by Rajiv Jayaraman
Have you ever been so caught up in an activity that you have lost the sense of your surroundings, and time? Have you experienced a high or happiness from this experience? If the answer is yes, then you have experienced the State of Flow. The State of Flow, or “being in the zone” is usually when we are at our peak performance, or at our most productive state.
Do you remember the last time you were learning something and felt like you were in the zone? I guess not. Unfortunately, most of us view learning to be a laborious task. We need an external motivator such as a promotion or a role we have been aspiring for, to push ourselves to learn. Therefore, we very rarely feel productive in the time we devote to learning.
This feeling of dread, which seems central to learning, can be seen within teams, and organizations at large as well, in learning and adapting to the changes around. However, if teams don’t learn together, there is the danger of lacking a common understanding of the business, the capability to handle changes in business, poor collaboration and tardiness in execution. This, in turn, can hinder the survival of the organization and business.
Current learning designs don’t facilitate the ‘State of Flow’ for learners, teams, and organizations. L&D teams need to think about ways in which learners can escape from the monotony and truly enjoy the bliss of learning something new. Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that there are 9 important aspects for someone to reach the state of flow:
In this blog, we will focus on understanding how to apply this to learning.
Games embed levels into their structure, enabling players to progress to more complex levels. This constant pursuit of mastery brings gamers back to the game every day. Applying this concept to learning: constructing a learning environment that gives learners the opportunity to make progress by expanding their skill one step at a time, helps organizations enable multifunctional teams to take on challenging action learning projects that make a real business impact.
Every learning intervention needs to clearly outline the goals, preferably ones that are challenging, yet achievable. Getting this balance right gives learners the confidence to start, and the challenge to keep going. Conducting idea tournaments, hackathons, and design fests where participants are given challenging themes and basic guidelines enable teams within organizations to come together, share knowledge and earn collectively.
Research shows that adult learners learn best when they are given the autonomy to test their hypotheses and see the results for themselves. Team-based simulations are a great way to enable autonomy in learning. Mobile-based bite-sized learning as well provides learners with autonomy, as they are the drivers of when and where they learn.
The current COO of Symantec, Stephen Gillette, is one of the youngest executives sitting on the board of a large organization. He is an avid gamer who attributes his leadership skills to the ‘World of Warcraft’ game. This is a classic example of real world behaviors being shaped by games and simulation through immediate feedback, as assisted practice over a long period improves the chance of mastery.
An autotelic activity is one which the individual does for the sake of the activity, without the inducement of external rewards. While points, badges, and leaderboards motivate the learner to perform well, in most successful games, it is the activity itself that is the reward. Life-like contexts and continuous feedback on actions facilitate autotelic experiences for the learner.
Loss of self-consciousness
Loss of self-consciousness takes place when one is completely immersed in an activity, and unaware of the surroundings. Quite interestingly, by the end of a game or simulation experience (as part of the learning process), learners develop a deeper understanding of self.
Most gamers report that they lose the sense of time when they are immersed in a game. They are at it for hours on end. By using gaming principles in the learning process, we create a craving for learning and engage learners in productive, skill enhancing exercises.
The most enjoyable experiences happen to us when we devote our complete attention to the activity at hand, and the mind is freed from distractions. Games and simulations tend to provide such an experience, enabling learning to become a sheer joy. The high that learners experience becomes the hook for making learning a habit.
Currently, most learning interventions tend to focus on the cognitive aspects of learning, with very little attention being paid to the motivation of the learner and the application of learning. By encouraging learners to apply learning in a safe environment, they are empowered to exercise their muscle memory, which comes in handy when they face real situations. A combination of action and reflection is vital for learners to internalize their experience.
Games and gamification create a conducive environment for many of these dimensions to manifest in the learning process. By wisely using some of the gaming and gamification principles, we can facilitate the state of flow in learners. Perhaps then, learning will become a joy and learners will get into the habit of learning daily just like millions of Candy Crush and Farmville players around the world can’t live without their favorite game.