We Need To Pay More Attention To Flow

Posted on May 26, 2012


There is a state of mind called “Flow” which many people believe to be an optimal psychological state for learning and creativity:

From Wikipedia:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

When we talk about the benefits of play and the use of games in learning we should focus a lot of our attention on Flow. Flow is what we are actually trying to optimize for, creating a feeling of engagement with the learning that doesn’t feel like work, isn’t exhausting, and is highly motivating.

In education and parenting we should be focusing more attention on creating the right conditions for Flow to take place.

From NPR:

Parents and teachers can foster the enjoyment by creating what psychologists call good conditions for “flow”: a challenge that’s well-matched to the child’s skill level, with clear goals and unambiguous feedback.

Creating these conditions is not easy though. It is extraordinarily challenging to create puzzles, systems, environments, etc. that effectively match to a student’s skill level. If the challenge is too easy then a student will get bored, too challenging and they will get frustrated and eventually give up. Consistently balancing between too easy and too challenging is almost impossible, but the payout is significant. Students will engage with learning for hours on end, actually enjoying the process. It won’t feel like “work”. It won’t feel like pure “fun”, either, but it will feel stimulating and enjoyable, making it far more sustainable then focusing on pure “work” or pure “fun”.

This is what I am trying to accomplish with The Puzzle School; create challenges that are well-matched to a student’s skill level, provide frequent, unambiguous feedback that helps establish a sense of progress, and make sure there are clear goals to give the learning a greater sense of purpose. A fantastic educational environment obviously requires more than just Flow, but I think it’s an excellent foundation if you’re trying to create an educational environment with which student truly want to engage.