There's a place for both theory and practice in every endeavor, but the practice should always be emphasized over the theory.
The American public schooling system is based around learning theory directly rather than learning theory through practice. It's a travesty, but an understandable one. Theory requires a book and a dumb teacher to tell the students to read the book. Practice requires an engaging teacher that knows the art of the matter and can lead the students to wield their knowledge and change parts of the world. It's hard to find teachers like that.
Theory is sitting down and reading a book or memorizing vocab. It tries to teach you a task by giving metaphors for what it's like based on previous knowledge you have of the world. The problem is that you're learning a new task, not a previously known one. Metaphors are useful, but what you need is new experiences that show you exactly what you're working with.
Practice is the act of experiencing the art in its actual form. That could mean painting a portrait rather than reading about how to paint a portrait. It could also mean visiting Zimbabwe instead of reading about Zimbabwe.
I believe in jumping into the real experience the moment you have enough theoretical knowledge to answer this single question:
"Is this something I want to do? "
Here's a pros and cons list of each. Feel free to add more in the comments section:
- Easily accessible. Just Wikipedia it.
- Always Cheap/Free; The Internet exists.
- Can lay the framework for practicing your art in the future.
- After you've studied, you have nothing real to show for it. You don't create.
- You don't learn the subtleties of the task.
- It's not engaging. You're not learning how to enact your theory.
- You're connecting old nodes in your mind, but you're not building new nodes.
- When you're on your death bed, would you be more comforted by the knowledge that you read one hundred books about playing the guitar, or that you rocked it out on a live stage in front of one thousand fans?
- Concrete knowledge is built. You understand the art as a discrete entity rather than just something connected to the rest of your knowledge.
- You have something to show for it at the end.
- You actually learn the theory through the practice. You're learning theory and practice at the same time! (This is the real winner for me)
- Bragging rights: It's cooler to build a social website rather than be a user of one.
- It MIGHT not be easily accessible. To build a house you need land and access to Home Depot. To learn about houses you need a book/the Internet.
- It MIGHT be expensive. If it's coding, it could be free. If it's building a rocket, you might need an investment.
- It takes more energy. If this is the problem for you, then you need to get more energy by living healthier rather than spend less energy by doing less.