Flow theory impacts eLearning in a big way. The name hints at why.

The theory, created by Mihaly Csikzentmihaly (say that five times fast), focuses on the mental state of learners during education and the state in which intrinsic motivation occurs. Flow happens when the learner is actively engaged and learning is happening in a format that is controlled and satisfying for the learner.

Let’s look at what Flow Theory can help us accomplish within eLearning courses.

Flow Theory and Fun

Flow Theory is often referred to when referencing in-course activities and simulations. Why? Because learners who flow are enjoying themselves—and are fulfilled by the content. There are a few requirements that must be met for flow to happen:

-They aren’t anxious

-They care about the activity

-They can concentrate on the task

-There is feedback provided

-Learners feel in control

-There are clear goals outlined

-Time is not a concern

If all of these can be met, you’re on the path to fun. No, seriously. Flow Theory taps into a learner’s ability to feel excited and connected with activities…AKA to have fun.

Uses of Flow Theory

Flow theory helps designers create games, activities, and simulations for courses that allow the user to completely immerse him or herself in the activity. In a way, by achieving flow, learners are able to have laser focus in on the content—and forget that they’re even learning at all. They’re just enjoying themselves.

What does it look like? You’ve seen someone immersed in playing a video game, right? They’re completely dead to the world—they exist within the space of the game. Try talking to that person about work or what they want for dinner. You can’t break their focus. That’s flow.

Danger Zones

Flow is a balance—it walks the line between danger zones for learners. If information comes to slowly or the task is too easy, learners get bored. If it’s too complicated or fast-paced, learners get anxious and discouraged.

The sweet spot between those danger zones is a course that presents data at the learner’s desired pace with sufficient complexity. It’s not easy to do, either. Through feedback from learners, you can discover how to tweak the course to maintain flow.

Find Your Flow

Can you expect to design a course with flow on your first try? Probably not. But with work, learner feedback, and on-going testing, you can create immersive experiences for many different learners that reach the ultimate goal of flow.