by Susan Usha Dermond

The Flow Learning format provides a template for presenting to groups of every age on any topic. Good presenters and teachers instinctively knows that the audience must be warmed up before being receptive to the information the speaker wishes to communicate. Telling a joke, sharing a personal story, asking students to share one thing they already know about a topic to be addressed…all of these help engage attention and prepare participants for the main ideas of a lecture, class, demonstration, or learning activity. In Flow learning terms, these activities areAwaken Enthusiasm and Focus Attention.

In the field of applied psychology and education much research on perception and attention has occurred in the last fifty years. One of the most recent and entertaining studies went viral and became known as “the gorilla in the room.”  In a summary of research on attention published in Educational Leadership, the common sense conclusion is that  teachers “should use imaginative teaching and management strategies to enhance the development of their students’ adaptable attention processes.”

That sounds like an academic’s description of Flow Learning! First, an engaging activity that brings mind and body awareness to students’ attention, that possibly connects right and left brain and that results in group coherence through a response in unison sets the stage for learning. Because a certain amount of trust and student interest builds over time, a teacher who has an ongoing relationship with a class may not need  this Awaken Enthusiam step. But for a visiting presenter or teacher who does not know a group, beginning with awakening the energy stimulates student expectations and gets the students’ attention.

After an engaging start the group is ready immediately for a Focus Attention activity. In a committee or faculty meeting that might be as simple as asking someone to restate the goal of the meeting and for new items to add to the agenda. For a high school or college class, Focus Attention might take the form of a quick review of new terms or important historical characters which takes the forms of questions all students must answer true or false with thumbs up or thumbs down. Or it might be a video clip or a story.

Awakening enthusiasm and focusing attention, done with sensitivity, result in a state of relaxed alertness that is optimal for learning. Not until this state of relaxed alertness is achieved, is the group ready for the Direct Experience step that will enable learning to happen. Direct Experience may consist of  working in groups, watching a demonstration, role playing, a lecture, or a discussion.

Finally, the unique and expansive contribution of Flow Learning to our understanding of the ideal flow of a learning experience:  Sharing Inspiration. Sharing new insights with others reinforces our understanding and gives an opportunity reinforcement of new learning in the brain. The learning experience is expansive when shared.

This step can take almost an infinite number of forms:

  • For adults:  sharing with a colleague or customer the conclusions reached, writing a summary to be used in a company newsletter.

  • For high school and college students:  giving a presentation to the class, working with a group to apply what is learned, sharing with a partner how one can apply the new insights, or demonstrating mastery on a test.

  • For children:  making a book to share with parents, having one’s work put on a bulletin board, going to a classroom of younger children to demonstrate what has been learned.

This final step of Flow Learning completes the flow of energy from teacher to students to others. By serving as a channel to let the energy and insights keep flowing to others, students benefit by increased power of the flow of energy unblocked.

Aspects of Flow Learning have been touched on by other educators, but not in a way that gives us the idea of a class or lecture as a flow of energy between presenter and participants rather than a passive receiving of information from the presenter.  The name Flow Learning is a fortuitous reminder of the groundbreaking work of a researcher of positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

In his seminal work Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihaly describes the ideal state of awareness when one is in the state of flow— a focused state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Flow Learning gives us the framework to structure the classroom experience to best foster that state of awareness in learners.

* ASCD, Educational Leadership, vol 50, no. 4, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec92/vol50/num04/What-Brain-Research-Says-About-Paying-Attention.aspx

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