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The Science of Flow

Fascinating article here.

[Update: thanks to Steve for pointing me to the new URL: http://dev.cast.org/castweb/udl/Research602.cfm]

Educationalists have known for a while that people engage most when there is an optimal level of challenge difficulty to a task. The challenge spectrum (from pathetically simple to makes you feel pathetic it's so hard) is what Vygotsky called his "Zone of Proximal Development". Where to position a task on the challenge spectrum, though - and so how to maximise the amount people engage is the hard part.

Flow is an equally old idea. It happens when you are completely engaged.

Flow tends to occur when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable � When goals are clear, feedback relevant, and challenges and skills are in balance, attention becomes ordered and fully invested. Because of the total demand on psychic energy, a person in flow is completely focused."
Now what I think's wonderful is that those clever people in laboratories are paving the way to measuring where the level of challenge peaks, and where flow is all encompassing
Neuropharmacological evidence supports the concept of an optimal level of challenge. Studies in which subjects were over-challenged showed over-production of neurotransmitters, impeding learning by increasing stress (Koob, Cole, Swerdlow, & leMoal, 1990; Ledoux, 1996). Studies in which subjects were under-challenged showed under-production of neurotransmitters, engendering apathy (Schultz, Dayan, & Montague, 1997; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998).
The conclusion of the article suggests that
As we learn more about the workings of the affective system in the brain, we can approach teaching and technology with a more sophisticated sense of what each student needs.
Now for me, it's not a huge jump from there to groups and attention. If you take a broad view of the teacher-student relationship, one not confined to classrooms and job titles, then we really might be getting somewhere. Try this: in the above quote, where it says teacher substitute one of the following: knowledge exchange, conversation, storytelling, marketing ... ; and where it says student substitute it for: employee, blog reader, audience, buyer.

So if in future years a double glazing salesman asks you to wear a funny looking headset while he talks to you, don't. Unless you want to find him completely engaging.


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