Exclusive Interview with Tom Meier, Director of The Center For Accelerated Learning

The team at C2C-OD interviewed Tom Meier, Director of The Center for Accelerated Learning, to find out more about Accelerated Learning (AL); from its beginning, to the philosophy of its four phases, and the future of training.

Thank you, Tom!

Tom Meier,Director of The Center for Accelerated Learning

Here is the interview:

Please define AL in under 30 words:

The AL approach activates full learning potential by allowing participants to discover and create their own learning with a rich variety of methods that appeal to the whole person.

How did the idea of AL come into being? What prompted you to come up with the name “Accelerated Learning”?

Accelerated Learning has its roots in a method called “Suggestopedia,“ pioneered by Bulgarian psychiatrist, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, in the 1970s. Dr. Lozanov discovered that creating a positive and supportive learning environment that puts people into a state of “relaxed alertness“ had a significant impact on learning outcomes. For instance, he found that with multi-sensory activities, people could learn foreign languages much faster and with less stress than with conventional instruction.

Dr. Lozanov’s philosophy was then expanded to help people learn faster and more effectively in a variety of settings.

My father, Dave Meier, built on (and departed from) Lozas work and he was one of the very first people to bring these ideas into corporate learning. The term, “Accelerated Learning,“ was born to indicate the greater efficiency of this approach. Cost saving for organizations is a perennial interest. Learning programs with AL can indeed be delivered in less time and even with a lesser budget. But what’s even more significant is that the quality and effectiveness of learning is greatly enhanced. So the term “Accelerated Learning,“ while not a misnomer, does not tell the whole story.

According to you, why does the training industry need AL?

The main principle is that learners‘ learn when they are involved in the creation of their learning. AL fully activates participants’ learning potential. It goes beyond standard concepts of instructor-led interaction to give learners more autonomy to drive their own learning in a social context.

There is still a widespread belief and practice that a training course primarily involves the delivery of content. We have confused “information“ with “knowledge.“ Content delivery is only one aspect of an effective learning experience, and it’s not even the most important one!

We often focus so heavily on the “instructional process“ that we neglect the “learning process.“ A successful course does not just mean the logical presentation of information. Vastly more important than sequencing content is the learners’ own discovery process. That‘s where AL comes in! It helps trainers and designers not only sequence content but also sequence experiences. The learning facilitator sets up the context where learners can discover and create their learning for themselves.

The experiences that facilitators orchestrate activates the whole learner, not just cognitive, but sensory, physical, and emotional aspects too. People learn with different senses and levels of physical activity. AL strives to tap the latent abilities of learners to help them achieve their potential. AL programs often include color, whole body activities, multi-sensory presentations, music, peer learning, collaboration, personal reflection, and a positive and stimulating environment.

When we allow learners to immerse themselves in their natural learning process, the effectiveness and efficiency of training increases manyfold.

What is the philosophy behind the 4 phases of AL – Preparation, Presentation, Practice, Performance?

The idea here is that we naturally go through this four-phase process when learning anything. First, is the arousal of interest or curiosity about a topic (Preparation), then a positive first encounter with the learning material (Presentation), followed by further exploration and integration of the new learning (Practice), and finally, application of the newly-learned content to the real world (Performance). We are helping facilitators and designers consciously build this natural process into every session so participants can learn at their best.

What are your thoughts on the future of AL?

I see two things becoming increasingly necessary in training: just-in-time interventions and informal training.

Employees have to become constant and self-directed learners to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. AL allows people to learn in ways that are natural and optimal for them. It is an approach that can help people become highly effective and agile learners.

AL principles will continue to spread outside the training room and become embedded in the work flow of organizations. Since AL is learner-centric and not content-centric, it is uniquely able to adapt to contexts outside of formal learning situations.

What’s your favorite and most inspiring AL success story?

There have been so many!

Companies like Apple, AT&T, and Intel have saved millions of dollars due to shorter training times, improved learning, and better transfer to the job. One of the things often said about graduates of AL-based courses is that they are more independent on the job and resourceful in finding answers and solutions to existing and potential challenges. Participants exposed to AL-style courses are better learners back in the workplace.

