I came across the phrase “Translational Behavior-Analysis”. I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up. And I found the answer interesting. The premise is that this is an intermediary between academic and applied work. Which I think of as a good thing, but is it really a thing? Does it make sense? I have mixed feelings, so I thought I’d lay them out.
So, one of the things that a few people do is translate research to practice. I’m thinking of folks who are quite explicit about it like Will Thalheimer, Patti Schank, Julie Dirksen, Ruth Clark, and Mirjam Neelen, amongst others. They’re also practitioners, designing or consulting on solutions, but they can read research in untranslated academese and make sense of it. So is this that?
One definition I found said: “the process of applying ideas, insights, and discoveries generated through basic scientific inquiry to” <applied discipline>. This is big in medical circles, apparently. And that’s a good thing, I hope you’d agree. However, they also say “occupies a conceptual space between basic research and applied research”. Wait, I thought that was applied research!
Ok, so further research found this gem: “Applied research is any research that may possibly be useful for enhancing health or well-being. It does not necessarily have to have any effort connected with it to take the research to a practical level.” Ah, so we can do things in applied research that we think might be good, even if it isn’t connected to basic research. Well, then. When I think of applied cognition, which has showed up in interface design (and I try to push in learning experience design), I think of that as doing what they call translational, but perhaps it’s not that way in other fields.
Ultimately, this was about fast-tracking medical research into changing people’s lives. And that’s a good thing. And I think our ‘interpreters’ are indeed serving to help take academic research and fast-track it into our learning designs. Will has called himself a ‘translator’ and that’s a good thing.
We also need a way for our own innovations, for instance taking agile software development and applying it to learning design, to filter back to academia and get perhaps a rigorous test. There are people experimenting with VR and other technologies, for instance, and some of the experimentation is “why not this” instead of “theory suggests that”. And both are good. We may need translators both ways, and I think the channel back to academia is a bit weak, at least in learning and technology. Happy to be wrong about that, by the way!
I’m mindful that we have to be careful about bandwagons. There’s a lot of smoke and hype that makes it easy to distract from fundamentals that we’re still not getting right. And I’m not sure whether applied or transformational is the right label, but it is an important role. I guess I still think that a tight coupling between basic and applied implies translational (I like Reeves’ Design Research as a bridge, myself), but I’m happy to accept more nuanced views. How about you?
Ray Cole says
To your point about our practice needing to be informed by research but also research perhaps being informed or even driven by our practice, I usually think of these under the terms “Evidence-Based Practice” and “Practice-Based Evidence.” As you say, both are useful and needed. Ruth Clark covers the former in her now-classic book, E-learning and the Science of Instruction. By contrast, Doug Lemov heavily leverages Practice-Based Evidence in the recommendations and taxonomy he developed in his book Teach Like a Champion (now revised as Teach Like a Champion 2.0). “Translators” can help learning practitioners keep up with the important findings from both methods.
Very nice elaboration, Ray, and thanks for the pointer!