HOW WE USE FLOW THEORY IN INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN
Think about the moments in which you were so involved in an activity, that you didn’t notice how time passed. You were fully concentrated and you felt great doing that activity. Maybe it was an outing with friends, playing a sport, a board game, dancing or painting. If you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe it was something related to your job.
Flow theory and necessary elements for flow state
The state you experimented in those moments is called Flow. The concept was defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a researcher in the field of positive psychology. The main themes of his studies are happiness and creativity.
The Flow concept summarizes joy, creativity and process of total involvement in life. Who can better explain what Flow is than Csikszentmihalyi himself: TED Talk
To be able to correctly apply Flow theory in instructional design it’s crucial to understand the required elements to create this state.
First, we need a task to complete, that is achievable and exciting. It should have clear goals, and the feedback must be instant. Secondly, we should be able to focus on what we do. We must act with deep involvement and leave our daily worries aside. We need to have control over our actions. And finally, we will perceive time different, it will seem to us that hours are passing faster.
Flow theory in training increases the learning efficiency
Flow theory in instructional design is important to us because specialists in learning demonstrated that the flow state increases the efficiency of the training. We’ve been able to include its elements in the game-based trainings we’ve created.
Our goal is that every participant in the experiential training can reach flow. This state focuses on intrinsic motivation. So when an individual is really in a “flow”, he learns for the sake of learning. Not for reward or to avoid negative repercussions.
How we make Flow happen
In order to ensure that Flow conditions are met in our game-based trainings, we included the following:
1. There are clear goals
In a game like chess, the player knows what he has to do. He must bring the king of the second player in a checkmate position. With each move, he knows if he is closer to his goal. Also, our game-based programs start from a very clear goal. In Rome, we have a total score of buildings built in the Empire. In Planetary Saga, the teams have to gather an amount of Civilization Points. All our activities have rounds, which gives clarity on how to reach the final goal.
2. There is immediate feedback
When climbing a mountain, your goal is clear: to get to the top. Every moment, you can access the information that you have advanced and that you are still on the mountain. This tells you that you’re on the path to your goal, it’s a constant feedback. For the state of flow in learning activities, the feedback should be as clear and immediate as possible. For example, in our Deep Sea Odyssey activity, participants make decisions in each round. Depending on these, they receive different amounts of resources in the next rounds, helping them advance in the desired direction.
3. There is a balance between challenges and abilities
Let’s take the example of a tennis game. If you are just learning the game and throwing the ball over the net, you’ll have a positive experience for the moment. Once you’re great at doing that action, it will become boring. You’ll want to play with another player. If you play with someone good and lose terribly, you will enter a state of restlessness or anxiety. You only come out of it if you learn to play better and increase your skills. Then you can reach a flow state.
In training, there must be a good balance between participants’ skills and the perceived challenge of tasks. If one of these weighs more than the other, the flow state will not occur.