Making an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow
Have you ever had an experience where you lost your sense of self while immersing yourself in an activity? Have you experienced a high due to single minded focus on something interesting? Have you lost track of time while pursuing an activity that you are passionate about? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have experienced the state of flow. Did any of these experiences happen to you while you were learning in school, college or at work? I guess not. Most learners unfortunately tend to look at learning as a laborious chore. This isn’t how it was meant to be. So how do we change this situation? How do we make learning a joy? This article aims to present various ways in which learning and development professionals can learn from games and gamification to facilitate the state of flow for learners.
In his groundbreaking classic work, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience total focus, deep enjoyment, creativity, and complete involvement with whatever activity they pursue, in fact with life itself. He demonstrates various ways in which this positive state of mind can be controlled and not just left to chance.
Flow is understood to comprise of nine dimensions: Challenge-skill balance, clear goals, control, immediate feedback, autotelic experience, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation, concentration and merging action-awareness. Games and gamification create a conducive environment for many of these dimensions to manifest in the learning process.
Games have a concept of levels embedded in the structure of the game. This enables players to start at a simple level and keep progressing to higher levels till they feel that they cannot proceed anymore. This constant pursuit of mastery is what brings them back to the game every day. Applying this concept to learning, companies can construct a learning environment that provides the learner the opportunity to make progress by expanding their skill one step at a time.
Every game has a clear objective and a set of guiding rules. Without goals, the player does not get a clear sense of direction. The same principle applies to learners. Every learning intervention needs to clearly outline the goals. It is best if the goals are challenging, yet seem achievable. Getting this balance right is immensely important for the learner to have the confidence to start and the right amount of challenges to keep going.
Games give individuals the power to choose from various possibilities and alter the course of action within the game. This gives gamers the sense of control that is needed to stay engaged in the activity. Research shows that adult learners learn best when they are given the autonomy to test their hypothesis and see the results for themselves.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how assisted practice over a long period of time improves the chances of mastery in a domain. The short cause and effect feedback loop in games makes the gamer learn the rules of the game faster. The feedback also helps to condition the behaviour of gamers within and outside the game. Case in point, the current COO of Symantec, Setphen Gillette, is one of the youngest executives sitting in the board of a large organization. He is an avid gamer who attributes his leadership skills to the World of Warcraft game. Real world behaviours can be shaped by games and simulation through immediate feedback.
Any activity that has a purpose in and not apart from itself is described as Autotelic. In other words, autotelic experience is one where the individual does the activity for its own sake without any inducement of external rewards. While points, badges and leader boards motivate the learner to perform well, in most successful games, it is the activity itself that is the reward. By making the context of the learning environment real-world like and by giving the learner the feedback that he / she is gaining in skill, we can facilitate autotelic experiences for the learner.
Loss of self consciousness
Games have the ability to draw us into an alternative world and make you lose our sense of self. Quite interestingly, after the experience, individuals comes out with a stronger sense of self, one that is integrated and sophisticated. By introducing games and simulations in the learning process, we can achieve the same result for our learners.
Most gamers report that they lose the sense of time when they immerse themselves in a game. They are at it for hours on end. By using gaming principles in the learning process, we can 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. The power of concentration frees up our mind from distractions and enables us to enjoy the quality of the experience. By using gaming and simulations, we can enable learners to completely devote themselves to the learning task at hand. As a result, learning becomes enjoyable and sheer joy. The high the learners experience becomes the hook for making learning a habit.
Today, most learning interventions tend to focus on the cognitive aspects of learning, with very little attention paid to the motivation of the learner and the application of learning. By encouraging learners to apply learning in a safe learning environment, we can enable them to exercise their muscle memory which comes in handy later when they face real situations. Combination of action and reflection is vital for learners to internalize their experience.
To sum up, the current learning design doesn’t facilitate the state of flow for learners. We need to think about ways in which learners can escape from the monotony and truly enjoy the bliss of learning something new. 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 fishville players around the world can’t live without their favourite game.
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