Last week, I received an inquiry about the relation between flow states (Csikszentmihalyi & colleagues) and the natural dopamine/opioid learning cycle that undergirds Lectica's learning model, VCoL+7. The short answer is that flow and the natural learning cycle have a great deal in common. The primary difference appears to be that flow can occur during almost any activity, while the natural learning cycle is specifically associated with learning. Also, flow has been associated with neurochemicals we haven't (yet?) incorporated in our conception of the natural learning cycle. We'll be tracking the literature to see if research on these neurochemicals suggests modifications.
The similarity between flow states and the dopamine/opioid learning cycle are numerous. Both involve dopamine (striving & focus) and opioids (reward). And researchers who have studied the role of flow in learning even use the term "Goldilocks Zone" to describe students' learning sweet-spot—the place where interest and challenge are just right to stimulate the release of dopamine, and where success happens just often enough to trigger the release of opioids (which stimulate the desire for more learning, to start the cycle again).
Since psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi began his studies of flow, it has been linked to feelings of happiness and euphoria, and to peak performance among workers, scientists, athletes, musicians, and many others. Flow has also been shown to deepen learning and support interest.
Flow is gradually making its way into the classroom. It's featured on UC Berkeley's Greater Good site in several informative articles designed to help teachers bring flow into the classroom.
"Teachers want their kids to find “flow,” that feeling of complete immersion in an activity, where we’re so engaged that our worries, sense of time, and self-consciousness seem to disappear."
Advice for stimulating flow is similar to our advice for teaching and learning in the Goldilocks Zone, and includes suggestions like the following:
- Challenge kids—but not too much.
- Make assignments relevant to students’ lives.
- Encourage choice, feed interest.
- Set clear goals (and give feedback along the way).
- Offer hands on activities.
If you've been following our work, these suggestions should sound very familiar.
All in all, the flow literature provides additional support for the value of our mission to deliver learning tools that help teachers help students learn in the zone.
Here are a few links to additional information: