Tip #139: Accelerated Learning in Croatia

Accelerated learning techniques include involving as many senses as possible for whole brain learning and to meet the needs of different learning styles. Color, music, touch, movement, visual stimulation, and the use of metaphor and story are all very important ingredients in an accelerated learning classroom.

In 1998, a good friend of mine, Joan Gillman, contacted me about my interest in conducting train the trainer workshops in Croatia. Joan had been working with the Open Society Institute, funded by Hungarian millionaire George Soros, to create small business development centers in underdeveloped and war-torn nations. Areas in Croatia (once part of Yugoslavia) had lost most of their major industries and needed to develop entrepreneurism to help the economy recover. The Open Society Institute needed to take business people and teach them how to train adult learners. Although I had never been to Europe and was worried about traveling to a former war zone, I trusted Joan and agreed to develop and facilitate two four-day train the trainer programs.

The programs were designed to generate two key outcomes:

(1) competent and confident trainers, with knowledge and experience in designing and presenting participant-based training to adult learners in their subject area; and

(2) training exercises and modules that taught entrepreneurial content and skills that could be used for future training programs.

Day One focused on adult learning principles and lesson plan design. Day Two focused on learning styles and instructional method use and design. Day Three focused on motivational techniques, accelerated learning techniques, and stand-up presentation skills. Day Four focused on instructional practice and assessment.

Once the materials were designed, they were sent to Croatia to be translated and then duplicated for the participants.

In planning what to take with me, I decided that the training environment and experience should be as close as possible to that which my American participants enjoyed. So I packed Koosh balls, music compact disks, small plastic kaleidoscopes, colored overheads with cartoons as well as key bullet points, colorful candy bowls, and 85 pounds of assorted candies (in their own suitcase!).

It wasn’t until I arrived in Budapest, Hungary after the long flight and was asked if I had anything to declare by an armed soldier pointing an Uzi at me that I finally realized I could have been arrested for black marketeering the candy. Luckily, he let me pass. But I held my breath each time we drove through the Hungarian checkpoints and then the Croatian checkpoints. When the soldiers opened the trunk, I prayed that I wouldn’t get myself or Boris, the young Croat man who had picked me up at the Budapest airport, in trouble.

Once in Osijek, Croatia, I set up my training room as usual: candy in the candy bowls in the center of each training table, different colored Koosh balls around the candy bowls, a kaleidoscope at each participant’s place, and music playing. As the participants walked in, there was a colored cartoon on the overhead projector. What I didn’t know was that the participants’sole educational experience was in lecture halls, with no interaction between professor and student. And these participants in Osijek were primarily associated with the University of Osijek as professors and instructors, ranging in age from their late 60’s down to their mid 20’s.

So there was an immediate culture shock when they walked into the training room. Then I began by asking common ground questions to which they had to raise their hands: “How many of you have taught for many years?” –How many of you enjoy teaching?” –How many of your students enjoy your teaching?” Suddenly, they needed to be physically active and open to humor.

Next, I had everyone stand up and, using one Koosh as an Indian talking stick, had them throw the Koosh to each other to introduce themselves. Although I’m sure that a few of the participants were simply obeying the –professor’s” assignment, many of them got into the spirit of the activity immediately.

Then I had them look through the kaleidoscopes and explain how that experience was like training, and I had an interpreter capture their ideas on a flip chart.

Soon, they were playing with the Koosh balls, enjoying the candy, interacting with each other and with me, and laughing at the cartoon overheads. Since the entire program was designed around application exercises, I learned some Croat relatively soon so that we could conduct task analyses and create learning objectives on flip charts.

The next day, they had the opportunity to experience participant-centered learning activities for the very first time: questionnaires, case studies, hands on activities, and role plays. And then they had time to create their own, which they loved.

During the third day, we experimented with the specific accelerated learning technique of designing curriculum around a meaningful metaphor. Not only did they absorb the idea, they were amazingly creative with their metaphors and associated props to teach business-related content.

The fourth day, when they put it all together to each facilitate a 10 minute participant-centered activity that they had developed, they were amazing! They captured the best of accelerated learning and incorporated props, metaphors, and hands on activities into business-related modules they could then use in the small business development centers.

We all celebrated by going out for fish soup!

Most telling, the Dean and Assistant Dean of Economics at JJ Strossmeyer University were so impressed by the results of the train the trainer that they discussed having me return to Osijek to help them design the first European student-centered MBA program in Entrepreneurship and train the faculty there!

The next day, Joan, Boris and I drove to Zagreb, the beautiful cosmopolitan capital of Croatia, which had not been touched by the war. And the following day, we flew to Dubrovnik, a 1000-year old walled city along the Adriatic that had sustained a lot of bombing damage that had ended all tourism in the area.

This time, most of the participants were business people rather than academics. And by the fourth day, when they facilitated their 10 minute modules, I cried because they were so very good.

When we left, my candy suitcase now empty of candy but full of gifts from Croatia, Boris finally admitted to me that when he had lifted the 85 pounds of candy in the Budapest airport parking lot, it had almost killed him!

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