Transforming the Economics of Language Learning (Part 6): The Elegant Discipline of DABL Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 in Archived Posts

Ask a doctor the one thing that would make most patients healthier and you might hear, “if my patients would simply do what I ask them to do.” For many ailments, the cure is a simple behavior change: stop smoking, exercise. But behavior is astonishingly stubborn.

Language learning, on the other hand, is as actually quite straightforward: Learn words and phrases—regularly use the language with awareness, both with an instructor and on your own—repeat indefinitely. As your skills develop, what seemed hard becomes satisfyingly effortless, and new questions and opportunities come into view. Again, though, developing any new behavior is not so simple.

In Part 3, we discussed what Declaratively Accelerated Blended Learning (DABL) brings to language learning. Arguably even more exciting is what it takes away: the confusion and frustration. DABL radically clarifies and simplifies. As one DABL instructor put it, “Just do the DABL work on computer, and then come to class sober, and it all works.”

DABL is something of a “flipped classroom” for language—or as we like to think of it, the right way to flip a language classroom. Before each training session, learners use computers to master assigned vocabulary and phrases relevant to that upcoming lesson or unit. Class time is then filled with using that language in context: communicative, task-based and peer activities.

The flaw in the plan, you might say, is the part where the learner actually does the DABL computer work. The learner could refuse to do it. Yes, but given any motivation at all (desire for the language, need for a passing grade, etc.), DABL first seduces and then habituates the learner.

Learning the thousands of words and phrases needed to acquire a language is cognitively demanding and repetitive—hour upon hour of different iterations of the same challenging brain work. Gee, that sounds like Sudoku. Like Tetris®. Like Solitaire. Like Angry Birds. Like all those computer games that people will do for hundreds of hours with no pay or seeming benefit. These games are all mentally challenging and iterative. Each session is limited in time. The game responds immediately to whatever you do, whether you do it well or badly. It adjusts to your skill level. It shows your progress, celebrates accomplishment and aggregates your winnings into some number or collection.

So, look what DABL has done. It has separated out the Tetris®-like part of language learning and assigned that to software. If the software is well designed (and it is!), the work quickly becomes addictive, regardless of what set of words or phrases are being taught. But in DABL, the words and phrases you are learning are specifically chosen to make your upcoming class successful, interesting, satisfying. Not doing the DABL work leads more or less immediately to the stress and discomfort of showing up unprepared and struggling in front of the instructor and your peers. (We’ve all had those bad dreams, right?) Doing the work leads more or less immediately to satisfaction, success, engagement. This is about as simple, clear and habituating as learning can get.

At the end of a DABL course, a learner will have two or three times the lexicon of a traditional course, and each skills-focused class will have been more successful. The result is more language proficiency (Part 3), delivered more reliably (Part 5).

At a strategic level, DABL transforms the economics, logistics, reliability and visibility of language training and institutional language programs. That’s exciting. That program-level improvement is the sum of each individual learner’s success. That’s rewarding.

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  1. Discover Spanish:

    Fascinating. So you just play this game, get hooked, and it feeds you new vocabulary and grammar. I think the good part is that you have a class afterwards and you re-cap all the information and reinforce it.

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