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Singing School: Means of Suggestion
in Suggestology and OptimaLearning

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Van Gogh:
La Nuit Etoilee

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by Ivan Barzakov, Ph.D.

Just imagine a small group that has gathered for a lecture on a new trend in education. Everyone is expecting a theoretical explanation. Instead the lecturer asks each person to introduce himself or herself and tell the group the single most important thing in life. I assume that this audience at SALT (Society for Accelerated Learning and Teaching) has a basic knowledge of suggestology. Some say awareness, sensitivity, love, support, unity, and all intellectual concepts. Then a child says simply, "I want a horse." When the group finishes, the lecturer introduces himself, "Through my work I hope to give at least to some people — since I cannot give to all on this planet — their horse."

Much has been said already about the role of establishing rapport in suggestopedia. Rapport can be evoked in many ways. We do not necessarily need music. Even a horse may do. So today I appeal to you to join me in helping our students find their horse, their heart's desire. That's what education is for me.

My topic is "Means of Suggestion in Suggestology and in OptimaLearning®", and I want to share my insights on Dr. Lozanov's pioneering work in recognizing and using suggestion as a critical element of pedagogy or theory of education. I also wish to explain additional developments since I left Bulgaria and the Research Institute of Suggestology to continue my work in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

I assume that this audience at SALT has a basic knowledge of suggestology.

But what is OptimaLearning? It is a system, which incorporates Lozanov's concepts in their purity, yet expands into new dimensions of learning, optimizing performance and self-realization of the individual. But first and foremost it maintains the integrity of the Lozanov system itself, not just because I come from Bulgaria. It is because I have learned in the East and in the West that, when we deal with systems, we must maintain a systematic approach.

Elements extracted from a system no longer function in a synergistic manner. If one has read Fritjof Capra's book, The Turning Point (1982), Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979), or other books on the new physics written for laymen, one has an appreciation of what I mean when I emphasize the importance of respecting the integrity of a system and coming from the essence or core.

A Bulgarian Matrix of Influences

To understand Lozanov deeply, one has to know the intellectual traditions from which his work evolved. From Ivan Pavlov, the great Russian physiologist, came the theory of the effect of light stimuli in paradoxical phases. From Uznadze of the Georgian school of psychology came theories dealing with mental set and predisposition.

A native Bulgarian shares these cultural influences and grows up with a continuous exposure to diverse cultures, for Bulgaria is a country of multicultural influences, a crossroads from north to south, east to west. Traditions of parapsychology flourish along with scholarly developments in psychology.

Bulgaria is also a very musical country, the legendary country of Orpheus. It is the birthplace of the Slavic or Cyrillic alphabet and boasts the oldest Slavic literature in the world. Last year the Bulgarian state celebrated its 1300th anniversary. Especially strong is the educational tradition. Illiteracy was practically eliminated in the 1920s, and Bulgaria has one of the highest levels of education per capita in the world. First-graders are taught concepts of advanced algebra even outside the Lozanov schools.

This is the matrix of influences that helped create suggestopedia. Knowing all this, observing the strengths and weaknesses of many teachers, comparing the styles of Gateva, Dimitrova, Novakov, Pashmakova, Ivantcheva, knowing what worked and what did not work in the experimental school system and with adult classes - all this gave me the perspective needed to continue to expand and refine this tradition of accelerated teaching through OptimaLearning

Since an early age I have always been interested in orchestration, in music, art, and poetry. As a high school student, when I attended the opera I was aware of the invisible orchestration of color, instruments, intonation — all the suggestions, although I did not call them suggestions — which come with voice. And I would think: What if this could be put to work so that we could affect the mind and life in general? I was already involved in esoteric studies, mind development, and meditation when I realized that consciously attained mental concentration may have a limited scope.

It was then that I discovered that Dr. Lozanov had already begun his experiments with suggestion and orchestration and had founded a research institute. Since the children in the Lozanov schools were completing their normal curriculum in four months, specialists such as I from the Institute were sent to teach them something else — English, Russian, etc.

Teaching takes an inner feeling, a special kind of love for the learner and for knowledge. I attribute my success in OptimaLearning not just to knowing and maintaining the integrity of the Lozanov system but also to this inner feeling. Once one is in touch with that feeling, one can move on to discover new dimensions. People who have worked with OptimaLearning can probably verify that this feeling can be awakened, but one needs to study carefully and internalize what is being discovered.

Many of you here may well be much better teachers than I. Many of you will become masters, I hope, like Evelina Gateva, Dr. Lozanov's brilliant assistant and model instructor, or like my associate Pamela Rand. Al Huang, the Tai Chi master, gave this definition: "A master is someone who started before you." That's all. And I utterly believe that we too can become masters like Al Huang. (Music).

Expanding the Foundations

Lozanov provided the basis for my work, OptimaLearning, which was developed here in America. It is not an eclectic collection of methods. It is Lozanov's work with new concepts and new dimensions. Lozanov gave us the foundation and the first floor. OptimaLearning adds a second floor and maybe another wing. But in order to add another wing, you have to enlarge the foundation a little bit.

So what is different? Lozanov gave us the exquisite orchestration of the conscious and unconscious. As in music with its slow movements, we feel how it goes beyond the actual rhythms of the music. It reminds us that the world consists of patterns, rhythms and intonations. To that OptimaLearning adds a focus on the conscious mind and a strong additional development of analytical skills. Sometimes we associate energy with tempo. But energy may come differently, even from change in rhythm. That is why the development of analytical skills is a joyful process, a new dimension with the same rhythmical basis.

Another concept in OptimaLearning is the unity of teaching and learning. From Lozanov we learned how the teacher always tunes in to the students. In OptimaLearning we use specific procedures to bring out the hidden teacher in everyone. The hidden creator, hidden artist, hidden genius may find expression and flourish. Then an outburst of creativity is used in a special way to feed back into the acceleration of learning.

Teachers empower students. As a result one is able to solve many problems of self-instruction. This results also in techniques that can be used to teach any subject, to learn any subject, to perform in sports, on stage, or on the job. One can optimize parenting and tutoring. All this comes from the integration orchestration of attitudes and techniques. We still hear the music. It's still with us and the meaning is with us.

So this orchestration through which we present ideas is the most important mechanism both in suggestology and in OptimaLearning. It is the complex of the means of suggestion.
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Connectedness and Means of Suggestion

What renders these means of suggestion truly effective? No matter how you master your voice, intonation, or project your dual plane as means of suggestion, these will not work well unless the instructional process itself is organized as a meaningful, interconnected whole. Logic is not necessarily the logic of the superordinate-subordinate. It is the more elusive logic of systemic conceptions of the world and of the human mind.

I'll give you an example. Last year I was in Tulsa visiting Marilyn Hughes, one of our leading OptimaLearning instructors. She was consulting with several teachers, and I accompanied her to a fourth-grade class in the public schools. The teacher was talking about English grammar and how plurals are formed. "Fish" and other nouns were used. I think my heart was bubbling with desire. Why teach only grammar when so many other things could be taught, and the students would pick up the meaning and retain everything?

Suddenly I was asked to talk to the children. I wondered what would make sense to them at this moment. But first I needed to establish rapport. Obviously, with my accent, I am a foreigner, so I asked them "What do you know about Bulgaria?" "It's far away in Europe." "Do you know where in Europe?" Here I drew a map with my hands since there was no map of Europe. "Here (voice dropping to a dramatic whisper) by the Black Sea.

Why is it called black? "Well," I continued, "because when there is a storm, it gives a very interesting dark color to the waves. And in Bulgarian we say more. Can you hear it? mor-eh? (audience repeats) Of course! And it's very easy, you know. Mo (writing on board) rrr (trilled) - we say mo-re. Rrr. Mo-re. Yes: mo-re, mo-re. It's like a rrr. RRRR, you see, rrrr, rrrr. Can I hear it? (audience responses) RRRR. That's it, very easy: mo-re (laughter). And old people say that there is a hole in the bottom of the sea. Have you heard that? (singing) There's a hole in the bottom of the sea..." (audience joins in the singing:)

There's a log on the hole in the bottom of the sea...
There's a hole, there's a hole...
There's a bump on the log on the hole in the bottom...
There's a hole , there's a hole...

