|Australian Journal of Educational Technology
1991, 7(2), 127-143.
Suggestopedia and SALT techniques are being applied in the adult education, business training and consulting spheres. However, a review of the relevant literature reveals doubtful support. Evaluative studies are often methodologically flawed, and the results are often inconsistent. Overall, the results do not justify the claims made about the systems. However, factors such as subject anxiety and duration of the study may explain some inconsistencies.
Evaluations of individual components of the systems suggest that some components (visualisation, breathing, and music) are potentially fruitful, and deserve further investigation. Nonetheless, application to the business and consulting sector may by restricted by poor the results generally obtained in short-term teaching programs.
Advances in technology in recent years have led to an information expansion of unparalleled dimensions. The demand for business people and students to encode and retain information quickly and efficiently has increased proportionally with this expansion. Furthermore, growth in minority populations and international business contacts have made the acquisition of a second language highly desirable. Therefore, the introduction of a system which claims to provide the practical means of achieving these goals deserves careful evaluation, using rigorous, unbiased, scientific techniques.
"Suggestopedia" is a system of suggestive-accelerative learning and teaching techniques professing such a claim. Suggestopedia was developed by Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian educator and psychiatrist and was originally introduced as an intensive, foreign language teaching program. Lozanov claims that a 1,000% increase in learning is possible with Suggestopedia (Lozanov, 1978). In recent years elements of Suggestopedia have been adopted for accelerated learning of a wide variety of materials. Increasingly, Suggestopedia, and its North American adaptation SALT, an acronym for "System of accelerative learning and teaching", are being used in schools and colleges in Europe and North America (Scovel, 1979). Recently, similar systems have been promoted in both public education and the business sector in Australia.
The present paper outlines the methods employed in suggestopedia, reviews factors likely to influence suggestopedia's effectiveness, and reviews evidence for its effectiveness.
Each Suggestopedia lesson starts by creating an expectancy that learning will be easy and fun. Students are exposed to music, posters on the wall depicting scenes relevant to the task, given affirmations to do or reminded of how well they did last time. In order to boost self-esteem, students learning a foreign language are often given another identity and name. The teacher creates an atmosphere where learning expectancy is enhanced. The fact that teacher expectancy has a substantial impact on how well students learn is well established (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). This is a form of "placebo" effect and something Lozanov (1978) actively utilised.
The material to be learned is presented in three forms: first, an active presentation in which the material is vividly presented by means of visual images, association cues and dynamic vocal intonation (three voice levels are used: loud/commanding, normal and soft/whispering). Second, a passive form in which students sit relaxed, with eyes closed and breathing synchronised with baroque music which plays in the background. The teacher reviews the lesson, again using oral intonation. In the third session, students enact a dramatic presentation of the lesson content and practice until some level of proficiency is achieved. A self-correcting quiz normally ends the lesson (Palmer, 1985).
Research into Suggestopedia, particularly in North America, has focused on isolating so called "critical" elements, in order that these elements may be implemented in the conventional classroom. This focus has been largely on relaxation training and music, although it has been claimed there is ample evidence already available to indicate these techniques, on their own, do not accelerate learning (Alexander, 1982). The first SALT technique to be examined will be relaxation, each major technique will be evaluated in turn.
