Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Accelerate Learning

Emerson raises a cup of hot chocolate to his lips and immediately spits it out thinking that it's too hot. Then the sharp and earthy dark chocolate hits his taste buds and he decides to go back in for another sip.  He'd never had a hot drink before (this one was just above warm) and he'd never had chocolate milk made with Belgian dark chocolate.  Taken separately, he probably wouldn't have gone for either: drinking warm milk or barely sweet chocolate.  But together, the combination gave him pause.  It was soothing, stimulating, contemplative.  Even a two-year old can register some deep thoughts when a good beverage brings the thunder to your core.

"This beverage has transformed my consciousness."

We didn't hear from him for several minutes (except some discussion he seemed to be having with the cup in his hands).This was an accelerated learning moment in Emerson's development. Warm complex flavors on a cool autumn day. One factor acted as a catalyst for making my son receptive to another and opened the flood-gates to new information and better understanding. Combining concepts isn't about overwhelming the learner, it's about raising expectations, about the sum being greater than their parts, about enriching the content with layers of considerations.  Like drinking from a fire-hydrant, you're not going to take it all in, just come back for more. And, like a food and wine pairing, the pieces make more sense when taken together.

Accelerating the Adult Education Process

If there is one thing that prevents people from taking on a new skill, training for a trade, or going back to school, it's TIME. Who's got the patience much less the space in their schedule to dedicate to scholastic endeavors?  In adult ed, the approaching 2014 GED test is creating an imperative: ACCELERATE LEARNING NOW.

But, how do you expedite the learning process as an instructor?  I'm mostly interested in techniques for online learning, but identifying the appropriate media is an important consideration.

  1. Identify higher level learners: Some call it creaming.  People who've got the aptitude and the attitude to take action tend to yield higher success rates. So, where do we find them? No, not screening or intake counseling. That's step two. The people you're looking for may not be those who're already responding to your promotional efforts. Step one is targeted marketing toward the audience with the needs and competencies you can most easily work with.  Specifically, micro-targeting, if you don't mind borrowing a lesson from Barack Obama's impressive campaign strategy.   
  2. Shift gears quickly: Be ready to try different tools to serve different learning styles, abilities and preferences.  Go from worksheets, to videos to books and back to keep the learner from getting bored or too passive to retain new skills. GED Academy does this seamlessly, all in one learning ecosystem. 
  3. Deliver condensed/targeted materials: In Virginia, back in 2005's Race to GED, we used KET's Fast Track books and videos.  We tried Steck-Vaughn's GEDi (21st Century) for OPT style drill and practice (though the program was hamstrung with plug-in issues). And we trained loads of teachers in the most frequently missed problems on the GED test, based on the GED Testing Service's publicly available Powerpoint slides.   
  4. Computer-adaptive programs: One way that you shift gears is to assess, diagnose, and refer to appropriate materials.  The more you assess, the quicker you can shift gears. That's why computer-adaptive instruction (yes, like GED Academy) is always assessing the learner while they work and adjusting its recommendations of lessons accordingly.   The result is targeted instruction without the dependence on a teacher doing the customization.
  5. Study between classes: Blended or hybrid learning keeps the momentum going between classes.  However, it also provides teachers an opportunity to 'flip the classroom' or otherwise divide the labor appropriately between class-time and time outside of class. If learners can put in gobs of work independently (the software needs to be designed to support this), then the teacher can focus on the learners trouble areas during class time. 
  6. Light a FIRE under them! As discussed exhaustively here in three parts, MOTIVATION is the key element to acceleration.  There are so many ways to accomplish it, but without self-determination accelerated learning can result in increased dependency.  If we have to push our learners across the GED finish line, where will they go when they're under their own power?  
  7. Combine concepts: Educators are nervous about this, but the new GED test is going to require multiple reasoning skills in a single problem. Instruction will need to do the same. Computer-based instruction is often nearly one dimensional. We need to find ways to layer our content with multiple concepts so that the learner won't just get one lesson, they'll get several, in a single teaching exercise.  That lesson can even intersect with multiple educational goals: GED, college transitioning, career pathways, technology fluency.  
This is my idea of accelerated learning.  How do YOU put a rush order on student achievement?    
Swish... swish... "Aerate the liquid to reveal more layers of flavor.  Mmmm..."