How we use Flow theory in training design

  • 6 minutes read

Think about the moments in which you were so involved in an activity, that you didn’t notice how time passed. You were fully concentrated and you felt great doing that activity. Maybe it was an outing with friends, playing a sport, a board game, dancing or painting. If you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe it was something related to your job.

Flow theory and necessary elements for flow state

The state you experimented in those moments is called Flow. The concept was defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a researcher in the field of positive psychology. The main themes of his studies are happiness and creativity. No wonder we have all his books in our office library.

The Flow concept summarizes joy, creativity and process of total involvement in life. Who can better explain what Flow is than Csikszentmihaly himself:

To be able to correctly apply Flow theory in training it’s crucial to understand the required elements to create this state. First, there is a task to be fulfilled, achievable and exciting. Secondly, we need to be able to focus on what we do. Then, the task that we have to accomplish must have clear goals, and the feedback immediately. We must to act with deep involvement and leave our daily worries aside. We need to have control over our actions. And last but not least, the perception of time is altered, it seems to us that hours are passing faster.

Flow theory in training increases the learning efficiency

The Flow theory came to our attention when we were looking for validation criteria for training activities. In the training design process, we need to rely on well-documented theories to provide us with effective approaches.

The Flow theory is important to us because it is demonstrated that the flow state increases the efficiency of the training. We’ve been able to include its elements in the game-based trainings we’ve created.

Our goal is that every participant in the experiential training can reach flow. This state focuses on intrinsic motivation. So when an individual is really in a “flow”, he learns for the sake of learning. Not for reward or to avoid negative repercussions.

How we make Flow happen

In order to ensure that Flow conditions are met in our game-based trainings, we included the following:

1. There are clear goals

In a game like chess, the player knows what he has to do. He must bring the king of the second player in a checkmate position. With each move, he knows if he is closer to his goal. Also, our game-based programs start from a very clear goal. In Rome, there is a total score of buildings built in the Empire. In Planetary Saga, it is the salvation of the civilization of whose Supreme Council you are part of. All our activities have rounds, which gives clarification to the final goal.

2. There is immediate feedback

When climbing a mountain, your goal is clear: to get to the top without falling. Every moment, you can access the information that you have advanced and that you are still on the mountain. This tells you that you will achieve your goal, it’s your constant feedback. For the state of flow in training, the feedback should be as clear and fast as possible. For example, in the Deep Sea Odyssey activity, participants make decisions in each round. Depending on these, they will receive more or less from different types of resources in the next rounds.

3. There is a balance between challenges and abilities

Let’s take the example of a tennis game to explain the scheme below.

If we are just learning the game and just throwing the ball over the net, we will be at the beginning of the Flux tunnel and we will have a positive experience for the moment. Once we know very well to hit the ball over the net, it will become boring to do it. We would like to play with another player. If we play with someone good at this and we lose terribly, we will enter into a state of restlessness or anxiety. We only come out of it if we learn to play much better, that is, we increase our skills. And then we can reach a high flow state.

Flow theory in training
Flow theory in training

In training, there must be a good balance between participants’ skills and the perceived challenge of tasks. If one of these weighs more than the other, the flow state will not occur. In each game-based activity, the novelty of the game and rules gives participants a higher level of challenge. The tasks they receive are not so simple and stimulate their thinking. As they progress, the difficulty increases, but their abilities are better due to the experience they had before.

The importance of the personal perspective in the flow experience

Please note that the flow experience will not occur automatically if the 3 conditions are met. A person may be interested in climbing a mountain while someone else may be totally indifferent to that.

The rules of our training games are designed to create joy for the players. To awaken their curiosity and interest. In order to ensure that the experience is well received, we work closely with our customers to set expectations. Another way to help participants is to introduce them in a special training atmosphere that creates a sense of responsibility for their own learning. We want to create the conditions for beautiful experiences, but if it is or not, it depends ultimately on each participant.

Most of the time, we realize that it was a Flow experience for participants when they say they have not realized how fast the 3 hours of activity have passed. “They seem to have flown!” Or “it seems to me that we have just begun”. Being in that state, they are totally involved in the learning act. They’re not distracted by other things. Flow brings great results in personal growth.