Summary: Flow is an optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.
Originators & proponents: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Keywords: anxiety/stress, challenge level, creativity, engagement, expertise, happiness, immersion, flow, focus, learning, motivation, satisfaction, self-regulation, skill level
Flow is one of eight mental states that can happen during the learning process which Csíkszentmihályi outlines in his flow theory. In addition to flow, these mental states include anxiety, apathy, arousal, boredom, control, relaxation, and worry; they result when a learner experiences a combination of skill and challenge levels of a task in non-optimal combinations.
Flow is the most optimal of these states for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task.
In contrast, a learner can experience relaxation in learning a task when their skill level is very high and the task challenge is very low. Conversely, a learner can experience anxiety when their skill level is very low and the task challenge is very high. Neither state is supportive of optimal learning.
Flow can be experienced in any task in any field of activity, from music to writing to painting to sports. Educational researchers try to understand flow in order to help their students optimize their learning.
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- Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New Yprk: Harper Collins. Chicago
- Csíkszentmihályi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.