Motivation & ‘Flow’: Engaging Teen Learners
See the referenced article at: http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/nurtureshock/archive/2009/10/07/flow-the-teenager-edition.aspx
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes “flow” in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience as a state of consciousness in which the distinctions between the subject and the object are blurred through immersion in engaging activity. David Shernoff of Northern Illinois University worked with Csikszentmihalyi to study teens in a variety of Midwestern towns, to find out when teens are most engaged, approaching a flowlike state. The findings are not surprising – it is highest during sports and extracurricular activities and lowest when teens are at jobs, which, Shernoff notes, are usually of the flipping-burger variety.
Their findings in schools and classrooms are telling-
“Since motivation and engagement are especially important to learning, Shernoff was disappointed to see how badly classroom time rated out…His research, though, suggested a way to fix this sorry state. Shernoff recognized that students were most flowlike in moments where they were doing group work or individual work. They were active and participating. The opposite was true for lectures and watching videos.“
By contrast, Shernoff found the the level of engagement in after-school programs to be much higher–
“Interestingly, Shernoff’s data reveals that flow states were common during after-school programs. Kids love this time, even though the situation shares many elements as the flow-stopping academic day: it’s on the same premises as school and usually with the same kids. There’s a lot of sports in after-school programs, but that alone doesn’t explain it. Because there’s also a lot of academic-enrichment time, in which kids are learning and following an established curriculum. And these academic-enrichment periods produce very high levels of flow.
What do academic-enrichment sessions have that mere academic classes don’t? First, they’re usually more relevant to kids’ experience, whether the curriculum module is about agriculture, or why planes fly, or what causes pollution. Second, they invite participation. They’re often project based. Third, kids can learn without feeling like they’re being ranked on a bell curve and labeled smart or dumb. Kids’ natural thirst for knowledge emerges.”
Incidentally, in a new book titled Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, authors Allan Collins and Richard Halverson use flow and motivation to present the case for video games and other engaging digital technologies in education, arguing that the inherent attraction of most video games is not based on possible practical outcomes, but instead on the fascination and challenge presented to the learner in a rule-governed world. They lament that while parents decry the hours children spend playing video games, kids report that playing games create flow-like experiences. They suggest that educators need to view such experiences as powerful learning opportunities.