And here we were singing about the sea. "Why is there no hole? Because the fish would escape, of course. What do we say in English, fish? Yes. And do we sometimes say fishes? Sometimes, yes, when we have what? Different kinds!" You could go into zoology, geography, oceanography; you can integrate English grammar with anything and move ahead quickly. "Do you know what the word is in Bulgarian? Fish, riba, riba?; the same rrr! Riba." (audience repeats) And from here, if my objective were to teach Bulgarian, I might say, "Who likes to eat fish? You do? And do you have a pet that likes fish? Cat! Kotka. You see how easy? Kotka! Kot- meow, kotka (drawing a cat). Here is the glava, the glava of the kotka, glava, and here is the tialo, tialo. What is this? Oko. O-ko. Can you see it? O-ko. You see the symmetry? Here is one eye (laughter), o-ko. Very simple. Here is the nos, nos; simple, nos. Oh, what do you have here? Ukho, ukho...ukho. And here we have the krak. Krak. Of course. Let's see: k, rr; krak, krak. So easy: krak. Kotka, krak."

You can continue. "And what do you have here? Moostak, moostak. From one side what is it? One k, it's moostak! Simple, moostak!" And it can continue with the riba, and little by little in a very short time, you can teach the class the entire Cyrillic alphabet.

Of course, of special significance here are the rhythm, the carefully selected intonation, the dual plane, child-like state — all contributing to the special prestige of the instructor. We're looking at means of suggestion embedded in a teaching procedure. These include specific rhythms and intonations.

Everything is rhythmic in nature and Lozanov emphasized the role of rhythm in a suggestopedic sense. Pacing is a small element. Rhythm includes the intervals at which certain things are repeated. When talking about rhythmic organization, one should also consider the external environment.

In OptimaLearning we emphasize, in addition to the Lozanov concept of peripheral perception, additional orchestration of the room using art stimuli in a special way. Those of you who have attended OptimaLearning programs know that we use reproductions of great artists' paintings and prints. But they move in time! At specific moments in the workshop when attitudes and mental states are shifting, so too is the artistic surrounding. At the same time of critical importance is the principle of economy and balance.

When we speak of rhythm and intonation, a very important part is the ritual, the symbolic element of our work; the suggestopedic and OPTIMALEARNING teacher creates very specific rituals to begin and end a class or a specific "alerting" ritual when information is introduced. A major shift in context can also be signaled on an unconscious level by rhythmic ritual. This major means of suggestion can be mastered with study and practice. As one's artistry develops, one can integrate multiple rhythms like the dancers and drums in a tribal ritual.

Subtleties of Prestige

This brings us to one of the major means of suggestion, prestige. Lozanov used the word "authority," not in the authoritarian sense, but in recognition of one's authority as a very knowledgeable person. But beyond authority in the subject matter is competence and reputation as a teacher who can help learners achieve extraordinary results. It is a kind of motherly prestige, a nurturing, supporting presence that one acknowledges with great respect.

There are some subtleties here. The actual structure of the suggestopedic or OptimaLearning class contributes significantly to prestige in an invisible way. Read Lozanov; he is very explicit when he talks about primary education and how to use peripheral perception. How you orchestrate the classroom, your behavior, your voice, the way you engage your students, the global activation of the brain and the principles of joy— all constitute your prestige. Earl Stevick, a leading specialist in language instruction, says in his book Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways (1980) that the true prestige in Lozanov classes comes from the invisible subtleties of the process: the skillful use of unconscious elements, interweaving of techniques into "the fabric of the course", the security for the student which comes from the teacher's avoidance of the "evaluative paradigm", and the efficiency and liveliness of the instructional process.

The stronger the prestige, the greater will be the student's childlike state, that very special receptive state so important in learning. We believe, however, that the teacher must be able to move into his or her own open, receptive space in order to create and maintain that openness for students. It is an energy, a lightness that you carry within and express. It allows you as a teacher to be extraordinarily sensitive at an intuitive level to your students' reactions, apprehensions, distractions.

