Accelerated Learning

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

“Accelerated learning” is manifested in different ways in higher education, but its most common instantiation is as intensive courses, which cover the same learning as full-length courses but in shorter periods of time (in summer sessions, in intensive 2-3 week sessions, in condensed short courses, and so on). This module addresses some basic facts about accelerated learning and strategies to enhance the teaching and learning around accelerated learning courses.


Learners will...

  • define what “accelerated learning” is, what educational theories underlie it, and describe how it may instantiate in online learning in higher education
  • consider some challenges to learning in an accelerated learning context; list the needs of learners taking an accelerated university-level course and describe how these needs may be met
  • review some common accelerated learning designs for online courses in higher education and some “accelerants” in online learning
  • consider some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “teaching” in an accelerated course situation (in online learning in higher education)
  • consider some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “learning” in an accelerated course situation (in online learning in higher education)

Module Pretest

1. What is “accelerated learning”? What are some the educational theories behind accelerated learning? What are some common types of accelerated learning in online learning in higher education?

2. What are some challenges to learning in an accelerated learning context? What are the needs of learners taking an accelerated university-level course, and how may these needs be met?

3. What are some common accelerated learning designs for online courses in higher education? Why? What are some “accelerants” in online learning?

4. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “teaching” in an accelerated course situation?

5. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “learning” in an accelerated course situation?

Main Contents

1. What is “accelerated learning”? What are some the educational theories behind accelerated learning? What are some common types of accelerated learning in online learning in higher education?

It helps to conceptualize three definitions of “accelerated learning.” In one sense, accelerated learning is about harnessing the whole brain—subconscious and all—to benefit humans to learn faster. In another sense, accelerated learning is about advancing young learners faster along a higher education track while they are still in high school or junior high or even elementary school. The third sense of accelerated learning is about condensing the time needed for a university-level course to force learners to accelerate through the learning, to increase learning efficiencies.

Sense 1. “Accelerated learning” was a term initially coined by a Bulgarian psychiatrist, Georgi Lozanov, and his idea involved the harnessing of the human subconscious for learning. To enact “suggestopedia” and “suggestology,” learners were to relax through music and listen to the pronunciation of a foreign language in order to use a whole body approach to learning that language. This would allow the subconscious to come into full play (Zemke, Oct. 1995). This is one sense of “accelerated learning.”

Sense 2. Another sense of “accelerated learning” relates to the early entrance of young non-traditional learners into universities to speed up their studies and to promote early graduation (Marques, 2012). The acceleration here is about young learners who are “accelerated” into learning opportunities in higher education. The acceleration is achieved through both early entrance, dual enrollments in high school and university concurrently, and other methods (Hoffman, Vargas, & Santos, Winter 2008). These programs that create smoother K-16 (kindergarten through baccalaureate degree) paths are also sometimes called “credit-based transition programs” (Bailey & Karp, 2003, as cited in Hoffman, Vargas, & Santos, Spring 2009, p. 45).

Sense 3. The third definition, and the one used here, is the acceleration of learning through the compression of time. If a course usually took a semester, it might be compressed into a half-semester, or a four-week summer session, or a two- or three-week intersession course, or some other permutation. With intensive scheduling, the “duration” and “frequency” of lessons for both are lower in the accelerated learning course (Serdyukov, Mar. 2008, p. 44). This approach is not uncontroversial, given that accelerated learning is seen as a disruptive change that challenges traditional higher education—its focus on seat time and credit hours (Wlodkowski, Spring 2003, p. 1). The format has been becoming more popular among learners who are able to achieve learning goals faster. With accelerated learning going online, the traditional calibrations can not be applied:

”In the case of on-line accelerated courses, the duration of the course may be shorter than conventional standards, 8 weeks rather than 16 weeks, but contact hours are very difficult to calibrate. With instructional configurations such as video streaming, list serves, chat rooms, Internet searches, e-mail, and bulletin boards, the concept of contact hours begins to blur.” (Wlodkowski, Spring 2003, p. 2)

The acceleration of courses and shortened degree programs are part of a trend that started in WW II as a response to environmental pressures—economic, political, and social—to meet the needs of busy adults (Serdyukov, Mar. 2008). The accelerated learning was conceptualized as the provision of “the same content and learning outcomes as a traditional semester-long course in a shorter time period” (Serdyukov, Mar. 2008, p. 38), particularly enabled by the broad use of computers.

