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Mind Your Head Brain Training Book by Sue Stebbins and Carla Clark
by Sue Stebbins &
Carla Clark

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Accelerated Learning Takes Off

The trainers and Bell Atlantic found a way to make employees productive in half the time of traditional training methods. In the bargain, they created a learning atmosphere that was fun, efficient, and beneficial to everyone involved.

By Dave Meier and Mary Jane Gill

1 | 2 | 3

The first steps

From the outset, accelerated learning methods seemed intuitively sound, but the company wanted to make sure that the methods would work effectively when applied to critical customer-service-representative training course, and that the costly conversions of those courses would be worth the money.

The company started out by providing the training manager with a week of training in accelerated learning. A few key trainers in the organization also received training, and short in-house seminars gave the other company trainers a foundation in accelerated learning concepts and techniques.

The company had the training department test the techniques on a 12-day technical course, a course that was historically unsuccessful and that most people found complex, confusing, and tedious. The course was redone completely in an accelerated learning format and delivered to new trainees. The results were overwhelming: training time was cut by more than half, trainers and trainees were happier, and trainers found that trainees learned more than from the 12-day course. That was all the proof the company needed, and they were ready to work on some of the company's larger, longer, and more costly courses.

Taking on the big courses

They selected two customer-service-representative training courses for conversion to the accelerated learning format: a six-week one in private-residence order taking and a four-week one in private-residence billing. The courses were long and costly, but absolutely essential to the company's business. A large number of employees relied on them for initial training.

The training department decided from the start that it would not simply fine-tune the courses with a few accelerated learning techniques, but that it would completely rewrite them. It brought together a team of course developers, some of whom, in fact, had no experience in course development - the department wanted people who were free of prior habits and biases and who could bring fresh perspectives to the project. The project manager, however, had been trained in accelerated learning course development and had a background in behavioral science and organizational development.

The development team worked in a think-tank environment it called the Skunk Works - an office far removed from the team members' normal workplace. Life in the Skunk Works was designed to be informal, playful, and creative, with an energetic environment that would stimulate everyone's imagination. The room was colorful and had fresh flowers, relaxing music in the background, and plenty of snacks. Wherever possible, accelerated techniques were used to drive the development process.

As the team members thought about and planned the courses, they wrote their thoughts in words and pictures on large sheets of paper. They created huge information graphs (ìmindmapsî) to help them capture, visualize, and interrelate ideas. And they used mental imagery quite effectively. They would sit quietly and imagine the perfect customer-service training course in action (a technique known as ìend-result imageryî). Then they shared their imagery experiences, elaborating on the ideas and building a curriculum.

The development-team members finished their initial work by creating a facilitator guidebook and a student workbook. Then they were ready for the delivery.

The classroom experience

The development team gave the course instructors (called learning advisors) three basic guidelines:

  1. Keep the threat low.
  2. Keep the energy high.
  3. Trust the learner and the learning process.

To create a trusting environment, the learning advisors revamped the classrooms: they put pictures on the walls and colorful objects around the room, arranged tables in small clusters, played soft music, and put flowers on the tables. They wanted to give the rooms a natural look and to make them learner-centered, even playful - places where people could relax, be themselves, and enjoy learning.

From the start, the learning advisors expected the trainees to be proactive rather than passive, to take charge of their own learning, and, certainly, to master the learning material of the course. To achieve that, they made trainees responsible for correcting any aspects of the physical environment, the materials, or teaching/learning methods that were getting in the way of their learning. Before the end of each day, the class created a wall chart on two topics: what went well that day, and what could have gone better. Where possible, the learning advisors immediately implemented the ideas and suggestions. In that way the trainees became part of the development staff for the ongoing evolution and improvement of the course.

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