Your energy, spontaneously and creatively, can find ways to dissolve negative conditioning, counter limiting beliefs, and lightly provide educative, non-evaluative feedback. This type of prestige, the prestige of the OptimaLearning teacher, is the main factor in triggering spontaneous memorization, spontaneous participation, and spontaneous creativity. The integration of prestige and the child-like state as a means of suggestion is grounded in the ability to see more fully, to see persons in their complexity.

In OptimaLearning training for professionals we include work as a clown with mime and movement. This frees us from inhibitions of mind and movement and opens the possibilities of seeing more clearly, more like a child, or as Shakespeare did, with the eye of a "fool." Moreover, a clown must perfect a sense of timing.

Relaxed alertness

Another means of suggestion is a concert-like pseudo-passiveness, the state when you are very relaxed but also very alert. A lot of people think this usually occurs when you hear music or are involved in guided imagery, but that is not the case. Lozanov is talking about behavioral pseudo-passiveness, when you appear passive, but you are full of energy and perceive well.

This can be achieved in many ways. In our work with OptimaLearning self-instruction, there is an integration of prestige and the child-like state in which people learn very quickly to establish this pseudo-passiveness without music. One works with music later as a recapitulation of the material.

This concert-like pseudo-passiveness is an internal attitude, a special state of mind functioning. Techniques are useful at first to help one learn to recognize and move into this state of mind. But with practice one masters the process that moves one to that state. It is like persons who first use biofeedback machines to learn to direct internal processes but who then become adept at controlling their blood pressure or similar functions without the machine.

Obviously all these things are impossible if one is not totally sincere on both planes, conscious and unconscious. That is another important means of suggestion from Lozanov. We constantly operate on two levels or planes, the conscious and the unconscious. This means that at every instant, the communicator projects conscious signals, verbal and non-verbal language. I can say "Stand up" or I can give you a hand signal, which is not verbal, but entirely conscious.

The second plane, which is what we are generally speaking of when we refer to dual-planeness, is mainly this stream of stimuli which flows from the communicator and is perceived by the listener, yet remains in the domain of the unconscious, more or less, of both parties. Often the receiver cannot pinpoint why he or she responds to the communicator in a particular manner. In the vernacular it is "vibes".

Operating effectively on the dual plane means being 101% sincere: saying what you mean and meaning what you say. But that's not enough. There is something more— the ability to project what you expect from your students. Because of your conscious vision of how much more you can do, this vision becomes reflected in your unconscious attitude. So the dual plane is also a deeply internalized attitude of strong belief in the capacity of your students or clients and of yourself. It is the essence of what Lozanov calls "suggestive attitude."

The dual plane reflects your love for your students and for your work and life in general. In OptimaLearning we emphasize even more the need to bring out the hidden love, the sensitivity, the soul in everyone. And this conscious vision and concern for the human mind and human soul as an internalized attitude prompts an almost spontaneous transmission of loving and caring signals to others. It forms an invisible bond between student and teacher.
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The Lozanov Effect

By orchestrating all these means of suggestion, the communicator establishes a very interesting state that I call the "Lozanov Effect". To understand it, however, one needs to know something of the Pavlovian theory of paradoxical phases. In some specific states of mind, light stimuli are those that evoke the strongest responses. In these states some processes or zones are inhibited while others are excited.

The most interesting thing for the Lozanov Effect is that it produces a pleasant state of relaxation and, at the same time, the mind is naturally alert and concentrated on the task. There is a dialectical unity. So by orchestrating the means of suggestion, the communicator establishes this neurophysiological state, which represents both inhibition and excitation at the same time. This is what Lozanov has in mind when he talks of "concentrative psychological relaxation". If you can achieve this for yourself and your students or clients, you will experience Lozanov's achievement.

So what happens in this "pseudo-passive" state during a concert reading? The voice becomes a separate instrument, a unique counterpoint to the music. In 1977 I was searching for a word to convey the special relationship between the voice and the music, and "surfing" flashed into my mind. The voice rides the waves and learns to sense the underlying power of the music, respecting its flow yet mastering it for a different purpose.

Let's experience this. Any text will do, but let's read this excerpt from the book I mentioned earlier on new physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav (1980). (During Barzokov's presentation Bach's Concerto in D Minor begins at this point.)

