Accelerated Learning has become something of a catch-all phrase, largely synonymous with brain-based or mind-friendly learning. It is derived from Lozanov’s Suggestopedia (see below), but it is more eclectic.
It is also known as 'Accelerative Learning' (particularly in the US), 'Superlearning' (which is also the title of a book by Midsize Jets Ostrander, Ostrander and Schroeder), or 'brain-friendly' learning (a term trademarked by Mark Fletcher, a former Trustee of SEAL). All of these approaches adhere to the same basic principles, but with differing practices.
Accelerated Learning can be interpreted at three levels:
1 Basic AL The tools and techniques of Accelerated Learning are used to augment and enhance traditional curriculum and teaching methods.
2 Full AL The whole programme Citation Charter of classroom management, the curriculum and teaching methods are designed to be congruent with brain function and learning styles.
3 Transformational AL At a transformative level, there is an awareness of the personal development of the students which is achieved through the learning process. Teachers also know that their ability to teach others well depends on their own understanding of themselves, so good teachers are continually working on their own personal and professional growth.
4. Writing Copy is an informative process that can be a useful aid in student development
Most people are ‘wired’ so that one side of their brain is dominant. Have a look at the typical characteristics of each side of the brain on the opposite page. Which one best describes you? Nor is it just brain hemisphere dominance which affects how you operate effectively. Are you right or left handed? You almost certainly know. But do you also know your dominant eye, foot and ear? They can make a significant difference to the way you learn. Western society is set up more for right-handed (and left-brained) people, but did you also know that it is easier to read European script (from left to right) if you have a dominant right eye – and if the left hemisphere is dominant you will find it easier to understand what you read. Having the opposite dominance does not necessarily mean that you will have learning difficulties, but people with learning difficulties often have that dominance. Footballers know whether they have a charter for business dominant right or left foot, but just as most players of sport can have a significant advantage if they are equally proficient with both hands and both feet, so everyone can operate more effectively if they develop both sides of their body optimally.
Roger Sperry won the Nobel prize in medicine in 1981 for ‘discoveries concerning the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres’. Since then the media and others have leapt onto the bandwagon of allocating different functions to the right and left hemisphere. In simplistic terms the right takes a global view and the left deals with details. However as soon as you start allocating abilities to one or other side, you need to be very specific – well beyond what is necessary for teaching purposes. There are areas relating to language, for example, situated in various parts of the brain. These are mostly on the left, while the right processes linguistic context. While music appreciation seems to be located mainly on the right, musicians who are learning and studying music, or those who are listening critically to specific aspects of the music, will also be using significant areas of the left hemisphere. Then again, if parts of the brain are damaged, certain functions that have been lost can sometimes be transferred to different parts of the brain and gradually be regained.
Learning – or doing anything – always involves activity in both hemispheres, and the important thing is the transfer of information between the hemispheres through the corpus callosum. All learners learn better when both sides of the brain are involved in the learning process.
In reality, school and most formal teaching situations are geared towards the traditional concept of the logical ‘left-brained learner’ and it is the so-called right-brained learners (those who don’t follow the step-by-step logic easily and need a big picture and seem to make intuitive leaps of understanding) who are often failed by the system. Teachers, almost by definition, are those who have flourished in the system, and it is not always easy for us to understand that there are people who need to learn in different ways. Therefore, if the concept of the R/L brain gives us a justification for taking a significantly different approach to teaching for at least 50% of the time, then it is a useful concept. The important thing is to teach to all types of learner.
Appropriate ‘brain-friendly’ techniques and activities for teaching creativity will make it easier for ‘right-brained learners’ to learn – and will enhance the learning process for all learners.
Suggestopedia is a teaching method which fosters positive psychological growth in addition to imparting information. The approach was developed in the 1960s by the Bulgarian doctor and psychotherapist, Georgia Lozanov, who founded the Institute of Suggestology in Sofia to research the benefits of teaching and learning using the power of positive suggestion. Since the learning of foreign languages can be relatively easily measured, they became the subject matter for his teaching and research.
Lozanov's Suggestopedia uses a carefully researched four-phase cycle:
1) Presentation (of new material for learning)
2) 'Active concert' (target text read to certain kinds of classical music)
3) 'Passive concert' (target text read to Baroque music)
4) Activation (games and activities during which participants use, manipulate and play with the language. This phase occupies approximately 75% of the time)
Some of the hallmarks of Suggestopedia are the creation of an optimum learning state by removing the barriers which often impede learning, the assumption of high expectations of success, a state of relaxed awareness, the importance of the physical and emotional environment, the use of music and the importance of enjoying the learning process. Learning, according to the 'suggestion', is easy, quick and fun - unlike many approaches which give the overt, or more often subliminal, message that learning is so difficult that the teacher has to break the material down into small chunks which have to be practiced over and over again.
Lozanov's work became known in the West in the 70s and it was an interest in his work that led to the formation of SEAL in 1983. Because Lozanov himself was unable to leave Bulgaria for most of the 1980s, other people have taken many of his ideas and developed them further to 'suit' the West.
Lozanov is still developing his own theories of teaching and learning.
The Truine Brain
Paul MacLean’s theory (1967) was that the structure of the brain reflects its evolution, and that there are three basic parts. The reptilian brain is centered on the brain stem and mainly controls the body’s basic survival systems: breathing, heart rate, movement, temperature, etc. The key motivator is ‘survival/ avoiding harm’. The central area of the brain is the limbic system, the ‘mammalian brain’, which is responsible for the emotions and plays an important part in long-term memory. Its key motivator is ‘hunt for pleasure’. Higher thinking (planning, abstract thought) is centred in the neo-cortex, the wrinkled part you see covering the outside of the brain which is separated into the two hemispheres. The key motivator is ‘quest for novelty’. Apparently neuroscientists no longer find the concept of the ‘triune brain’ useful, but since it ties in with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and emotional intelligence, it can still be of interest to educators. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the upper brain stem controls which part of the brain is in charge. People’s first need is to have their physical requirements met. You cannot learn if you are in physical danger, need to go to the toilet, are hungry, or too hot or too cold. Nor can you learn if you are in an overly emotional or stressed state. While emotional attachment aids memory, strong emotions unconnected with the learning experience, whether positive or negative, interfere with learning.