But in terms of a PERSONAL story from a trainer, this one shows how AL can literally transform lives:

Sandy worked at a large international body care products company. She designed and delivered training as part of a small team that was overburdened with a huge course load. Not only did she have a rigorous training schedule, she also had to find the time to design new one-day courses to support a rapidly growing product line.

Her courses were exhausting even for her and her presentations were over-loaded with content and short on activities. Some of the “exercises“ and role-plays she attempted had not resonated with the learners. Course graduates often found that the courses did not adequately prepare them to talk knowledgeably about their products with customers. To make things worse, at night, she had to sit in front of her laptop trying to create new courses with even more PowerPoint. It was a downward spiral, and Sandy was constantly exhausted, frustrated, and ready to quit her job. To make matters worse, her boss had made it abundantly clear that he was not happy with the results from the the training department.

When Sandy heard about Accelerated Learning, it hit her like a flash that they needed this totally new approach. Their training was not fun and did not convey excitement about the company or the products. It did not let learners discover and work together—or even have a real learning experience. The courses, she realized—even though they had tried to “jazz“ them up with some techniques—were all content-centered and not learner-centered.

So, Sandy absorbed everything she could about Accelerated Learning: She came to the 3-day AL Workshop for Trainers and the 2-day AL Workshop for Designers. She used our CourseBuilder design kit and then designed her pilot program; a product knowledge course. It managed to get learners curious and excited even before the program began, and then experience a course with fun and helpful activities, instead of boring presentations. Sandy was there as a resource but had designed ways for learners to discover the content for themselves in teams and as individuals. Along the way they could decide how they wanted to learn, and a thread of friendly competition ran through the experience with the top teams being awarded prizes at the end. The course was a big hit with the learners. Test scores were up by 50% and managers reported greatly improved product knowledge when learners went back on the job.

After the pilot, Sandy designed 15 one-day courses in a little over a month. She says normally this would have taken 3 months. She used to dread course design, but now the courses were exciting to design because designing learning activities is easier and faster than creating detailed presentations. She couldn’t wait for learners to try the activities and experience the newly-designed courses.

These courses have been popular with participants and highly effective for the company. Sandy reports that the AL approach has completely changed her training department, and now instead of shoveling content, they are delivering successful learners—who go back to the job confident and energized.

About a year after these successes, we saw Sandy at an international training conference. She saw us from across a large foyer and came running up to us waving and smiling and then told us she won an award from her company for her superior training results. She told us, “And to think I was one step away from quitting. Now, my job is more fun and fulfilling than ever. I am not exhausted in the evening anymore. I am all charged up. AL has given me renewed love for my profession and a new lease on life.”

What makes AL stand out in the training world?

What makes AL stand out is that it puts learners firmly in the center of their own learning process and empowers people to be exceptional learners. AL offers a wide palette of ways to engage learners in meaningful and effective activities. Since it’s based on the way people naturally learn, the results have been phenomenal in terms of time saving and learning outcomes.

To achieve these results, the role of the facilitator shifts from being a content expert to learning expert.

In AL, learners are not led through a tightly controlled process driven by the instructor, with short pauses for canned “exercises.“ Rather, an AL facilitator provides opportunities for authentic activities where learners work individually and with each other to discover and create their own learning. The learners take center stage in their own learning process, and the AL facilitator takes a supportive role. The facilitator becomes a resource and a guide on the side. Content delivery is definitely important in short segments, but the heart of the process is the learners’ own discovery. An effective facilitator does not direct or control the learners but nurtures and supports them.

What piece of advice would you give to trainers across the world? 

  • Focus on the learners and remember that your primary task is to help facilitate their learning process and not merely to deliver content.
  • Your primary role should be to help create successful people, not perfect presentations.
  • Think about the learning process before you think about the instructional process, and ask: How does my course sequence and delivery support or hinder their natural learning process?

It is said that there are two kinds of trainers in the world: One comes into a room and says “Here I am!” and the other comes in and says, “Ah…there you are!“ In AL, the learner takes center stage, not the trainer—however charismatic and articulate he or she might be. We want to enter a room of learners and put the focus right on them rather than on us as trainer. “Ah…there you are!“ is a rallying cry for a new type of facilitator, one willingly stepping to the side to support the needs of the learners.

Accelerated Learning shifts the focus from the facilitator to the learner, since they are the real rockstars!


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