My western education left me unable to accept a non-definition for my definition of a "Master," so I began to read Huang's book, Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain. There, in the foreword by Alan Watts, in a paragraph describing Al Huang, I found what I sought. Said Alan Watts of Al Huang:

He begins from the center and not from the fringe. He imparts an understanding of the basic principles of the art before going on to the meticulous details, and he refuses to break down the t'ai chi movements into a one-two-three drill so as to make the student into a robot. The traditional way...is to teach by rote, and to give the impression that long periods of boredom are the most essential part of training. In that way a student may go on for years and years without ever getting the feel of what he is doing.

Here was just the definition of a Master that I sought. A Master teaches essence. When the essence is perceived, he teaches what is necessary to expand perception. (The music fades.)

Now what happens in a concert reading? First, when you read with music, the left hemisphere, which normally processes the sequential, logical material of the text, is required to follow the musical phrase, to note how the music is changing, to enter and pause with the music. So the left hemisphere is linked both ways. But the right hemisphere is also linked both ways. Wide open to music, the "intuitive" hemisphere sees the text and meaning as a whole. So the two hemispheres of the brain in a cross-link are processing the same material.

Through music and through this integration of the hemispheres, you are also activating the limbic system, the subcortical structure that is the seat of our emotions. Psychiatrist William Grey and systems theorist Paul LaViolette (Ferguson, 1982) have proposed an exciting theory of emotional/cognitive structures, which suggests that the brain handles information like a radio receiver. Perceptions, sensations, feelings are encoded in neuro-electric waveforms which become amplified into thoughts as they are recycled between the limbic system and the cortical systems. In his theory emotions — or more precisely, nuances of feeling-tones — code and transform thought. Emotions also activate memory and creativity thereby supporting the kind of approach we have been using in OptimaLearning to engage the whole brain.

Along with the limbic system the reticular formation, or the paleomammalian and reptile brain, governs our basic instinct. Self-preservation instincts activate reactions we experience as anxiety or joy, elevated heartbeats and blood pressure, and other physical reactions that affect learning negatively or positively.

So we are talking of a global activation of the brain, which inhibits counterproductive tensions and excites the emotional/cognitive structures, which encode and refine information and knowledge. We are using the conscious and unconscious, the whole brain. We are not using just left and right hemispheres. The cortical/subcortical structures, as well as the reticular formation, are activated simultaneously.

What is more, the specific state of inhibition-excitement evoked through the directed light stimuli you receive is so pleasant that you want more. So the more pleasant and relaxed you are, the more energized you feel and the more information signals you want. So the more you learn, the better you feel; and the better you feel, the more you learn. That is the "Lozanov Effect", and you can see its clear relation to the principle of joy.

Amplified Lozanov Effect

In addition, there is what we call the "Amplified Lozanov Effect". Simultaneously with the signals that carry the actual information to be learned — the language text or physics or history — the specially trained instructor sends invisible suggestions: how easy it is, how beautiful it is, what exciting things await discovery.

Do you remember the Tulsa school children? Along with the selection of content (kotaka, more), one sends invisible signals of support, care, and excitement. These suggestions are verbal, nonverbal, conscious, paraconscious, but they are absolutely integrated into the informational signals. So the more pleasant, relaxed and energized you feel, the more you hear the content and the supportive messages.

On the psychological level this builds self-confidence, opens new possibilities, and liberates the latent potential, all simultaneously with learning the content. In other words, the more content, the greater the desire is to receive still more, because the content is associated and coded with this ever-growing feeling of satisfaction. That is why I call this the "Amplified Lozanov Effect." Simultaneously, on both the physiological and psychological levels, one feels more liberated and stimulated.

The Barzak Effects

In OptimaLearning we add what our colleagues in Edmonton call "Barzak Effects One and Two". As you become so excited and integrated, we must look at an additional focus: how this energy can be used to analyze material better. It is like a special thought training to perceive the world as a system. Students are better able to perceive individual parts of the world around them, but they perceive them not as isolated or separate, rather interconnected. Life and thought become a system of interdependencies and relationships.

For example, a number of OptimaLearning students have written us about how they have started to associate separate, apparently disparate items or events in the media with experiences and feelings of their own. It is a growing awareness of the ecological nature of our external and internal environments, our states of the world and states of being.

