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Applying Accelerated Learning

Bob Little 

October 23, 2015

Today’s pace of life, in which we all have to balance family, work and other commitments amid the insistent demands of technology, can make it difficult for us to devote ourselves to L&D activities. This has led to shorter, more intensive L&D programs but it’s also prompted the development of the principles of “accelerated learning.”

Accelerated learning comes from the theory of “suggestology,” developed by the Bulgarian research psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov. Sometimes called “superlearning,” or “suggestive-accelerative learning and teaching,” it focuses on a philosophy that seeks to de-mechanize and re-humanize the learning process and make it a whole-body, whole-mind, whole-person experience.

Particularly championed by Dave Meier, who’s now director of The Center for Accelerated Learning (TCAC), based in Wisconsin, accelerated learning aims to speed and enhance both the learning design and learning processes. Applying it to learning design means building hands-on activities and collaboration with other learners into each phase in the process – preparation, presentation, practice, and performance.

Its champions believe that accelerated learning unlocks a potential for learning that’s been largely untapped by many conventional learning methods. It does this by actively involving the whole person, using physical activity, creativity, music, images, color, and other methods designed to get people deeply involved in their own learning.

According to TCAC, accelerated learning aims to “get learners totally and actively involved from start to finish as creators of their own knowledge and skill. Trainers, then, are no longer information shovelers but orchestrators of a total environment where learners happily do most of the work.” It’s based on the view that producing an optimal learning environment involves creating:

  • A sense of wholeness, safety, interest, and enjoyment for learners. It means providing a positive physical, emotional and social environment that’s both relaxed and stimulating.
  • Total learner involvement – so that learners take full responsibility for their learning. AL tends to be activity-based rather than materials- or presentations-based because learning is participatory, not a spectator sport. Knowledge is something the learner actively creates, not passively absorbs.
  • Contextual learning – because facts and skills in isolation are hard to absorb and quick to evaporate. The most effective learning comes from doing the work itself in a continual process of “real-world” immersion, feedback, reflection, evaluation, and re-immersion.
  • Collaboration among learners.
  • Variety – to appeal to all learning styles.

This gives rise to seven principles of accelerated learning:

1. Learning involves the whole mind and body, with all its emotions, senses and receptors.

2. Learning is creation, not consumption – creating new meanings, neural networks, and patterns of electro/chemical interactions within your total brain/body system.

3. Collaboration aids learning. Competition between learners slows learning, while cooperation speeds it.

4. Learning takes place on many levels simultaneously. Learning involves absorbing many things at once and engages the learner on many levels at the same time (conscious and para-conscious, mental and physical), using all the brain/body system’s receptors, senses and paths it can.

5. Learning comes from doing the work itself (with feedback). The real and the concrete are better teachers than the hypothetical and the abstract – provided there’s time for total immersion, feedback, reflection, and re-immersion.

6. Positive emotions greatly improve learning. Feelings determine both the quality and the quantity of your learning.

7. The image brain absorbs information instantly and automatically. Concrete images – not verbal abstractions – are easier to grasp and retain.

So how can these principles and practices be applied effectively to L&D activities today – especially those delivered face-to-face?

Rafat Malik, VP of Corporate Partnerships at the Financial Times IE Corporate Learning Alliance, says, “Concepts that underpin accelerated learning, particularly experiential and contextual learning methods, are a frequent topic of discussion because of the changing demands of learners – and their learning needs – as well as the need to translate learning into action more quickly these days.

“There’s also a belief that measurement is important but, all too often, measuring learning effectiveness and speed of application happens too late in the process.

“In terms of applying accelerated learning principles and how they translate to the design process, organizations should invest time preparing the physical environment but, more importantly, they should also prepare the learner and create a purpose for learning that can be gauged during the program itself. All too often ‘the human in the loop’ is forgotten in this process.”

Nick Hindley, the associate director of learning and performance improvement at PPD, comments, “Accelerated learning is really a description of effective learning in that, when applying it, you address the learner as an individual, taking account of individual learning styles.

“We base all the training we develop on Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT model, which shares many of accelerated learning’s principles. The 4MAT model states that people need to understand why they’re learning, what the learning is (its content, references, credibility, and so on), how to apply it–  and have an opportunity to apply the knowledge/skill that they’ve learned.

“It’s amazing that still, today, so much training ignores several of these principles – and, so, can’t be effective.

“If you combine this model with the Kirkpatrick/Brinkerhoff approach, where only 15 percent of the learning happens in a formal setting, you have a different approach to learning which is life/work-centered, tailored by and for the individual, and highly effective – in the sense of ‘only do it once/no re-takes’.”

Nick adds, “In PPD’s project management program, we have participants for six days over one year – with most learning happening in role and action learning groups. They also take part in experimental training on a battleship, virtual learning and formal projects psychometrics – as well as some classroom work!

“Last year saw 100 percent of the participants – and their managers – report improvements in current performance and greater readiness for the next role, leading other project managers.”

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