Practical Thinking: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college information technology and literacy, and has a master's in counseling psychology and business administration.

Practical thinking involves adapting to your environment. In this lesson, learn more about what practical thinking means as well as look at some real-world examples.


Suppose that you are an undergraduate psychology student in a statistics course. You are having a hard time understanding linear correlation and linear regression. You need to have at least a basic understanding of these topics by the end of next week, which is when you take your midterm exam. You know that you learn best when you are presented with auditory information. You decide to ask more questions during class time, ask your study group to discuss these topics in more detail, and turn your class notes into a game of Jeopardy so that you can retain more information. This is an example of using practical thinking.

Practical thinking is defined as considering ways to adapt to your environment, or changing your environment to fit you, so that you are able to pursue a goal. Practical sense is sometimes referred to as street smarts or common sense. Practical thinking is not concerned with gathering additional information or analyzing what you already know in multiple ways. It is concerned with taking the knowledge that you already have and effectively using it to solve problems in the real-world. In other words, practical knowledge is not concerned with gaining new knowledge, but rather using or applying knowledge to guide some action.

If you have good practical thinking skills, you are able to:

  • Manage your own thinking process
  • Adapt to situations
  • Be open to other options
  • Have flexibility in the way that you approach problems
  • Know how to get along with and talk to others
  • Apply knowledge or information that you have previously learned to solve real-world problems


Let's look at the example above. Your goal is to better understand the concepts of linear regression and linear correlation so that you can pass your midterm. In order to successfully remember these concepts, you decided to ask more questions (adapt to the environment), ask your study group to discuss these topics in more detail (changing the environment to fit your needs), and turn your class notes into a game of Jeopardy (changing your environment to fit your needs). These are all adaptations that you made in order to achieve your goal of passing the midterm.

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