Workplace environments. For some, accelerated learning promises more efficient learning—with less time AND less effort required:

“Accelerated learning involves training design and delivery techniques that assist the student in achieving course goals and objectives in less time and with less effort than is currently acceptable. Less and more are the important elements here.” (Reid, Sept. 1985, p. 24)

Some might argue that actually more effort is required to achieve the same amount of work albeit in less time.

Some controversy. The adoption of accelerated learning in higher education has not been without controversy. Are academic standards being lowered? Are accelerated courses a sign of the commercialization of higher education? (Marques, 2012) Some take exception to the idea that there is a “normal” way of learning:

“Accelerated” learning suggests that there is a ‘normal’ method and pace for teaching and learning. It further implies that the traditional formats and methods employed in the academy embody the norm. Therefore, any method that deviates from this standard is likely to be treated with suspicion and may invite summary dismissal of what might otherwise be an effective, innovative approach to designing instruction. It is this scenario that will continue to make quality in design, instruction, and learning assessment so crucial for practitioners.” (Swenson, 2003, p. 83)

Accelerated learning enables academic offerings that accommodate learners who prefer a faster pace and that understand “that learners’ time is at a premium” (Swenson, 2003, p. 91). The learning quality in accelerated learning is not found to be different than in other formats, but there are some requirements:

”However, there are some deeper and more specific advantages to intensive formats, such as Wlodkowski’s (2003) assertion that multiple comparative studies between the level and depth of learning between students in traditional courses and those in accelerated courses have suggested ‘that accelerated courses provide levels of learning indistinguishable from or greater than those demonstrated by the younger students in conventional courses’” (p. 8, as cited in Marques, 2012, p. 105).

Proponents of accelerated learning do not suggest that this approach will necessarily replace traditional education but see it as “an ally with traditional education” (Wlodkowski & Kasworm, Spring 2003, p. 95). Some early work has been done for assessing the efficacy of accelerated learning courses and systems, with researchers calling for more sophisticated research designs in the study of accelerated education (Tatum, March 2010, p. 46).

Some educational theories. In terms of educational theories that inform accelerated learning, some point to adult learning theory and whole brain learning theory (Serdyukov, Mar. 2008, p. 42). Lozanov’s “suggestology” is cited by others. Given that accelerated learning is applied in professional settings as well, various pedagogical approaches that promote accelerated learning in work places through trainings (Moon, Birchall, Williams, & Vrasidas, 2005) are also relevant. Given the web-based learning approaches that are used to support accelerated learning, the learning theories for online learning also apply—with research from human cognition and multimedia learning design at the forefront.

Common types of accelerated learning courses in higher education. As noted earlier, there are various types of online learning courses that are accelerated: intersession courses (courses between formal semester terms), summer courses, night courses, and others.

2. What are some challenges to learning in an accelerated learning context? What are the needs of learners taking an accelerated university-level course, and how may these needs be met?

The time compression in an accelerated learning context makes for a range of challenges for learners:

  • the assignments come thick and fast
  • the homework expectations are high daily
  • there is often high human contact daily
  • the feedback may be light and insufficient and possibly not timely, and
  • it may feel somewhat chaotic

Gaps in knowledge and skills will become very clear very quickly in a fast-learning context.

Learners have a number of needs in an accelerated learning context. In a very general sense, they need the following:

  • a fast sense of orientation (a comprehensive syllabus, a clear schedule, a clear navigational structure, a sense of the learning sequence, and others)
  • a clear sense of how the learning will apply to their work lives and otherwise (no busy work)
  • a clear sense of the directions for all assignments (and a sense of the quality of work expected for those assignments)
  • enriched feedback from assignments and assessments
  • informative schemas
  • evocative figures and images (that convey relevant information in a memorable way)
  • cognitive scaffolding and necessary support at various points in the learning sequence (as needed)
  • access to support materials (pre-course module, supports throughout, post-course learning module)
  • flexibility if a deadline has to be extended a little, and
  • collegial peer support and encouragement

Learners need to expect challenge and to have the resilience to face that challenge. They need to bring a strong sense of self-regulation (Boyd, 2004, p. 42; Marques, 2012, p. 104). They need to take accurate and comprehensive notes. They need to engage the learning context with a strong eye for details.

3. What are some common accelerated learning designs for online courses in higher education? Why? What are some “accelerants” in online learning?

