Our market is flooded with training companies offering to transform individuals into IT gurus within a matter of days. But accelerated learning (AL) isn't simply a shortcut to expertise. Robert Chapman examines how pretenders to the accelerated learning (AL) throne are failing their students.

It's funny how theories and trends get watered down as they grow in popularity. Once people see the growth in interest in a new phenomenon, they jump on the bandwagon, hoping for a piece of the action. Take Kabballah for example - once a cult religion practised by a dedicated minority, now any celebrity can don a red thread round their wrist and claim their conversion.

The same can be said for accelerated learning in the training world. 'Accelerated learning', a term coined in the US in the 1970s, is an extremely attractive selling point for training courses today. Everybody knows that time is money, so the faster staff can learn, the better.

Like any other buzzword, the meaning of the phrase has been stretched to the limit over the years because of the success of the practice's pioneers. But teaching someone a new skill quickly and getting them to retain that information over time are two very different things. If we don't examine the roots of this method of learning, accelerated learning could lose its identity and become just another buzzword.

A Bulgarian psychotherapist may seem an unlikely founding father for a branch of IT training, but it's at a research institute established in 1966 in Sofia that the roots of accelerated learning lie.

In a bid to improve language teaching, Dr Georgi Lozano developed a technique named 'Suggestopedia', enabling students to acquire skills quickly. Lozano also wanted to challenge preconceptions about the best way to teach these skills, convinced that learning did not have to be a painful process and that the traditional lecture approach was ripe for change.

At the heart of Lozano's approach was an emphasis on the learning environment - music, art, role-playing and games were all important, as was the attitude of the teacher. The term 'Suggestopedia' comes from two words - 'suggestion' and 'pedagogy': what does the style of teaching suggest about the teacher's attitude? That learning is enjoyable or simply a chore? Lozano believed that this would have a huge impact on students.

'Suggestopedia' was renamed accelerated learning in the US in the 1970s. Don Schuster of Iowa State University and teachers Ray Bordon and Charles Gritton began applying the methods to school and university teaching, with impressive results. In 1975 they established the Society for Accelerative Learning and Teaching (SALT).

While the emphasis on the environment remained strong, practitioners also began to pay attention to the importance of using different methods of teaching to reach all sorts of learners. Accelerated learning propounds the benefits of practical hands-on lessons, visual aids and encouraging pupils to teach to others what they have learnt. With these techniques in place, practitioners of accelerated learning found that they could dramatically cut the time it took for students to acquire knowledge.

Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for the corporate world to take note of this, or to take the term 'accelerated learning' at face value. The market is now flooded with training companies offering to transform any individual into an IT god in less than a week. And of course competition is gradually bringing the number of days down to three or four, and in some cases, even over a weekend.

But the question any student needs to ask themselves is not, 'Which course will mean less time out of the office?' but rather, 'Is this training method going to help me to retain the information once I'm out of the classroom?' In addition, students need to ask their training providers what their accelerated learning modules consist of - how the techniques involved differ from their previous courses? Are they simply offering a condensed version of lengthier courses?

Let's be honest here, accelerated learning is not the easy way out. Far from it - the theory works because students are deeply immersed in the course matter, away from the hurly-burly of daily life, using proven methods to help retain the information being discussed. Accelerated learning works because tutors and students are dedicated to the methods being implemented, not because it's a short-term fix to get students through exams. If accelerated learning appeals because it's the fastest way of getting qualified, then you're missing the point.

Robert Chapman is CEO of The Training Camp.