Effective Teaching in Accelerated Learning Programs

Article excerpt

According to Wlodkowski (2003), "accelerated learning programs are one of the fastest growing transformations in higher education" (p. 5). The Center for the Study of Accelerated Learning at Regis University has documented at least 250 colleges or universities that offer accelerated learning programs for working adults. By definition, accelerated learning programs are structured to enable students to take courses and earn credits in a shorter period of time, versus a traditional 16-week semester. Thus, how one teaches adults in an accelerated program must differ from how one teaches in a traditional semester format. The purpose of this article is to review the current research and theory on accelerated learning and to offer practical suggestions as to how educators in accelerated learning programs can provide an effective learning experience.

In the early 1960s, a Bulgarian psychiatrist named Georgi Lozanov taught English to 60 students using a variety of non-traditional teaching techniques, including the use of music, meditation, and a variety of visual and auditory techniques. Referring to his teaching approach as "suggestopedia," Lozanov was interested in students' ability to recall past experiences and to utilize both left-brain and right-brain abilities. For Lozanov, "suggestopedia" was not just a method of learning faster, but rather learning in a more holistic way by employing a "multi-sensory, brain-compatible teaching and learning methodology" (McKeon, 1995, pp. 64-65).

In the 1970s, corporate training specialists in the United States adopted his ideas, and developed what is known today as "accelerated learning" (McKeon, 1995). It is a way of saving time and money on training, while at the same time realizing more positive results (Zemke, 1995). These same accelerated teaching methods can be used in higher education, particularly with adult students in accelerated degree completion and graduate programs.

The Amazing Brain

Accelerated learning theory is built on the findings of recent research on the structure and processes of the human brain and seeks to access all aspects of the tripartite structure of the brain. The brain stem, or reptilian brain, controls the basic bodily functions, such as heart rate and breathing. The limbic system or mammalian brain controls the emotions, desires, sexual appetites, and long-term memory The neocortex or thinking brain handles the higher cognitive functions such as seeing, hearing, thinking, and talking (Rose & Nicholl, 1997). These different "brains" are interlinked and serve as "clearing houses for specialized functions" (Meier, 2000, p. 35) in the brain's overall operation. The key to effective accelerated learning is to use the whole brain in the learning process. The reptilian brain connects to automatic bodily functions and thus utilizes the physical body in the learning process. The limbic brain is the center for the emotional dimensions of learning, and the neocortex helps create meaning and value out of information learned.

Brain research indicates that learning involves body and mind. The body and brain interact in two distinct ways. First, the vast systems of nerves throughout the body keep the brain appraised of what is happening in the body at any moment. Second, the hypothalamus (a part of the reptilian brain) sends chemical messages through the blood stream that are experienced as a variety of emotions, ranging from exhilaration to depression (Zull, 2002). Maxfield (1990) suggests that consciousness (and by extension thinking and learning) is active throughout the body and not restricted to the brain, causing attitudes, beliefs, and expectations to be lodged in the body. Learners must be aware of physical feelings and reactions that can either enhance or inhibit learning. He thus proposes a holistic paradigm that incorporates both rational and non-rational types of learning, as well as the use of various mind-body techniques such as biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, and relaxation training. …