|Biggers & Stricherz, 1976||Relaxation||yes||yes||Negative effect|
|Martin & Schuster, 1977||Relaxation and |
|yes||yes||No significant difference|
|Alexander, 1982||Relaxation, music||no||no||No significant difference|
|Gamble et al., 1982||Relaxation, music||yes||yes||Limited support|
|Johnson, l982||Relaxation||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Wagner & Tilney, 1983||Relaxation, music,|
|yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Render, Hall & Moon, 1984||Relaxation, music||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Zeiss, 1984||Relaxation, music|
|Bordon & Schuster, 1976||Music, breathing,|
|Schuster & Vincent, 1980||Music||no||no||Positive effect|
|Alexander, 1982||Music, relaxation||no||no||No significant effect|
|Gamble et al., 1982||Music, relaxation||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Schuster & Mouzon, 1982||Music, suggestion||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Stein et al., 1982||Music, imagery||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Wagner & Tilney, 1983||Music, relaxation||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Render et al., 1984||Music, relaxation||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Zeiss, 1984||Music, relaxation,|
|yes||yes||No significant effect|
Schuster & Miller (1979) commented that they had not utilised suggestion because it takes time to produce change in belief systems and attitudes. Despite this, Schuster & Mouzon (1982) introduced suggestion in the form of a printed, two sentence paragraph. Subjects in this study performed better when given the suggestion that the material was hard to learn, than when told it was easy to learn. This is the opposite effect to that which Schuster & Mouzon's and Lozanov's position had predicted. It may be that subjects, given the suggestion the material would be easy to learn, who find in reality it is difficult, and feel frustrated or inadequate on the task. In contrast, subjects who are told the material is hard to learn have less fear of failure (because failure would be attributable to the task not the subject). This may improve their performance. If this is an appropriate interpretation it would seem to be an inevitable risk in Lazanov's view that we should suggest to learners that the task is easy.
In the Schuster & Martin (1980) experiment, a more sophisticated form of suggestion was used: "early pleasant learning restimulation" (EPLR), a Gestalt reintegrative technique that focuses on the bodily feelings, sensations, emotions and thoughts associated with an early pleasant experience. Subjects given no suggestion and a difficult task performed better than the group given EPLR and a difficult task. With no suggestion and an easy task, the difference between the two groups was insignificant. Thus, again the results do not support Lazanov's position.
There is extensive evidence on mental imagery (cf Paivio, 1971), usually with paired associate words, where subjects learn an association between a stimulus word and a response word and then attempt to recall the response when cued with the stimulus. Mental imagery, in which images are created by the subjects of the stimulus and response words interacting in some manner, have been shown to increase recall by between 1\(12 - 3 times (Bower 1972; Paivio, 1971). No validated study using SALT or Suggestopedia, short or long term known to the present authors, has reported increases in performance greater than 300%, despite Lozanov's (1978) claim that tenfold increases in performance are possible. Therefore mental imagery alone could account for the improvements sometimes seen in Suggestopedia since it appears to result in increases of similar magnitude.
Lozanov found that to achieve the appropriate combination of relaxation, concentration, slow pulse rate and alpha state in which accelerated learning was possible, yogic exercises and breathing were required (Bancroft, 1976). Hyperventilation, according to Shaffer (1979), lowers the carbon dioxide concentration of the blood and raises the pH (alkaline concentration) of the blood and body fluids, thereby increasing the excitability of the nerve cells. Experiments in altered learning through carbon dioxide-induced disruption show that this compound acts upon short term memory (STM) rather than long-term memory (LTM) (Waterlain, 1970; van Eys, Rigter & Leonard, 1975). Voluntary hyperventilation through rhythmic breathing reduces carbon dioxide levels, thus enhancing STM, allowing more information to be moved into LTM (Shaffer, 1979).
Rhythmic breathing, like many other component parts of Suggestopedia, has not been used, or tested, in isolation. Thus, despite a known possible mechanism of action, the practical impact of this component has not been established.
Three studies were examined which utilised Superlearning techniques (Wagner & Tilney, 1983; Applegate, 1983 as reported by Schuster & Gritton, 1986; and Zeiss, 1984). While significant results were sometimes reported, fatal methodological flaws exist in two of the three studies.
The Applegate (1983) study was a two year long project which utilised Superlearning techniques to learn reading, maths, spelling and writing. Students ranged from learning disabled to gifted and talented. The experimental groups achieved a significant increase over the control groups averaging 13. 5% (in Schuster & Gritton, 1986). Unfortunately methodological problems are apparent even from Schuster & Gritton's review. In the experimental group each teacher had an average of 27 students per class. In the control group each teacher had an average of 43 students. Clearly then, management and control of the smaller classes would be much easier and students in the experimental group could be given more individual attention and tuition .
Wagner & Tilney (1983) did not equate the experimental and control groups for relaxation time in the experiment.
