Learn 5x fast - Flow for Education

Flow is a state of mind where you are focused, efficient, and effective all at the same time. If you are writing, words just come out of you. If you are creating art, creativity pours out of you. If you are running, you feel light, almost as if you are gliding. Time flies by, your self vanishes, you don't get tired. You feel high, almost as if on drugs, except that there is no hangover. 

When you are in flow, you get all the pleasure from doing the act itself, and not by some future reward it will get. You are really living in the now and extremely happy

In words of Peter from Bold: “In the state, every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. "

So, you really want to do important activities in the flow.

You can not always make the conditions for yourself. However, in a learning environment, you can set things up in such a way that students/learners can experience flow.

Conditions for flow

  1. Focus: Focus is a big part of the flow. You can't be in the flow without the focus. So how do you get focused? Steven Kotler (from Flow genome project) describes following conditions for focus.
  2. Consequences / RisksOne thing that really makes you focussed are consequences - either good or bad. So when you have an end in mind and you can see it, it helps you to focus. The risks can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or social. You have to be willing to fail and risk your reputation, and health to be in flow. For students, it may be the permission to fail, telling them if they fail, it's not the end of the world, as long as they learn from the experience. You have to incentivize risk for flow to exist.
  3. Passion: Passion comes from the things we love, which excite us, or are just interesting. In an academic setting, teachers can make students passionate about a subject by starting with questions, letting students make conjectures, letting them reason out the conjectures. When you teach after that, they will stick to every word of instruction.  
  4. Autonomy - when you feel that you are responsible for what happens and are internally motivated. You don't and can't blame others because only you are responsible for what happens. 
  5. Mastery: When you have enough skills to solve the problem, or enough skills to give you the confidence that you can learn enough to solve it, it helps flow. When the difficulty level is just beyond the skill required for solving the problem. In the education context, if a student knows how to add 2 digits, giving them a problem of adding 3 digits may lead to the flow.  
  6. Meaning / Purpose / big goal: This refers to the big goal that you are trying to achieve, for example: Trying to win world spelling bee contest , or trying to solve world hunger, or even just helping a friend.
  7. Clear/Small goals: Big goals are comprised of clear small goals which act as stepping stone to the big goal. These are objective, right in front of you and doable. Peter emphasizes the "clear". If the goal is not clear, you will get distracted. 
  8. Fast feedback: Fast feedback in itself is not a flow condition. However, it facilitates focus. If you deviate too much away from the correct solution and don't get course corrective feedback, and it's only at the end or at a later stage you figure out that there's been a mistake, flow fizzles.
    In a school, fast feedback can come from automated testing i.e. when computers evaluate the test score.
    However, not all schools have this technology available. So a non-technological solution may be self-evaluation with students being given correct answers immediately after the test and then given the chance to rework solution or recognize mistakes followed by a re-test.
  9. Deep embodiment / Immersion - Immersion means when you live the experience - not just watch / hear / read it. Immersion engages most, if not all, of your senses. Example would be:
    • To learn formulas of a circle, make a Ferris wheel. 
    • To learn French, live with a French family
    • Make a rocket to understand how it works. 

Montessori classrooms have proved to be great for learning as compared to normal classrooms because they focus on immersion rather than just rote learning.

  1. Rich environment: A rich environment has one or more of these three characters:
    1. Novelty
    2. Unpredictability
    3. Complexity

According to Peter "Novelty means both danger and opportunity, and when either is present, it pays to pay attention. Unpredictability means we don’t know what happens next; thus we pay extra attention to the next event. Complexity, when there’s lots of salient information coming at us at once, does more of the same.

So if you simply increase any of these triggers in a classroom, you will have more engaged students.


Homework: If you are an educator, try and give optimum flow conditions to your students and share results in comments. I know it's not easy as it sounds as the class is hetrogeneous, but share your experiences anyhow. Every experiment leads to something interesting.

Let me know if you have any comments

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