Watching children and young adults immersed in learning something that interests them often allows you to witness honest and complete engagement and joy. With great educators, learners often feel and experience excitement, wonder, creativity, accomplishment, connection, and pride in both their formal and informal educational environments. All of these feelings are often experienced as part of a “flow” state. The characteristics of flow, according to its originator and researcher, Czikszentmihalyi, are as follows:
- Complete involvement, focus, and concentration
- Sense of ecstasy and of being outside everyday reality
- Great inner clarity; knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
- Knowing the activity is doable and that the skills are adequate
- Sense of serenity
- Timeliness; thorough focus on the present and failing to notice time passing
- Intrinsic motivation; whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward
- Joy and engagement, considered necessary for all others and flow to occur
Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, shouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, perhaps we should focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activities like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems. These focuses are not so different from the things to which children already gravitate naturally.
There are many proven benefits to flow-based learning. Student engagement, described as the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities, is a key construct in motivation research. Consequently, compared to less engaged peers, engaged students demonstrate more effort, experience more positive emotions and pay more attention in the classroom. Engagement has also been associated with positive student outcomes, including higher grades and decreased dropouts.
An argument can therefore be made that one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to set up the conditions for learners to experience flow. To achieve a state of flow in the educational environment doesn’t need to be too complicated; it can be as simple as replicating real life learning in more formal schools.
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