Zeiss (1984) reported results suggestive of improved learning under one combination of superlearning procedures. However, the extent of the improvement is uncertain due to a "ceiling" effect (a number of subjects reached 100% performance). Therefore, in this case, potentially positive effects may have been masked.
|Stein et al ,1982||14 min.||no||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Alexander, 1982||30 min.||no||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Render et al., 1984||60 min.||no||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Schuster & Martin, 1979||70 min.||yes/no||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Schuster & Mouzon, 1982||81 min.||no||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Zeiss, 1984||3 weeks||no||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Johnson, 1982||4 weeks||no||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Wagner & Tilney, 1983||5 weeks||no||yes||yes||No significant effect|
|Gamble et al., 1982||5 weeks||yes||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Bordon & Schuster, 1976||6 weeks||yes||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Schuster & Vincent||1 yr.||yes||no||no||Positive effect|
|Gassner-Roberts & Brislan,|
|1 yr.||yes||yes||yes||Positive effect|
|Applegate, 1983||2 yrs.||yes||yes||yes||Positive effect|
The results in Table 3 suggest that these methods are effective with longer term use. As students acclimatise to SALT methods and teachers become more proficient in their use, there is an overall increase in subject performance. Alternatively, these results may reflect the conviction/commitment to the method and the study required by both teacher and student. Such conviction is likely to produce substantial experimenter demand characteristics which could by themselves produce the results observed. Furthermore, the length of the study is confounded with the experience of the teacher, as can be seen in Table 3.
The difficulty is in separating out these demand effects which Lozanov intentionally utilised (and which could be used without Suggestopedia) from the effects of the "mechanical" aspects of SALT, ie. music, relaxation, oral intonation and so on.
When more complex techniques are involved, however, it is suggested that experimenter experience appears to become an important variable. An example of this is offered by Schuster & Miller (1979). In this controlled, laboratory experiment, Schuster, a highly experienced pioneer in SALT methods, and Miller, an inexperienced student, each ran half the subjects. Miller was apparently naive as to previous SALT literature and sceptical as to the experimental outcome (Schuster & Miller, 1979). With active presentation versus no active presentation, Schuster's male subjects performed significantly better, while Miller's performed significantly worse. Female subjects showed no significant difference with active presentation With music review, where subjects hear the material a second time accompanied by baroque music, versus no music review and practising alone or in pairs, Miller's male subjects who were practising alone performed significantly worse, while Schuster's performed significantly better. Schuster's female subjects again showed no significant difference in contrast to Miller's female subjects who performed significantly worse in pairs and significantly better alone. (Of course, differences between Miller and Schuster other than experience may account for these results. For example, Schuster's conviction may be expected to create more experimental demand than Miller's scepticism.)
While Schuster and Miller used "experimenter" as an independent variable, there appears great reluctance within the study to accept the results of this variable. Rather than granting that experimenter inexperience (or conviction) contributed to results contrary to expectation, the authors comment that, though active presentation for males was significantly lower for one experimenter, this effect was felt to be minor. The same comment follows the results of music review, with the additional reflection that music review was generally hypothesised to be superior. Yet the data simply did not substantiate this assertion. There were no significant differences between subjects given music review and subjects given no music review, whether male or female. In fact, the overall mean for subjects with music review was lower than for subjects without music review. However, the authors do acknowledge that "subtle demand characteristics of the two experimenters may be responsible for these differences" (Schuster & Miller, 1979, p.45).
An examination of available individual studies revealed that in five studies where the instructor is known to be experienced in SALT methods, all achieved significant gains in performance for the treatment group (see Table 3). However, this may reflect experimenter demand, confounded with study duration, or methodological flaws (see later discussion).
Even when enhanced learning or retention is reported the differences are often meagre: 9% (Gassner-Roberts & Brislan, 1984); 13.5% (see Schuster & Gritton, 1986). However, differences as large as 250% have been reported (Bordon & Schuster, 1976). Such differences could be accounted for purely in terms of the imagery part of the technique, since imagery has been shown to produce improvements of 150-300% (Bower, 1972; Paivio, 1971). The data do not support Lozanov's claimed 1000% improvement (Scovel, 1979?. However the data do suggest that the technique can produce improvements under certain circumstances, perhaps largely due to the use of imagery. Nonetheless, many studies reporting significant effects contain critical methodological problems which render their results ambiguous, as reviewed in the next section.
