Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-born Psychology professor, is famous for his work Flow – Psychology of optimal experience. According to Csikszentmihalyi, people are happiest when they are in a state of trance and people enjoyed what he calls “autotelic experiences”. Autotelic experience denotes a self-fulfilling goal with the activity being the reward. Artists and sports-persons frequently experienced a state of trance where they lost track of time and were completely immersed in the activity they were doing. They derive immense pleasure from the activity and are completely engaged (the kind of things training departments expect from their eLearning courses but seldom delivers).
Csikszentmihalyi devised an ingenious methodology for figuring out what made an activity autotelic. He gave his subjects a pager and pinged them randomly at various points during the day. Every time the subject was buzzed, she would be expected to record answers to questions like what she was doing at the point in time and how we she was feeling and so on. This methodology called the Experience Sampling Method provided a daily chart of useful data that allowed Csikszentmihalyi to figure out the answer for the question – what does it mean to have an autotelic experience or in other words how do you achieve Flow?
According to Wikipedia, there are three conditions that are necessary to achieve the flow state:
1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.
2. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.
3. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.
Now it is very easy to draw a parallel between the concept of Flow and John Keller’s ARCS model of instructional design which is based on motivation. From a courseware design point of view, it would be interesting to find out if the courseware actually pushes the learner into a state of Flow or lulls them into sleep. I think it would be a great idea to adopt the Experience Sampling Method when measuring the impact of courseware. Finding out how the learner feels at various points within the course should tell us if learner is truly engaged or going through the motion.