Dressing up the room without changing the course is simply not enough

Sometimes we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Here's one failed experience in implementing 'A.L.' that we can all learn from.

A trainer from a large organization spent nearly a full week decorating her classroom like an English garden: lattices, vines, rose bushes, tea tables, shrubs, flower beds, the works. The thought was that it is important in A.L. to break from the conventional classroom setting, which carries negative associations and generates suppressive, mind-numbing feelings for some people. Good thought.

The problem was that was all this trainer did. The course itself stayed essentially the same. It was still lecture-based, overly cognitive, and boring. Too much instructor presentation, too little learner interaction.

The result? A big bomb. After raising learners' hopes with a new physical environment, these hopes were crushed to the ground by the same old non-collaborative, authority-driven teaching method. (The reaction of the learners was similar to the reaction you would have if you sat down to a meal at an elegantly set table and were then served moldy wieners and beans.) After the negative evaluations were in, the room decorations were dismantled and A.L. suffered a setback in the manager's mind.

What can we learn from this? That the essence of A.L. is getting people truly involved in their own learning, not merely setting the stage for learning and then lecturing the whole time. Accelerated learning involves transforming the structure of your programs to get the whole learner involved. A.L. is an integrated approach that orchestrates the total environment (physical, social, emotional, educational). If you're not willing or able to do the whole thing, just doing part of it can be deadly. People are often headed for danger when they say: 'Let's do A.L. in parts, one little step at a time to test its effectiveness before incorporating other parts.' You can't cross a chasm one little step at a time. You won't make it. Sometimes you just have to take one big leap.

(January/February 1999 issue)