If you read Fritz Capra's book or other books on the new physics, you will see why we need to perceive the world and the very nature of the universe as a system. It is more expanded than the global approach in suggestology. In OptimaLearning we hope to help others process and internalize knowledge as a system of interrelated elements.

In "Barzak Effect Two" students and others are helped not only to become more creative but also to understand and learn though their own creativity. It is then and there that we awaken the "hidden teacher" or "hidden genius" in each one of us. In our work with self-instruction, we help the students use their imaginations and gifts to process the information as if they were to teach it.

The teacher within each person inevitably finds the motivational hooks and the new connections that have real meaning to the learner. The result of this special use of creativity is an empowering of the individual. This energy, released through discovery, grows stronger and deeper. Not only do students and teachers discover what real learning is all about, what wholeness and interconnectedness there is in life, but in our advanced programs we teach how to discover the symbolic level of the personality.

It is not just the global activation of the brain, but also the levels of symbol, myth, and the collective unconscious that are our human heritage. It is the power to be connected in the deepest sense to our fellow human beings and to the universe.

So we come to the "OptimaLearning Effect". Start with the "Lozanov Effect", the integration of relaxation and highly focused energy; the more you learn, the better you feel and the more you learn.

Add "Barzak Effects": the better you feel, the more creative you become, and the more creative you become, the more you learn. And finally, the more you perceive the interconnections of elements, the more consciously aware you are of the systemic nature of reality, the more you analyze and synthesize. Discovery becomes a continuous flow and new knowledge both anchors itself in what you already know and transforms and expands what you know. This gives you OptimaLearning.

Freedom and OptimaLearning

We speak of stimuli and attitudes, of how to orchestrate the environment, and activate the whole brain. We speak of analytical skills, of synthesis, of creativity. But how often do we speak of the soul? Using art and music, projecting care and potentiality, is a lot. But speaking of the soul or heart of another is even more important, at least for me.

Within poems symbols provide a vital emotional center around which a pattern can develop. As teacher, trainer, communicator, we must help others find that vital center within themselves. An old message indeed. But it is my belief that if you create conditions for a person to be at their best, you free them to become optimal in every area of life and learning. This is a gift of love and of freedom.

Yes, freedom. It is not enough to free your students from their limitations. It is not enough to free them from the constant monitoring that teachers exert. We must make them one day independent of the system itself. One typical outcome with OptimaLearning is that little by little people become independent of the method and get even better results.

That is the challenge: to guide, to direct, to empower individuals to achieve optimal freedom. That is the fifth principle of OptimaLearning: the teacher should be a master, whose art is transferable to students. That is not pushing the child or student by saying "It's your responsibility, not mine." Rather, you take full responsibility for using your mastery to gradually empower the students. Your nurturing prestige, like a wise mother, knows when to let go. Believe me, your students will be so thankful when you make them independent of you. Only then will they really love you.

Amplified OptimaLearning Effect

That is when you arrive at the "Amplified OptimaLearning Effect," so to speak. One masters the means of suggestion within one's own life and can orchestrate learning and life, with love and freedom, ongoing freedom, and it will sing to the soul. It will sing very deeply, very intimately; as the old esoteric masters say, it has to sing to you. W.B. Yeats captured the motivations of creative minds in this poem "Sailing to Byzantium":

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Take this heart. Carry it in your work. Because through your work with this heart, my dear colleagues, your students and everyone will find their own singing school.


Capra, Fritjof. (1982). The Turning Point: science, society, and the rising culture. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Ferguson, Marilyn. (1983, March 6). Brain/Mind Bulletin, 7(6).

Huang, Al Chung-liang. (1973) Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain: the essence of t'ai chi. Moab, Utah: Real People Press.

Stevick, Earl W.(1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers. Zukav, Gary.(1979). The Dancing Wu Li Masters. New York: William Morrow & Co.

This article was adapted by Margaret Chambers from a speech that Dr. Barzakov made at the 1982 Conference of Society for Accelerated Learning and Teaching (SALT). It was originally published in the SALT Journal of July 1982 . The SALT organization changed its name in the 90s and the SALT Journal was discontinued and is out-of-print. Reproduced by permission.
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