Professional Knowledge & Academic Knowledge in Higher Education

Knowledge can emanate from various aspects depending on the environment in which an individual is gaining experience. The aspect of professional knowledge takes a different course from academic knowledge, notably for the higher education. Invariably, knowledge refers to skills, facts, and information acquired via education or experience – the practical or theoretical understanding accruing to a subject (Rugg, 2014). The expression ‘professional development’ may be deployed in education to refer to various specialized training, advanced professional learning, or formal education to assist teachers and administrators in enhancing their professional knowledge as well as effectiveness, skills, and competencies. Nonetheless, academic knowledge entails the entity of knowledge emanating from aggregate academic inquiry notably in academia, the group of scholars involved in research (Todd, 1984). This research paper illustrates that academic knowledge is a product of academic research for theoretical frameworks while professional knowledge is a product of applying the learned theoretical paradigms in solving real-life problems in various workplaces.

Professional knowledge has conventionally emanated from a linkage of science and myth (Schon, 1988). Invariably, as professions grew, professional education proved to obliterate the underlying myths via adoption of the technical rationality framework. Schon upholds the ideology that empirical research outstands to be the sole valid approach for generating knowledge. Schon (1988) further reveals the ‘reflection-in-action’ approach besides enhancing epistemological search regarding practice implicit for the intuitive, artistic process wherein some practitioners handle aspects of instability, value conflict, uncertainty, and uniqueness. This analogy asserts the prevalence of professional education on the knife-edge accruing to transformation, yielding a balance between the aspect of uncertainty and uncertainty’s reality. Todd (1984) supports this knowledge generation approach by revealing a ‘closed strategy’ by emphasizing on the importance of centralizing on continued learning notably in the practice domain with the active practitioner generating knowledge at various sources.

On the other hand, academic research is the key approach via which academic knowledge is generated. Invariably, the research forms a platform for the learners to familiarize with various theories and models and gain an understanding of their various applications in real life scenarios (Gilbert, 2005).  Academic knowledge is crucial for superior professional knowledge following the current vastly changing digital world. Furthermore, academic research has a key goal of generating theoretical frameworks and knowledge that other practitioners in the field can draw on besides adopting to enhance practice in their individual contexts. For instance, academic development regarding medicine, engineering, and sciences resulted in setting up of the Internet, telecommunication, computer services, biotechnology, and digital financial services, whose knowledge can facilitate the possessors of professional knowledge to enhance the underlying effectiveness and accuracy of practice.

Nevertheless, the key difference between the professional and academic knowledge encompasses the dependent on the environment of acquisition. Primarily, academic knowledge is fairly learned in school besides being typically theory-based as an individual spends much time in learning theories and concepts (Eraut, 2002). On the other hand, professional knowledge is acquired via the process of applying theory to practice when on-the-job.  Moreover, theory precedes practice, an analogy that perpetuates the ideology of the supremacy accruing to such an epistemological perspective for professional education (Kinsella, 2009). The application order accruing to theoretical knowledge is further an order of dependence and derivation since the hierarchical paradigm of professional knowledge links research to practice by keenly defining various relationships of exchange. On the other hand, generation of academic knowledge is dependent on academic research and hence embraces academic research and generation of theories instead of enhancing practice. Professional knowledge is central to action research while academic knowledge is central to academic research.

In a nutshell, the transforming technology calls for research of new theoretical models that would best solve the newly emerging challenges optimally. Acquisition of professional knowledge entails application of theory into practice while academic knowledge is achieved via academic research. Once the individual uses the learned models in solving the emerging real-life challenges, the person gains professional knowledge in the specific area of operation and hence perfect the underlying practicality depending on the superiority of the familiarized frameworks and their problem-solving potentials. Consequently, academic knowledge forms the basis for professional knowledge. Academic knowledge is further central to embracing various theoretical frameworks while professional knowledge encompasses using the learned theoretical frameworks in solving real-life challenges. Professional knowledge also embraces action research which enhances the people’s knowledge depending on the underlying experience encountered in the workplaces whereas academic knowledge is pertinent to academic research and not the practicality of the researched content in work.



Eraut, M. (2002). Developing professional knowledge & competence. Taylor & Francis Group. London: Routledge.

Gilbert, J. (2005).Catching the knowledge wave: the knowledge society & the future of education. Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Kinsella, A.E. (2009). Professional knowledge & the epistemology of reflective practice. Nursing Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons Inc.: Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from

Rugg, G. (2014). Education vs. training, academic knowledge vs. crafts: some useful concepts. Word Press. Retrieved from

Schon, D. (1988). From technical rationality to reflection-in-action. In J Dowie & A. Elstein          (Eds), Professional Judgment. Open University Press.

Todd, F. (1984). Learning & work: directions for continual professional & vocational    education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, Vol. 3 (2), 89-104.



About Roque Adrada

Roque Adrada is Director of Business Development and Ph.D Candidate in Talent Management at Deusto Business School. Before joining Deusto Business School, He worked as Associate Director in the Career Services Department at IE Business School. In addition, Roque worked in the Embassy of Spain in Sweden and in the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in both Switzerland and Peru. His educational background includes a Case Method Teaching (level I) from Harvard Business School, a Global Leadership Program from Harvard University, a Master in International Management from the IE Business School, a Juris Doctor from the University of Zaragoza and two exchange programs at ESSEC Business School and University Nova of Lisbon
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