One of the researchers writing about accelerated learning suggests that the focus is on the learning results, not necessary what it takes to get there: “Accelerated learning is focused on the results—not the methods” (Tapp, 2005, p. 1). This may be so in some contexts, but from an instructional designer point-of-view, how one gets there is pretty important. Another researcher observed the prior year:

“By definition, accelerated learning programs are structured to enable students to take courses and earn credits in a shorter period of time, versus a traditional 16-week semester. Thus, how one teaches adults in an accelerated program must differ from how one teaches in a traditional semester format.” (Boyd, 2004, p. 40)

In the research literature, there are some different approaches described.

(1) Tap human imagination.

One of the early researchers suggested the importance of harnessing human imagination for accelerated learning. He wrote:

“Most educators are aware of the need to express new ideas in terms of what the student already knows. In accelerated learning, association brings items or sequences together in an imaginary way. The student uses his or her imagination to associate the words to be learned with descriptive stories that are easily recalled later because of their unusual character. The instructor stimulates the student’s imagination by making examples extreme or humorous. Association works best when the imaginary stories and examples do not involve the actual subject” (Reid, Sept. 1985, p. 24).

The author also shared various memory devices (including mnemonics, relaxation, and others) to increase the efficiency and retention of human memory.

(2) Cut back on the contents.

Another approach, not uncommon, involves pruning learning contents to lessen the amount of required work…to better fit the shortened learning period. The challenge here is to ensure that the learning objectives are met and that the learning outcomes are similar to a full length course.

(3) ‘Accordian’ time…and / or else expand time

Another common approach is to leave the course as it is…and just deliver it by accordianing the time with the new start and new end times. At least one learning management system (LMS) enables this automatic feature when copying a course, and learners are expected to prioritize the course and make the adjustments needed to learn well.

Expanding time means pushing out the learning beyond the defined time boundaries of the accelerated course. Starting early before the start of term involves early access to the online course, the assigned reading lists, the pre-course learning module, and so on. Pushing time out after the formal end of the accelerated course involves having post-course learning modules…and post-formal-learning opportunities.

(4) Provide schemas and supports to lower germane cognitive load.

To reduce germane cognitive load, it may help to

  • define schemas for learners
  • provide worked problems, so they can see how something is done
  • provide plenty of explanations for the development of correct mental models
  • break complex learning into more manageable chunks, and so on

As learners acquire understandings, the cognitive scaffolds may be removed…or “faded.”

(5) Create a sense of ‘situated cognition’ and encapsulate complexity.

Full-length courses are thought to be created in a linear topic-by-topic design, which may not work as well in a condensed time context.

“The timeframe in longer courses encourages what some might call a leisurely linear approach, starting out slowly and then building to a crescendo project. The sink-or-swim strategy is more akin to an apprenticeship or situated learning, wherein the learners need to apply the concepts in an integrated way and learn by doing. This is an example of ‘situated cognition’ (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Lave, 1993; and Kirsch, 2009, as cited in Boettcher & Conrad, 2016, p. 307).

More specifically, the authors suggest a range of design strategies for intensive courses: engaging “content framing” (visual content mapping?) (Boettcher & Conrad, 2016, pp. 306 – 307) and “case studies” with consequences (pp. 307 – 308), and collaborative projects (p. 308), to present the learning materials in a more synthesized way. Complexity in accelerated learning can be somewhat encapsulated into case studies, stories, problem-based scenarios, project-based scenarios, and others.

Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad also propose using assigned reflections, analytical question clusters, and other “pattern assignments and activities” to evoke the active learning for the respective learners (pp. 308 - 313).

(6) Harness the social.

In accelerated learning contexts, it is important to create a sense of learning community, so learners can support each other. What are some ways to create this online learning community?

The instructor and GTAs can create a strong and full sense of telepresence through multimodal means: digital image, text, audio, video, and others. They can interact constructively with learners throughout the attenuated learning term. They would be modeling expectations for social engagement in the online course.

They may require learners to introduce themselves to each other through multimodal means as well.

Assignments may be designed in social ways. “Jigsaw learning” involves the assigning of research work to particular individuals or dyadic partners or triadic learning partners (learners in groups of 1-3)…and then have them share their findings with the group at a later date. The instructor can fill in some gaps in the learning. This approach enables several benefits. Each of the learners contributes something important to the class…and time can be compressed because all the learners are studying some different aspects of the issue. The group benefits from each other’s learning. Learners learn some aspects of the course materials in depth, and they glean learning indirectly as well, albeit potentially in a more superficial way.

Students may also be assigned to groups and assigned group projects.

(7) Design proper learning sequences.

The sequence of the accelerated learning is important because learners need the required knowledge and the skills to do more complex work. If learning sequences are out of place, they will frustrate learners, and frustration can lead to resistance to learning and possible dropout.