The study employed three groups, an experimental group (EG), and two control groups, one a day class (CG-D), the other an evening class (CG-E). Flaws in allocation of students and the arrangements made for the three groups are apparent. From the pool of 46 students enrolled in the course, 22 were day students. This constituted the CG-D. The other 24 students were evening students and subjects were allocated at random to the EG and CG-E. There are a number of problems with these arrangements. First, the CG-D consisted of 22 students compared to the 12 students in both the CG-E and the EG. It is possible that students in the smaller groups received more individual tuition than the CG-D students. Second, the experience of students, both in German and other languages, was not taken into account in the allocation of subjects. Six students in both CG-E and EG had studied another language and in the EG, four students had previously studied German. In the CO-E, one student had matriculated in German and another had lived in Germany for two years. Four others had undertaken previous German language studies. Third, many differences may exist between day and evening students. Under the circumstances, matched allocation would have been superior and equal class size was essential.
One is the large drop-out rate from the CO-D. Of the 22 students who started the course, only eight students finished. It is unclear whether this reflects differences between day and evening students, the already existing impact of demand characteristics, frustration at not being in the 'special' class, or students estimating their progress. Nonetheless, it is indicative of inequality and potential bias.
Those factors, rather than Suggestopedic techniques per se, may be responsible for the difference in performance between the EG and the control groups.
Despite the implementation of a full Suggestopedia program and a teacher trained and experienced in its application, the experimental group increased their performance over the control groups by only 9%, well below the tenfold increase claimed by Lozanov (1978). The Hawthorne effect and the self-fulfilling prophecy could readily account for an increase of this size.
Experimental subjects in the Wagner & Tilney (1983) study received a taped relaxation procedure which lasted 15 minutes. The control group were asked to sit and relax for five minutes. The rationale for not matching experimental time for all three groups was that previous studies had shown that without directed relaxation, subjects found the procedure tedious. It would perhaps have been more appropriate to have given the control subjects a filler task so that experimental time was matched.
In the Schuster & Martin (1980) study, experimental time was not matched across subjects. Those given suggestion underwent a Gestalt disintegration procedure, while subjects given no suggestion went straight into the next phase. This happened eight times during the experiment and, while the exact length of the Gestalt procedure is not given, it must have resulted in a substantial increase in experimental time for these subjects.
The published studies are generally methodologically flawed. When no control group exists, or subjects in the groups are not given equal teacher attention, or equal time in the experimental situation, or the groups differ in important respects to begin with, no relevant legitimate conclusions can be drawn from the outcomes. Unfortunately, this applies to many reported studies.
Results of the methodologically superior studies indicate that a number of individual components of the SALT technique are of doubtful value. Nonetheless, logical reason exists to expect the visualisation and synchronised breathing to aid learning. It is also possible that relaxation has an impact on learning and recall, which may vary with features of the subjects and the task employed. The latter possibility, along with other factors which vary greatly from study to study (duration of learning, instructor experience) may account for much of the variability of study outcomes.
Consistent with Palmer's (1985) conclusions, the published methodologically sound studies have produced more positive than negative results. thus, SALT may contain some potentially valuable techniques. However it is not clear whether this positive impression arises from publication bias, a technique which as a package is valuable, or a technique which contains some components which have already been established to be of value (e. g. visualisation). furthermore, it would appear that the more experienced (and more committed) salt teachers in long duration programs are more likely to report positive results. Therefore, the application of SALT techniques to the business and consulting world is of doubtful value until more is known about the underlying causes of the reported positive results. Nonetheless, the technique has sufficient potential to deserve continued, but methodologically rigorous, evaluation.
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|Please cite as: Dipamo, B. and Job, R. F. S. (1991). A methodological review of studies of SALT (Suggestive-accelerative learning and teaching) techniques. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 7(2), 127-143. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet7/dipamo.html|