The Pillars of Accelerated Learning Design

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last week’s post described what accelerated learning (AL) design is—and what it is not. As we know, each learning and development initiative will look different depending on the goals, target group, and the content and skills needed. Even though the actual program design will vary, you will always find seven key elements.

#1: Interaction-rich environment

Participants find a learning environment geared toward optimizing their interactions with one another, the content, and the facilitator. They walk into a room set up in a way that fosters collaboration and dialogue, but flexible enough that it can be changed to make it fit for purpose during any given activity. Participants spend time developing community among themselves, and together they focus on the praxis—whether it is leadership, project development, a new technology, or sales.

#2: Playful discovery and experimentation

Participants learn through experience, discovery, reflection, and discussion. The process is immersive and intentional. Everyone enters into it with a sense of discovery, posing questions, observing, analyzing, testing, discussing, and reflecting on the experience. When there is a need to present content to the group, it is done by encouraging as much interaction with the materials as possible as opposed to a "sit and get" or "spray and pray" approach.

#3: Arts and music

Because creating and maintaining an emotional connection to the learning is so important, the arts and music play a significant role. Because they immerse people completely and engage them holistically, the arts are an ideal transmitter of important messages, content and in many cases offer ways to simulate reality in a non-threatening way. Music supports the energy in the room and creates a mood or an emotional state.

#4: State management


When participants are bored, tense, or tired, they can't learn easily. When they are distracted by what is happening in their lives, or when they don't believe they can express their true thoughts and feelings, they are not open to possibilities and can't contribute to the learning in the community. By managing the physical, mental, and emotional state of participants, they are always completely present and engaged.

#5: Working with limiting beliefs

One of the key factors that can hinder learning and change is participants' beliefs about themselves, the organization, the facilitator, or the content. In accelerated learning, the instructional designer, facilitator, or OD professional pays close attention to language and the types of experiences or activities in the program.

Everything is not only geared toward making it easy for people to build the skills they need, they are also focused on encouraging a shift in thinking and mindset. Before and during the learning program, the facilitator is looking for signs of limiting beliefs and responding by creating opportunities for participants' beliefs to shift.

#6: Reflective practice


If learning is about change and transforming how people think and their ability to act by building skills and applying them in the real world, then reflective practice plays a key role. Research on transformative learning highlights three things that are needed for transformation to happen: the right experiences, reflection on those experiences, and dialogue about what they have experienced and discovered.

In AL programs, you will find reflection before, during, and after activities, and you will find different types of reflective activities in support of deeper learning and transformation.

#7: The Facilitator

Because facilitators act as the filter for everything in a learning program, they are the key success factor. Their presence and ability to respond to everything that happens in ways that support learning and development supports the kind of learning and transformation needed for real impact back at work or in peoples' lives.

About half of the time in an accelerated learning certificate program, the ongoing accelerated learning facilitator or designer works on developing the qualities, skills, and attributes that they need to become the person who can facilitate the learning and development process effectively and efficiently.

How do you create your final design to ensure you are able to put together the kind of program that sustains learning results and has real impact on the job? Find out more in the final part of our three part series.

Additionally, join me in an upcoming ATD Accelerated Learning Certificate program.

About the Author

Gail Heidenhain, president of Delphin and board chair of the International Association for Accelerated Learning Practitioners (IAALP), the professional organization for accelerated learning, has been consulting with organizations around the world to design and implement strategies that enhance and accelerate the learning process. Her focus has been on the people side of the business—developing effective global leaders, high performing teams, and the intercultural competency and personal effectiveness to help companies thrive in the global marketplace. Gail has also trained and certified over two thousand facilitators in accelerated learning globally since 1985. She co-developed the highly successful accelerated learning design technology employed throughout much of Europe to design and facilitate learning in a variety of contexts and organizations. She spearheaded the DGSL (German Society of Accelerated Learning) three tier certification program that was implemented in 1991. She was the expert adviser in the development of a research project to test the effectiveness of accelerated learning at the University of Munich in 1992 that was sponsored by Siemens. Building on the success in Germany, Gail initiated the creation of standards in AL certification and accreditation in the U.S. She has served on the boards of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) and the Organizational Change Alliance (OCA) as well as on the conference committees of ASTD and the National Staff Development Council (NSDC).

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