A “flow state” is when a person is being carried along with a task. Many of us experience a type of flow state when we are immersed in a computer game. In the classroom productive flow is that magic time when a student is fully engaged in an activity. It is when learning is most effective. As educators it is what we strive for, but what can we do to facilitate a flow state?
There are, in my opinion, a number of things which contribute to achieving a flow state. Many are not controllable by the teacher, but one important contributor is. Achieving flow is heavily influenced by the level of challenge presented by the learning task. To illustrate this we will return to considering computer games. If a computer game is too easy a gamer will quickly lose interest, similarly if a game is too difficult a gamer will become frustrated with the lack of progress. When the game offers a challenge at the correct level a gamer will experience a flow state. Computer games are carefully designed to increment difficulty as a gamer progresses up through levels, to keep the gamer engaged.
Applying this to the classroom, students will be most likely to enter a flow state when the challenge provided is high enough to engage, but not so high as to frustrate. It is here that we can see a connection between Gameful Learning Design and the familiar Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development In other words students will be more motivated and enter a flow state when the challenge applied is just outside what the students can do without extra thought and support. Gamful Learning Design provides an environment where students are constantly “leveling up” as in a computer game.
Looking through the attributes of a good game it is obvious that several of them are connected with motivation. Teachers know that motivation is at the core of effective learning and one of the main complaints I hear around the staff room (expressed in a number of ways) is the lack of students’ motivation. Fishman points out that students don’t lack motivation, they are just not always motivated towards our learning goals.
A key theory of motivation is Achievement Goal Theory. AGT identifies three types of motivational orientations:
- Mastery Orientation. These students are motivated to achieve mastery in their learning. This is the preferred type of motivation and leads to better learning outcomes.
- Performance Approach Orientation. These students are motivated to look good. this may mean a student strives for an A to look good, but if in their peer group a C looks good, then that will be their goal.
- Performance Avoidance Orientation. These students are motivated not to look bad. They will be satisfied with any mark that doesn’t make them look dumb, or failing that they will try to hide their performance.
Research has found that the orientation is an indicator of success, with mastery orientation supporting the best learning outcomes and performance avoidance the worst. Surprisingly, it has been discovered at Michigan University that Gameful Learning design mutes the effect of performance orientations.
Students may still [have that performance orientation], but you’ve created a safe space for them to feel like they can accomplish what they want to accomplish, and not let their performance drive be … what’s really ruling their decision making.
So in summary, Gameful Learning Design overcomes motivation orientations which are limiting effective learning.
At this point in the MOOC I was starting to get very excited about Gameful Learning, as I could see that my intuitive sense that gameful design improved learning was supported by research findings and learning theory.
Next we will move on to look at motivation and ‘flow states’.
In my last post I started thinking about the work of Barry Fishman on Gameful Learning. I got as far as concluding that school is a game, but not a very good one. On the other hand, we know from experience that good games are powerful learning environments, but the learning is generally not very useful outside the game. The logical conclusion from this is, if we could make school into a better game then useful learning would be enhanced.
In his EdX MOOC (Gameful Learning 101), Fishman identifies 10 principles behind good games.
1 Clear Learning Goals
Games all have clear and well defined goals.
2 Identity Play
In game play the identity of the player merges into a game identity. It is easiest to understand this in the context where a player identifies with a character in a computer game
3 Embedded Assessment
Games don’t stop to see what you have learned. Skill is demonstrated and rewarded within the game play.
4 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Games have built in motivators which reward play. They also have extrinsic motivators, for instance digital badges which can be shared to earn status in the game community.
5 Support Autonomy
In a good game the players are often allowed (or encouraged) to explore and find their way through he game. They are also often able to find alternative ways to play the game.
6 Encourage Belonging
Good games are supported by communities that promote belonging. Sports clubs and online communities for computer games are examples.
7 Support Competence
As competence grows the games gets harder and more enjoyable.
8 Productive Failure
In a game failure is never final. Gamers know they can come back and learn from their mistake.
9 Encourage Exploration
A game always encourages exploration. In any game a good gamer will explore, even after competing a level, to find out more about the level and a better way to complete it. This is particularly true of computers games. Another example is golf, as golfers will repeatedly play a course to improve their score and find better solutions to the problems the course presents.
10 Practice and Reinforcement
Practicing a game is rewarded by improvement in the skills of the game.
The School Game
If some of these attributes of a good game can be applied to education, then the game we call school will be improved. Leading to improved student engagement and learning.
How to do that will be covered in future posts.
I have written previously on Gamification and Game-Based Learning and while this can be effective, it concerned me that there is a danger that (for the students) the learning activity might become more about winning the game than learning. This is true for Game-based Learning and badly designed Gamification. One of the things that attracted me to research Gameful Learning is that it seemed to be a way of keeping the positive aspects of Gamified Learning while maintaining learning as the goal for students.
In developing the principles of Gameful Learning Fishman has progressed Gamification and made connections with other learning theories such as Vigotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and theories about motivation including Achievement Goal Theory.
School is a game
What is a game? Fishman does some analysis of games and concludes that there are key elements that define a game.
- A games has rules. These may not necessarily make any sense in the real world, but they are consistent within the game.
- A game has goals.
- A game has its own context or environment.
Looking at this definition we can see that school is a game, just not a very good or well designed one.
Looking at this from the other direction, games are good teachers. It is just that what they teach is often not very useful.
The core of Fishman’s MOOC is about redesigning learning so that it is a good game rather than a bad one.
In my next post I will investigate the principles of a good game.