Flow Theory

The forum on Flow Theory also started this week and I am the facilitator. I’ve spent a few evenings researching the topic to find out what it actually was. I bookmarked a few articles and videos and away we go. Here’s what I’ve found.

The Theory of Flow was developed by a Hungarian Psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His theory says that a person who experiences this flow is completely absorbed by an activity for the pleasure it provides. It’s during this state that people are motivated by the enjoyment of this challenge and appear more productive and happier. We have clear goals, we’re concentrated and focused, a loss of self-consciousness, a distorted sense of time, clear and immediate feedback and skills and challenge in balance.

Here’s a short introductory animation on Flow Theory.

Here’s an image to help visualize how Flow Theory works. Providing learners the appropriate level of skills and challenges, not too easy to create boredom and not too difficult to create anxiety. To allow learners to learn in the “Flow”. It’s often referred to being in “the zone” where learning is easier and much more engaging


Flow Theory

reference: https://www.google.ca/search?q=mihaly+csikszentmihalyi&rlz=1C1ASUT_enCA416CA416&espv=2&biw=667&bih=577&tbm=isch&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwidw-OWk-DMAhVP4mMKHf0oB9U4ChD8BQgHKAI&dpr=1#tbm=isch&q=mihaly+csikszentmihalyi+flow+theory&imgrc=5yxefp9noD6HCM%3A

Wouldn’t it be great if we could achieve this in our classroom?

Have you ever experienced Flow Theory as a learner?

I began my forum with the definition so that my peers would understand what it was. Then I wanted to know if they had ever experienced it or not (so they would understand the feeling of flow theory). I want to find out different ways they think we could achieve this in the classroom as well. I received feedback from many of my peers as to the answers to these questions. They mostly shared whether they had ever experienced the flow theory or not. It seems most had experienced flow theory at various times. Some while gardening, doing DIY projects or while instructing. I have experienced this “zone” while learning to golf and constantly improving my skills to achieve my goal. It’s a wonderful experience, while participating in something I enjoy doing, losing track of time and achieving my clear goals. As instructors, is it possible to have all students in the classroom in this zone, as all students skills and challenges will differ?

Here’s an article posted in the forum on Achieving a State of Flow.

According to the website to create flow, three components are necessary:

  1. The goals are clear
  2. The goals are attainable
  3. Feedback is clear and immediate.

Hopefully as instructors we are already all achieving those components and therefore flow will naturally follow.  It would be difficult to create flow for another person, specifically a learner.  As it says in the website:

“Intrinsic motivation is a key element that leads to experiences of flow; we have to want to engage in the challenging task.”

Here’s an article on Flow Theory and Student Engagement. It says although flow theory isn’t a theory of student engagement, the application of flow theory in the classroom will help instructors create learning environments in which there’s an increase in student engagement. These 4 key characteristics directly impact student engagement:

  1. A challenging activity that requires skill
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. Concentration on the task at hand
  4. Clear goals and feedback

I addressed another question to the forum.

Any thoughts on flow theory and student engagement?

This was one of the responses. I  believe we should make space for learners to achieve a sense of Flow in their learning. Flow should be encouraged when recognized. If a student is excited about a project, I will encourage them to explore the topic in more depth. The obsessive focus on this topic must be balanced with the remainder of the work and constantly monitored to ensure learners are not burnt out by this state of mind. Do you have learners who attained a sense of Flow for a prolonged period (months)?

I agree that as instructors, if we recognize this sense of flow in our students, we should encourage it. I have had students that were motivated to learn more, but it usually comes in spurts. I wonder if we were to encourage it more often when it’s recognized if it would remain longer?

This video was contributed to the forum Fight Boredom & Anxiety with Flow. It was considered how this might be used to encourage student engagement.

It was suggested that course design should allow students who are really excited about a topic to explore further. The rubrics could have a few higher level requirements that could encourage this exploration. This would allow students to attain a state of “Flow” while allowing other learners to maintain a work-life balance. What are your thoughts? Have you experienced Flow and it’s impact on the rest of your commitments?

Definitely something to think about having that higher level available for those students that might experience this flow. It does make life commitments more difficult when achieving this state of flow and seems to jeopardize other commitments.

This was mentioned in the forum that whenever we learn anything new, why is it sometimes we feel like running and hiding? Think of when you tried to figure out new media for your digital project. Once we start getting it though, the time really does fly by. I think the letting go part comes in handy when we feel like we’re at the bottom of a learning curve and don’t want to climb. Once we surrender to the desire to run the other way and say, actually take a run and run away for a while, we can come back and enjoy the process.

Maybe it’s that “letting go” is necessary for flow, it’s quite possible? When students have that uncomfortable feeling, or loss of control, that’s when learning takes place. Great analogy when we were first introduced to the use of new media for the digital project, or for some of us it was the blog. It took me hours to get my blog going. I admit, I did have to just walk away several times and nearly gave up all together. It was my intrinsic motivation  and the fact that I’m very stubborn, that kept me moving forward. Students not having this drive to succeed, may have given up and never returned. We do need to provide our students with the environment and support that they need to achieve this flow.

This is a great video describing flow theory. People are constantly looking outside their bodies to achieve happiness and “a better life” instead of taking responsibility for themselves. It’s that intrinsic motivation and that happy inside feeling of totally enjoying the moment. No longer concerned with the past moment (depression) or future moment (anxious), but immersed in “the now” moment and nothing else matters.

 Flow theory is taking what you love to do and finding new ways to challenge yourself that’s so self-absorbing. Wouldn’t it be great to have an entire classroom of students doing what they love to do and challenging themselves to learn more? I’ve often thought about whether students strictly go to school in hopes of achieving a job, instead of entering into a program that they’re actually interested in? Would students be able to achieve this flow theory easier if their education involved a deeper knowledge of something of real interest or a hobby?

Flow theory is recognizing students progress in learning to appropriately evaluate their skills and challenges. This will advance students into higher level learning at their individual level. All students skill levels and challenge levels will be different.  Having students researching on their will allow them to access information at their own level. Could this possibly be obtained easier if students were more self-regulated in a flipped classroom environment?

This is a good article on Finding Flow. This article suggests that you should “enjoy the activity for it’s own sake and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention. It is also important to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention.”

Flow can’t be forced. I’ve experienced it multiple times. The last time was so unexpected. I was so nervous having to give a 5-7 minute presentation in my PIDP 3100 course, I never slept for days ahead of time. When the day finally came for the presentation, I put my hand up to present right away, i needed it over fast so that I could relax and watch my peers presentation. I’ve been instructing daily for just over 2 years, but I still was so nervous. Once I got started on my presentation nothing else seemed to matter, I lost track of time and my nervousness disappeared. I had originally been nervous about how I could stretch out my presentation to meet the criteria of 5-7 minutes. My instructor timed the presentation and mine was 21 minutes and nobody saw my nervousness. I was entirely absorbed into my presentation, staying present in the moment where nothing else matters except right now.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the Flow the Secret of Happiness was informative as well. Happiness does not come from external items, people, money or a new job. Many people don’t realize this and spend their entire life searching for something that doesn’t exist externally. Happiness comes from within and your intrinsic motivation to find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities not more money or a new house?

This is another good article posted in the forum on The Measure of Student Engagement. Interesting that “over half of the students in our sample (n=32,300) – many of whom go to class each day, complete their work on time, and can demonstrate that they are meeting expected learning outcomes – are experiencing low levels of intellectual engagement.” Some questions to ponder then. What does his say about our curriculum and/or our course outcomes if students are meeting these outcomes but not intellectually engaged?

There were also some other good questions raised in this article:

  • Is Flow a valid measure of students’ intellectual engagement?
  • Should educators focus on creating a flow state for the students in their classrooms?
  • If so, what are some general strategies for creating flow within an educational setting?

It’s been a very interesting and fun week responding back to all of the participants in the forum. I have tried to encourage more participation by asking questions. I have learned so much already and I still have 2 more weeks to facilitate this forum on flow theory.


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