The learning sequences should be spelled out in the syllabus and elsewhere in the online learning course because this transparency is helpful for learners to get their bearings…and to set up their expectations.

Also, in the sequence, it is important to reinforce the important learning points multiple times, to ensure that memory does not fade (Ratey, 2001, as cited in Wlodkowski, Spring 2003, p. 5).

Build in opportunities for learner reflection. Some of these may be reflection journals, blogs, discussion board chats, short learner essays, video musings, and so on.

In terms of having a clear sense of sequence, it is important to have a clear online course design with clean functions. In other words, any functions not used in an online course should be cleared off, so these “stubs” will not lead to learner confusion.

(8) Help learners self-regulate. Also, provide plenty of learning supports.

Because of the “narrower margin of error in accelerated courses” and the critical requirement for learner “self-regulation skills” (Marques, 2012, p. 104), it would be a good idea to support learners in their self-regulation. Learner self-regulation, their ability to be self-directed in their studies, may be supported in a number of ways.

  • Offer a priming module to get learners “primed” and ready for your course. This is especially helpful to novice and amateur learners.
  • Set a fast learning pace early on. Be clear about expectations. Follow-through on the expectations.
  • Create early assignments which learners can still participate in even without the full preparation early on, but raise the rigor quickly as the course proceeds.
  • Fully populated calendars in an LMS can help a learner keep track of upcoming work and to study for assessments.
  • Announcements warning of impending deadlines should be shared.
  • The tone of announcements and emails and other communications should be positive and upbeat. All communications with learners should express a high sense of expectations for each of the learners because these things matter in terms of learner performance.
  • Having intermediate assignments leading up to more complex projects enables learners to manage complexity.
  • Set up learning communities early. Model sociality. Encourage learners to support each other.
  • Clear design in an LMS helps learners have a clear mental model of how the class will proceed and what the various functionalities are for in the LMS. The navigation structure should be clear. Any poor design adds “extraneous cognitive load,” and so these should be avoided.
  • To lower germane cognitive load, problems should be “worked problems.” There should be sufficient information to help learners grasp important concepts and relationships and issues.
  • Offer partially filled notes for learners…or partially drawn maps…or partially drawn diagrams…and have the learners fill in the rest. Debrief these, or have learners debrief these in their own learning groups.
  • Use visuals to convey complex ideas. Use multimodal ways to approach the teaching and learning.
  • Make sure assignment directions are clearly spelled out. Err on the side of over-explanation.
  • Learners should receive customized feedback and support for their learning.
  • Offer alternate ways for learners to learn in order to build to different learning styles.
  • Ensure that all learning is fully web-accessible and abide by both accessibility guidelines and Universal Design principles (for the broadest range of usage possible).
  • Instructors and GTAs should not only be present in the online course, but they should express a willingness to help learners.
  • For complex course projects, it may be helpful to have real examples of prior student work (with the legal permission of those prior learners). Of course, discourage learners from emulating the work. Rather, let them know what features of a prior learner assignment is desirable and which are not.
  • Have flexible deadline extensions as reasonably needed. (Extend incompletes as policy and good sense allow.)

Intensive courses with “high quality attributes” are seen to be much more supportive of learning:

”These “high quality attributes” included instructor enthusiasm and expertise (usually gained through experience), active learning, classroom interaction, good course organization, student input, a collegial classroom atmosphere, and a relaxed learning environment. When these attributes were present, the intensive courses allowed for more concentrated, focused learning; more collegial, comfortable classroom relationships; more memorable experiences; more in-depth discussion; less procrastination; and stronger academic performances. However, when these attributes were missing, students reported “intensive courses to be tedious, painful experiences...” (Wlodkowski, Spring 2003, p. 6)

4. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “teaching” in an accelerated course situation?

One author suggests the following main points for teaching an accelerated course:

* "In order to encourage collaborative learning, the instructor must seek to build positive and trusting relationships within the group.
* Promote a holistic approach to learning.
* Encourage students to take a strategic approach to learning.
* Incorporate exercises that draw on learners' experiences and allow them to apply their learning in practical situations.
* Encourage students to engage regularly in reflection on what they are learning.” (Boyd, 2004, p. 42)

According to “The Dynamics of Accelerated Learning,” andragogy-based teaching strategies include the following: “openness & respect,” “reflection,” “open learning style,” “regular feedback,” “holistic learning,” “interactive,” “up-to-date,” and “choices” (Marques, 2012, p. 109).

5. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “learning” in an accelerated course situation?

As noted earlier, it is important to enable learners to develop their sense of metacognition and their sense of self-regulation. Learners do better when they achieve “small wins” early on because this helps build their sense of self-efficacy and capability. Learners benefit from being encouraged, but they should not be encouraged in any hollow way (false credit has a negative effect on learners long-term and creates hostility).


The examples of compressed courses are often for-pay tuition-based ones.

How To

Above, there are some basic positive practices to setting up and teaching an accelerated course.

Actual design of the respective accelerated learning will depend on a number of other factors.

Possible Pitfalls

Researchers have noted that there is a “narrower margin of error” in accelerated courses (Wlodkowski & Kasworm, 2003, as cited in Marques, 2012, p. 104). The speed of the learning and the demands on the learners and the instructors and the technology systems mean that if something goes awry, things can turn problematic quickly.

From a programmatic standpoint, the courses that are compressed and offered as accelerated courses for intensive learning should be those that are non-critical ones… These should be ones that have feeder courses that teach knowledge and train skills that are necessary pre-requisites for the accelerated courses. Accelerated learning puts heavy demands on learners, and they are not for students who are “weak in self-regulation skills” (Wlodkowski & Kasworm, Spring 2003, p. 96). If there is a vetting process (and there typically is), those should vet out learners who are not prepared for a fast and in-depth learning experience.

The learning designs for the accelerated learning should fit with nature of the course. As noted earlier, accelerated online courses should be available prior to the start of term, so learners can prepare, so they can purchase the necessary books and supplies, and so they can bone up on their required skills. (This is especially so for accelerated learning related to graduate courses.) The accelerated courses should be aptly designed (more on this above). The teaching should align with learner needs. Learners should have an intense learning experience with valuable learning, and they should have opportunities to continue learning even after the accelerated course.

The assessments should be accurate to capture learning gaps in knowledge and skills that may have resulted from the intensity and speed of the learning. If learners are not learning effectively, this should be a large red flag to require the redesign of parts of the learning sequence…or changes to the learners admitted, and so on.

Module Post-Test

1. What is “accelerated learning”? What are some the educational theories behind accelerated learning? What are some common types of accelerated learning in online learning in higher education?

2. What are some challenges to learning in an accelerated learning context? What are the needs of learners taking an accelerated university-level course, and how may these needs be met?

3. What are some common accelerated learning designs for online courses in higher education? Why? What are some “accelerants” in online learning?

4. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “teaching” in an accelerated course situation?

5. What are some practical strategies for enhancing the efficacy and quality of the “learning” in an accelerated course situation?


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Hoffman, N., Vargas, J., & Santos, J. (2008, Winter). Blending high school and college: Rethinking the transition. New Directions for Higher Education: 144, 15 – 25. InterScience, Wiley.

Hoffman, N., Vargas, J., & Santos, J. (2009, Spring). New directions for dual enrollment: Creating stronger pathways from high school through college. New Directions for Community Colleges: 145, 43 – 58.

Lozanov, G. (1979). Accelerated learning and individual potential. Prospects: IX (4), 414 – 415.

Marques, J. (2012). The dynamics of accelerated learning. Business Education & Accreditation: 4(1), 101 – 112.

Moon, S., Birchall, D., Williams, S., & Vrasidas, C. (2005). Developing design principles for an e-learning programme for SME managers to support accelerated learning at the workplace. The Journal of Workplace Learning: 17 (5/6), 370 – 384.

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Serdyukov, P. (2008, March). Accelerated learning: What is it? Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching. National University. 35 – 59.

Swenson, C. (2003). Accelerated and traditional formats: using learning as a criterion for quality. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education: 97, 83 – 92.

Tapp, L.M. (2005). Accelerated learning for safety. Session 714. ASSE Professional Development Conference and Exposition. 12 – 15, June, 2005. New Orleans, Louisiana. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2017, from and

Tatum, B. C. (2010, March). Accelerated education: Learning on the fast track. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching: 3(1), 34 – 50. National University.

Wlodkowski, R.J. (2003, Spring). Accelerated learning in colleges and universities. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education: 97, 5 – 15.

Wlodkowski, R.J. & Kasworm, C.E. (2003, Spring). Accelerated learning: Future roles and influences. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education: 97, 93 – 97.

Zemke, R. (1995, Oct.) Accelerated learning: Madness with a method. Training Magazine: 32(10), 93 – 99.

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