3.2.2 Declarative versus Procedural Knowledge


A second important distinction in the study of memory is between declarative and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is knowledge about facts and things, knowledge that something is the case. In contrast, procedural knowledge is knowledge about how to perform certain cognitive activities, such as reasoning, decision making, and problem solving.


Declarative memory

The memory associated with cognitive skills not directly attributable to muscular or glandular responses. The complete memory may be acquired through a single exposure, but practice is beneficial. Declarative memory is required to recall factual information, and it is sometimes called fact memory. The ability to recognize a face, recall a number, or recall any verbal or sensory information requires declarative memory.


One important use for the declarative‑procedural distinction is to describe the kinds of learning students may achieve. A novice student in a teacher education program, for instance, may memorize principles of classroom management (e.g., "Allow students to make value judgments.") as declarative knowledge, but he may have little or no notion of how these principles actually would be used in effective teaching (procedural knowledge).


Although it has not been described with the terms declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge, the declarative‑procedural distinction has been implicit in the work of a number of learning theorists‑for instance, in the work of Benjamin Bloom and his associates. In Bloom's analysis, for instance, a contrast was drawn between lower levels of learning (i.e., knowledge, comprehension), in which facts, concepts, and rules are learned and understood, and "higher‑order" learning (i.e., application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), in which knowledge is used as part of higher level cognitive processes.


Of course, not all procedural knowledge is "higher‑order" knowledge based on more fundamental declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge can be quite simple and only implicitly linked with declarative knowledge. A young child, for instance, who remembers how to unlatch the door, turn off a faucet, brush her teeth, and open a book, is showing her recall of procedural knowledge.


Also, procedural knowledge often is "automated" we often begin "doing" without any apparent conscious attention to what we are doing or why we are doing it. In a lecture class at a university, for example, most students will enter the class, find a seat, take out a notebook, and begin taking notes with little or no conscious attention to the task. Similarly, as we read, decoding words and comprehending the meaning of what we are reading ordinarily occurs quite automatically. Sometimes, however, our searches of declarative knowledge come at least partially under conscious control. ("Who is the author of Hamlet?")


In most learning, of course, there is interplay between declarative and procedural knowledge. A concert pianist learning a new song by Domenico Scarlatti, for instance, may search her memory for declarative knowledge about that composer's preferred method of executing certain embellishments such as the appoggiatura, mordent, and trill‑declarative knowledge that will be utilized in the development of procedural knowledge. Conversely, procedural knowledge has undeniable impact on declarative knowledge. Like most experts, our pianist has procedural knowledge about how she best recalls information about composers and their works and will search her declarative knowledge accordingly. Yet another cluster of procedural knowledge‑her skills in performing‑enhances and gives substance to the declarative knowledge she possesses (e.g., "Scarlatti intended for the mordents to be played according to the basic tempo of the passage. That would mean that they should be thirty‑second notes here.")


In most school learning, similarly, there will be goals for the acquisition of both declarative and procedural knowledge. One important goal of education is the development of relatively large, stable, and interrelated sets of declarative knowledge. As educators, we expect students will be "knowledgeable". At the same time, however, we place a considerable premium on knowing "how to." For the practitioner, usable knowledge is critical. Especially in applied programs such as journalism, architecture, teaching, management business, and medicine, procedural knowledge is an important outcome of the educational process.