Encyclopedia of Mathematics Education

2020 Edition
| Editors: Stephen Lerman

Instrumental and Relational Understanding in Mathematics Education

  • Jon StarEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15789-0_79


Richard Skemp (1919–1995) was a British mathematics educator and educational psychologist who was very prominent in the field of mathematics education in the 1970s. Skemp’s writings [particularly his two books – The Psychology of Learning Mathematics (1971) and Intelligence, Learning, and Action (1979)] articulated a theory of intelligent learning, in which relational and instrumental understanding played a prominent role. Skemp first popularized the terms relational and instrumental understanding in an article published in 1976 in Mathematics Teaching. This article was subsequently published in the United States in 1977 in the Arithmetic Teacher (a professional journal published by the American organization National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) and also included as a chapter in an expanded American edition of The Psychology of Learning Mathematics, published in 1987.

According to Skemp, credit for the origination of the terms relational and instrumental...


Instrumental Relational Skemp Understanding Algorithms Knowledge Conceptual Procedural 
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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA