Beyond Accelerated Learning - the Use of Audiovisual Entrainment as a Study Tool
This report examines a teaching method originally based on the works of of Dr. Georgi Lozanov, the Bulgarian professor and psychotherapist, and then examines how more recent technological developments in the field of neuroscience can be used to enhance the relaxation/assimilation technique even further.
SUGGESTOPEDIA - DR. LOZANOV'S ORIGINAL WORK
In 1966, Dr. Lozanov founded the Suggestology Research Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Unlike most classroom learning, Dr. Lozanov developed a holistic method of teaching involving role-playing, games, the visual arts, and music. Learning was designed to be a natural, pleasurable process. The learning environment was designed to be pleasant, safe and foster the involvement of the student with the subject content, the facilitator and other students. Dr. Lozanov was interested in making the learning process user-friendly as well as rapid. This method was named Suggestopedia (from "suggestion" and "pedagogy"), based on the idea that suggestions can and do affect the outcome of learning.
Suggestopedia was part of bundle of techniques designed to help people research the reserves of mind and body by co-ordinating the function of the body and both sides of the brain. These techniques were named Suggestology and had their roots in Raja Yoga. Lozanov was interested in the application of altered states for learning, healing and intuitive development.
Dr. Lozanov's early program focused on the teaching of foreign languages using relaxation, pictures and music. Using this method, students were able to learn anywhere between 100 and 1,000 new foreign vocabulary words per day with a retention rate of 98% or even better. Although what came to be known as Accelerated Learning or Superlearning works exceptionally well for language learning, this teaching method can be applied to most types of subject matter.
When educators in the West heard of Dr. Lozanov's work, they were obviously keen to replicate the results, which to those educated in more traditional classrooms seemed too good to be true. The original Western observers were shown 12 students sitting in a circle of reclining chairs, with background music playing while the teacher read material aloud to the class using different tones of voice. When the procedure was finished, the class were tested and were shown to have recalled everything.
Attempts to replicate the technique in the United States and elsewhere were disappointing. Students were tested after such a study session and could not reproduce anywhere near the level of speed or retention claimed by the original Lozanov studies.
In the 1960s, everything was all about politics behind the Iron Curtain. In a climate where being seen to get too cozy with Western "spies" had consequences, the Bulgarian and Soviet powers that be had been reluctant to hand over their secrets to those whom they perceived as the enemy. Key parts to the technique that made the Lozanov method so effective had not been revealed to the Western observers.
Dr. Jane Bancroft, Associate Professor of French at the University of Toronto, also happened to be trained in music and became interested in the work being done. Visiting the Suggestology Institute, she found herself inadvertently swept into a class with a group of visiting Soviets. She seized the opportunity to tape this demonstration, in addition to the recording of the session she already had for the benefit of Westerners.
Back in Toronto, Dr. Bancroft compared the two recorded demos. The recording for the Soviets contained music pieces which had the slow 60 beat per minute tempo often used in music therapy to slow down the rhythms of mind and body. Using a stopwatch, Dr. Bancroft discovered that the material was being read by the teacher to the students in a precise rhythm of 8-10 seconds.
This 8-10 second pattern had previously been researched by two of America's leading medical hypnotists to vastly accelerate learning and creativity by expanding a person's time perception. It worked well - provided the person was in deep hypnosis. The Bulgarians had apparently discovered a way to get remarkable results on students while they were in full conscious control.
Dr. Bancroft decided she needed to investigate further recordings of classes and made a series of visits to Suggestology centres in the USSR and Hungary, and conferred with many educational experts and Communist defectors.
The Bulgarian students had additionally been tested for sensitivity to music. If a person happened not to be responsive, other ways of slowing down the body/mind rhythms could be used, such as breathing exercises, autogenic training, biofeedback or even a metronome set to 60 beats per minute.
Dr. Bancroft and a colleague tested the newly reconstructed technique on schoolchildren who were behind in their reading. The results were nothing short of spectacular: many achieved a 4:1 speed-up of their reading skills.
The more relaxed the students were, the better the technique appeared to work.
In 1972, Ray Benitez-Bordon of the University of Iowa and Dr. Donald Schuster, Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University became interested in enhanced memory techniques and began experimenting with these learning methods. Students learned more than a full year's Spanish in 10 days. The Iowa professors broke down every element of the technique that Dr. Bancroft had described to find out exactly what caused such superior learning performance and find out what each of the variables did.
Tests showed that if students breathed rhythmically during a session in which rhythmically paced material was featured, retention jumped 78%, compared to 25% if they did not.
The addition of affirmations for pleasant, easy learning pushed retention still higher.
DIY SUPERLEARNING - THE TECHNIQUE
Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their book "Superlearning" outline the basic principles of the Lozanov technique for DIY'ers. They recommend that before starting to listen to recordings, the student should practise the following for a week:
1. Relaxation, while listening to positive recorded affirmations regarding study and learning.
2. Calming the mind, using visualisations.
3. Recalling times when learning was joyful.
4. Practising breathing to patterns of 4, 6 and 8 seconds.
People doing Superlearning at home could get a friend to read the material to them, or make a recording.
A recording would typically have 4 minutes of introductory music, 13 minutes of learning material, followed by 3 minutes of faster music to end the session.
The 8-second pattern goes as follows: 4 seconds of silence (known as the first frame), followed by 4 seconds of spoken material (the second frame). It is possible to fit quite a bit of material into 4 seconds. It is not necessary to read in time to the beat, and the music will change tempo slightly from time to time anyway. The idea is simply to fit the material within a space of 4 seconds.
For longer material, such as foreign phrases, the Bulgarians often used the last 2 beats of the first frame. The key material to be learned is kept within the second frame. For example, if you were using this technique to learn French phrases, the English translation would be given quickly during the third and fourth seconds of the first frame, and the French phrase given during the four seconds of the second frame.
For learning rules, mathematics principles, long definitions etc. which cannot be kept within a 4 second timescale it is better not to fragment the material, but to read it all and take as many beats as needed. In one American study, a 12 beat cycle was successfully used, comprising 3 frames of 4 seconds each.
The Bulgarians used varying tones of voice to enhance interest/concentration. Typically, the first piece of information would be read in a normal speaking voice, the second in a soft, whispering voice, and then then third in a loud, commanding voice. This pattern was repeated over and over. Some people have done superlearning successfully without intonation, it seems to be an optional component, but the more components that are included, the more successful the technique is overall.
The first step in using this technique is to review the material. The student should try to make the material as vivid as possible: try going over it as a game, play or dialogue.
Relaxation exercises should be done next, accompanied by the positive affirmations and recalling of times when you felt you learned something well.
The supermemory sessions are in two parts. The first part is to silently read along with the material being recited to you to the rhythmic pattern. The breath is held while the material is read aloud (4 seconds), then exhale (2 seconds) and inhale (2 seconds) during the four seconds of silence.
In the second part, the students' eyes are closed while they listen to the same material being recited again with the music behind it, with the same breathing rhythm as in the first part.
Most people start with 40 to 50 new bits of information, but it is possible to assimilate as many as 80-100 new bits of information during the course of a 15 minute recording.
Afterwards, a short quiz can be used to provide feedback. It is of course important to try and use the new material over the next few days.
Superlearning apparently has a snowball effect: when using the system over a period of time, it appears to become more and more effective.
BRAIN WAVES AND BRAIN WAVE ENTRAINMENT
The billions of neurons that make up the brain use electricity to communicate with each other. The combined effect of millions of neurons sending signals simultaneously produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using equipment such as an EEG, measuring electricity levels over areas of the scalp.
Along with the discovery of brainwaves came the discovery that electrical activity in the brain varies according to the person's activities. For instance, the brainwaves of a sleeping person are have a very different pattern to the brainwaves of a person who is wide awake. The development of more sensitive equipment has brought about an increased knowledge of what the various brainwave patterns represent.
The delta band (3 hz and under) is associated with deep, dreamless sleep. Theta (3-8 hz) occurs in light sleep or extreme relaxation. Alpha waves occur at around 8-12 hz and are associated with a relaxed but awake state, such as on first waking in the morning or while daydreaming. SMR, or sensorimotor rhythm, occurs at 12-15 hz and is related to body motion as well as concentration. Beta waves (15hz and higher) are associated with high alertness. The very high beta frequencies can also be associated with anxiety.
It has been demonstrated that the best frequencies for the type of relaxation and receptivity required for superlearning lay in the region of the alpha-theta border (around 7-8 hz).
It is possible to learn how to access the various states of consciousness associated with these brainwave frequencies through practices such as meditation or biofeedback. For the purposes of study and learning, taking the time first to learn how to do this is impractical for most people. Fortunately, there are other means of achieving the same effect more rapidly and efficiently.
It is a commonly known fact that attending a rock concert tends to cause the pulse to synchronise to the beat of the music, whereas listening to classical music with a more sedate rhythm has a calming effect. This tendency for the body's physiological responses to synchronise with some external stimulus is known as the frequency following response.
Early experiments with an EEG showed that a person's brainwave patterns also tend to mirror external stimuli. By using the classical music as a backdrop to his teaching technique, Lozanov had taken advantage of a process known as entrainment: the deliberate use of frequencies to gently coax the brain into a desired brainwave state.
Whereas relaxation for Superlearning worked using classical music, there are means of producing much stronger entrainment effects.
The most effective audio stimulus is the isochronic tone, an evenly-spaced pulsed tone which simply turns on and off at a given rate per second. Binaural beats (the effect produced when two musical notes that are slightly out-of-tune with each other are played separately into each ear), and monaural beats (when the two tones are simply played together without the stereo effect) can be used, but they have a much softer wave form and their effect is not nearly as strong in producing the desired cortical response.
Visual entrainment (the use of lights flashing to a specific rhythm) has been found to produce ten times as much stimulation as audio entrainment. It is possible to use these effects to produce a far more effective Superlearning session than could have been envisioned when Ostrander and Schroeder wrote their 1979 work.
ENHANCING THE SUPERLEARNING EFFECT WITH MODERN TECHNOLOGY
A light and sound machine is a device with earphones and a set of goggles fitted with LED lights. When a session is selected, pulsed beats are synchronised with flashing lights to produce the effect desired by the user. A session usually starts somewhere in the alpha range and changes gradually to faster or slower frequences, depending on which session has been selected. There are various models of light and sound machines on the market today. Most come with a generous amount of preset sessions, and many are also programmable. The DAVID Paradise light and sound machine comes with a heartbeat sound for the purpose of synchronising the breathing; a useful feature if one wishes to use the machine for Superlearning.
Although using a light and sound machine with the features described above is ideal for doing Superlearning, however a slightly less expensive, but highly effective, option is a PC-based system. The Transparent Corporation produces audiovisual software incorporating various types of audio beats and a flashing screen. Their Neuroprogrammer software even incorporates a "Superlearning tool" - basically, a session that ramps in frequency down to the alpha-theta border and then plays material pre-recorded by the user and looped a desired number of times.
Nowadays, there is a variety of home recording software and PC-based sound editors available to the average user.
Digital recordings can be made using software such as Audacity. There are even mini mixing desks with their own software which can be purchased extremely cheaply. Using such software or recording equipment, it is possible to pace the material to the desired pattern using onscreen editing, rather than having to grapple with a stopwatch to time oneself while trying to read aloud from the original source materials.
Users of entrainment often ask questions regarding how to tell what effect the entrainment is having, whether it is having the desired effect, or even whether entrainment is happening at all. It is possible to purchase home EEG packages which can be used for personal exploration, or to use in conjunction with entrainment for monitoring purposes. Unfortunately, most of the models available within the budget range of the home experimenter tend to be rather limited. Typically, they have two channels (one electrode for each side of the head), which may not be sufficient to provide any more than very basic feedback. Anyone wishing to go down the route of home EEG would be advised to invest in the best model they can afford, and take the care to learn about correct placement of electrodes and how to interpret the data. The Mind Mirror would be the cheapest home EEG that I would consider, at a cost of approximately $3,500. More sophisticated models are not only much more expensive, but it is possible that suppliers may only sell them to medical practitioners.
A project for further experimentation would be to build a home system incorporating full 360 degree feedback. A good quality light and sound machine would need to be be used, such as the DAVID Paradise XL, with the pre-recorded lesson material set to start playing once the desired frequency had been reached. Using appropriate software, data could be fed from a multi-channel EEG back to the light and sound machine to ensure that the learner is continually provided with the exact frequency necessary to ensure that he or she stays the optimum state for memory and learning throughout the duration of the session.
It goes without saying that the student should go through the material first to ensure that the nomenclature etc. is thoroughly understood before attempting to memorize it using Superlearning. An accumulation of misunderstood words cause a person to become drowsy; this plus the combination of entrainment at the alpha/theta border level is a recipe for only one outcome: sleep. Superlearning cannot be expected to somehow force recall of information which was incomprehensible to the student.
(c) Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2010
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