then practicing each part until it is mastered (Pollock et al., 2009).
- Active Learning: To effectively acquire and retain procedural abilities, it is crucial to be actively engaged in the learning process. It means focusing on understanding how to do something rather than just memorizing facts.
- Using Visual Aids: Visual aids such as diagrams, videos, and animations can be used to improve understanding and comprehension. They can also help to illustrate complex concepts simply and straightforwardly (Pollock et al., 2009).
- Encouraging Reflection: Taking time to reflect and review the learning process helps to reinforce understanding, identify areas of improvement, and develop new strategies.
- Seeking Feedback: Seeking feedback from peers or mentors can be a great way to identify and address weaknesses, as well as gain insight into the perspectives of others (Pollock et al., 2009).
Focusing on these five tips makes it possible to improve procedural knowledge and become more proficient in any task or activity.
Procedural knowledge is an essential aspect of learning, and it involves understanding how to perform specific tasks or skills.
It is often acquired through practice, experience, and repetition and is crucial for performing a wide range of tasks, from simple motor skills to complex activities such as driving a car or performing surgery.
Procedural knowledge is often difficult to verbalize or explain in words, as it involves the ability to perform specific actions or procedures. It differs from declarative knowledge, which involves knowing facts, concepts, or principles.
Understanding procedural knowledge helps people develop their skills and abilities, which can contribute to their personal and professional success.
Miltiadis, L., & Naeve, A. (2006). Open source for knowledge and learning management: Strategies beyond tools. Los Angeles: IGI Global.
O’Malley, J. M., & Chamot, A. U. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition. Los Angeles: Icgtesting.
Pollock, J. E., Ford, S. M., & Netlibrary, I. (2009). Improving student learning one principal at a time. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Scott, N., De Martino, M., & Van Niekerk, M. (2017). Knowledge transfer to and within tourism: Academic, industry and government bridges. New York: Emerald Publishing.
Ten Berge, T., & Van Hezewijk, R. (1999). Procedural and declarative knowledge. Theory & Psychology, 9(5), 605–624. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354399095002