Information Age Education
   Issue Number 49
September, 2010   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter.

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Education and Health Care Part 5: Theory into Practice

"If you were going to see a doctor and the doctor said, 'I've been really busy since I got out of medical school, and so I'm going to treat you with the techniques I learned back then,' you'd be rightly incensed," …. "Yet there are a lot of faculty who say with a straight face, 'I don't need to change my teaching,' as if nothing has been learned about teaching since they had been prepared to do it—if they've ever been prepared to." (Chris Dede; Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education.)


Both Education and Health Care carry on large programs of research and development. Each discipline is faced by the problems of trying to achieve wide scale implementation of promising research and development results. This issue of the IAE Newsletter explores similarities and differences in translating theory into wide-scale practice.

The quote from Chris Dede captures some of the difficulties in the human component of implementation of new methodologies in Education and Health Care. Many of us have a considerable propensity to just keep doing what has worked for us in the past. Dede’s quote is aimed at educators, and suggests he believes the Heath Care profession is doing much better than the Education profession in taking advantage of newer technologies.

Note, however, medicine has done well on the simple body systems (heart, lungs, etc.) but it's only now beginning to understand mental illness. So it's easy to think of medicine as being ahead of education, but only in the areas that don't parallel educational issues.

Example from Medicine

Your authors live in Eugene, Oregon, a city of about 150,000 people. Recently page 3 of our local newspaper carried an article titled “Test seen as advance in diagnosis of TB.” This article contained information just reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (Bates 9/3/2010). We know that:
  • World wide, about 1.8 million people die of TB each year.
  • The current widely used test for TB is 125 years old, takes about a 2-3 days to determine the results, misses about half of the cases of TB, and does not test for the new drug-resistant strain of TB.
  • The new test is far more accurate, also tests for the new drug-resistant strain of TB, and can be completed in two hours.
This remarkable progress in medical research and development still faces the challenge of achieving widespread, high fidelity implementation. The new test costs more than the old test, and use of the old test is thoroughly entrenched. Moreover, most TB occurs in relatively impoverished nations. The company that has developed the test will be making it available at close to an “at cost” basis in such countries.

Examples of Joint Education and Health Care Efforts

Medical research produced evidence of harms produced by lead in gasoline and in paint, arsenic in drinking water, first hand and second hand smoke, and other chemicals such as mercury, PCBs, and pesticides ( Also see Toppo (2009.) All of these poisons also have serious educational effects.

Thus, it is appropriate and desirable that Education and Health Care work together to promote appropriate environmental protection laws and policies, and to educate people of all ages of the aforementioned perils.

Another example is provided by research into the general health and cognition benefits of appropriate diet and exercise. We know, of course, that children living on a starvation-level diet experience permanent cognitive damage. However, in less extreme cases poor diets and lack of exercise can significantly decrease cognitive performance (EUFIC, 2000; Ratey, 2008).

Think about how the research in the two examples is translated into practice. In the first example, the amount of change and individual effort required by a person is modest. Rather, the changes are top-down, nation-wide (and perhaps global) efforts. Federal and state legislation and enforcement has been used in the various environmental pollution areas.

Note that attempts to develop and pass such legislation often encounter strong resistance from various corporations whose businesses would be affected. Popular support from large numbers of people has proven helpful. In addition, individuals and groups have had success through seeking legal redress.

The second example calls for both top-down and an individual bottom-up approaches. Legislation can also help in the diet and exercise area. For example, legislation has led to requirements for better labeling of food items. We can legislate physical education requirements in schools and more healthy school lunch programs. However, to a large extent this healthy diet and exercise depend substantially on an informed and committed general population.

Theory Into Practice: Health Care

In both Education and Health care, there is a significant and ongoing problem of translating theory into practice. Both face issues of fidelity of implementation and wide scale implementation.

Health care is an issue that has a very large following, so there is considerable “popular press” coverage of the topic. News about advancements in health care is quickly and widely disseminated. Nowadays, many people who are diagnosed with a particular medical problem seek information from colleagues, publications, and the Web. We want and expect high quality and effective treatment.

In some sense, this public participation in the health care system helps to drive the system and its practitioners. Perceived or actual poor services can lead to lawsuits and to bad publicity. People tend to have a certain amount of freedom of choice in selecting treatment alternatives and the people who provide the services.

However, we need only look at smoking and obesity to see that our health care system has a significant problem of translating theory into practice. Tobacco is addictive, and many popular junk foods have addictive-like characteristics. There are no magic pills or shots that cure these problems. Rather, individual actions by the patients are required.

Theory Into Practice: Education

One of the ways to better translate educational research-based theory into practice is through better education of teachers and other education personnel. Over the past several hundred years, the formal higher education requirements to be a teacher have gradually been increased. If you have read some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you perhaps remember that she became a teacher in 1882 shortly before her 16th birthday. One of your authors (Bob) notes, “When I moved to Nebraska to teach in 1959, it was possible to teach straight out of high school, if you attended one summer session at a teachers college.”

The US Federal Government and others have invested heavily in research in education of individuals with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) Federal legislation defines a number of categories of disabilities and requires public school systems throughout the country to provide special services to children from birth to age 21 with these disabilities. Approximately 1/8 of children have one or more of these disabilities.

As a very rough estimate, average cost of educating these students is more than twice the cost of educating students who are not protected under this legislation. Our country has made a large and continuing commitment to translating special education research into practice, and it funds quite a bit of research in special education.

The US Federal Government and others have made substantial investments in the development of better textbooks and related materials in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) areas. For example, quoting from Bybee (2006):

A committee of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) established BSCS in 1958. At its birth, BSCS had a single grand vision—change the way biology was taught in American high schools. BSCS accomplished this goal by publishing three innovative biology textbooks in 1963. … These textbooks were widely adopted in the United States, and by the mid 1970s BSCS programs had over 50 percent of the high school biology market.

In Math, efforts to modernize the curriculum eventually led to serious disagreements between the “new math” and the “traditional math” proponents. Read about the math education wars at

Such projects can be viewed as large-scale experiments in translating STEM educational research into practice. Students use the textbooks and teachers are provided with instructional materials geared to the textbooks. Developers of these instructional materials pay careful attention to state and national standards. State and national assessment is geared to these standards. Thus, one would expect that STEM education—as measured by state and national tests—would have substantially improved over the past few decades. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Final Remarks

Some of the current research in STEM and other education focuses on developing Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning systems that can provide one-on-one, individualized instruction. In some sense, such products have the characteristics of being an individualized treatment. However, their success still requires the active cooperation and participation of the students. If you want to stretch an analogy, many students are dealing with an addictive-type of aversion to formal education. The addiction being fueled by the increasingly powerful forms of and aids to entertainment, social networking, and other activities that they feel are more fun than schooling.


Bates, Ramona (9/3/2010). New rapid TB test reduces time to diagnosis. EmaxHealth. Retrieved 9/4/2010 from

Bybee, Roger W. (2006). Enhancing science teaching and student learning: A BSCS perspective. Retrieved 9/4/2010 from

EUFIC (May 2000). Food and mental performance. European Food Information Council. Retrieved 8/10/2010 from

Ratey, John (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown and Company. To learn about Ratey, see

Stahl, Robert (1994). Using "think-time" and "wait-time" skillfully in the classroom. Retrieved 8/11/2010 from

Toppo, Greg (2/3/09). Study links children's lead levels, SAT scores. USA Today. Retrieved 2/3/09:

About Information Age Education, Inc.

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