Gamification for Learning: How to Achieve Flow

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Flow is a state of deep enjoyment and engagement. It's the apex of gamified learning, where a learner is so deeply immersed in an activity that they lose track of time.

In this article, we will cover how gamified learning can help learners achieve flow and why it's important for all educators to consider making the learning process an engaging experience with flow theory and gamification elements.

It has been stated that “flow” exists anxiousness and complete boredom.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was a Hungarian-American psychologist, actually identified this state of productivity and high focus, naming it “flow”. This concept was also described as a state of “effortless attention” and though it was nothing really new, Mihaly’s research really created interest around this idea. 

The research created a better understanding of what “flow” really is, and how it can be achieved. When this flow is applied in the learning space, it can help keep adult learners engaged for longer periods of time, improve their learning experience and retention rate, and reduce fatigue overall.

Gamification is the use of game-like elements in something other than a game. It has been used for decades in marketing and business strategy, but it has seen an increase in popularity as people look for new ways to motivate their employees and students.

Gamification has been around in everyday life since the 1980s but has only become a more prominent and popular user engagement tool in more recent years, with gamification techniques being used by companies like Nike+, Klout, Fitocracy, ChoreMonster, Duolingo, Khan Academy, Disney World, and many others. 

Gamification is now being used within digital learning as well to help students engage in course material and reach a flow state with their research and studies.

The psychological construct known as the Theory of Achievement (Rotter 1954) is largely the foundation of gamified learning that brings learners into a state of flow. 

The theory states that extrinsic motivation, such as goals and rewards, must be balanced by having an active sense of autonomy—having control over one's learning. One of the most powerful ways to establish gamified environments that engage learners is by using tools like badges, leaderboards, and level-up systems.

This game-like approach has been proven not only to increase engagement but also academic performance. Providing clear goals through learning objectives and points earned for completing a task, displaying skills, or correctly answering quiz questions can increase emotional engagement and have a positive effect on focused concentration.

Keeping this in mind, it raises the point that awareness of flow theory should be at the forefront for instructional designers' intentions, and the goal of educators should be to create a gamified online learning environment where learners can experience flow and increased engagement with their studies.

The good thing is that this can be easily achieved, and the Gamify team is here to show you how, with an emphasis on gamification.

So, let's look at how gamification can help learners to achieve flow. 

  1. Establish direction and goals

  2. Provide immediate feedback

  3. Skill balance and perceived difficulty

  4. Reduce distractions

1. Establish direction and goals.

The majority of educational courses have established goals and KPI’s, but your students should be very aware of them as they progress throughout their learning journey. Learners should never be confused about what’s next, the pathway is clear, concise, and encouraging.

A student's motivation is heavily tied to having a clear idea of the required research and skills they will need to develop in order to be successful in the course.

2. Provide immediate feedback. 

When feedback is provided quickly, and efficiently, learners know if they are progressing positively towards their goal if they have successfully attained the lessons learned and if they have acquired the knowledge for any education challenge that may be ahead. This can be encouraging, and keep them in a state of flow and continuation.

If there is a long period of time in between when a learner completes a task and when they see their results, students will often disconnect as they do not want to sit in an unknown place of questioning their knowledge and progress, and this cuts into the flow of the learning experience, creating larger drop off rates.

While the extrinsic feedback system of points, badges, and rewards may seem like a surface-level motivator, it helps users identify their progress which taps into the intrinsic motivation of doing an activity for the inherent satisfaction of accomplishment.

3. Skill balance and perceived difficulty

Confidence is a very important part of achieving a state of flow. The challenge at hand should be difficult enough for the learner's skills to be put to the test, but not so difficult that learners become overwhelmed.

When the learner's skillset is more advanced than the difficulty of the course, they will lose interest quickly. Also, when the course is much more advanced than the learner's understanding, they will become stressed and give up. Both of these states can and will break the flow, so it is important to establish a good balance within your gamified learning environments.

4. Reduce distractions

Distractions can definitely block out the state of flow, so it is important to keep them to a minimum when it comes to instructional design. Help learners stay in a distraction-free zone for longer periods of time, this will increase productivity and overall achievement.

Before the course begins, you should require all mobile devices and other forms of distracting technology to be put away, so students can be completely focused on the task at hand.

Remember, the learner has arrived at your course first and foremost for their education, not to play games, so be sure that the game elements within the course are complementary to the workload and not the main attraction.

Using gamification

Active participation helps users enter a state of flow quickly. When activities are passive, such as watching television, there isn't usually a requirement for the viewer to take action or engage on their own. What can help increase participation in large amounts is gamification.

We are big fans of gamified learning here at Gamify, we’ve even partnered with Archy Learning, and integrated game elements into their eLearning platform, allowing for teachers and students to learn along a gamified pathway, filled with mini-games, leaderboards, and prizes.

Gamification has been so relevant and rewarding when implemented correctly, in the case of achieving flow and making learning engaging. It provides immediate feedback and can create a great balance of difficulty and competence.

Games provide a challenge and can create focus and persistence in completing certain tasks. They also make mundane tasks much more fun and enjoyable.


Flow is popularly known as being "in the zone." It's a state of mind where learners are so focused on an activity that everything else around them ceases to be a distraction.

This type of motivation does not come easy, but educational technology can make online courses a learning environment that can truly provide an optimal experience for students who wish to reach a flow state within various aspects of learning content.

There are many types of gamified learning that utilise different methods like points, badges, or levels; all with the goal of increasing motivation while building skills at the same time.

There are six different characteristics that are defined in the state of “flow”

  • Focused and intense concentration in the present moment

  • A distortion of the experience of time

  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

  • Merging of action and awareness

  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness

  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

The majority of us have probably experienced this state of flow at one time or another, and if you can relate, you would probably say that is a very satisfying experience to have.

In summary, gamification is only growing inside of the eLearning space, and course creators should most definitely take advantage of it.

This not only makes your learning pathway more fun, but it also helps learners achieve that coveted sense of flow, and in return, stay more focused, engaged, and successful in their studies.

If you would like to go ahead and begin creating your own online course, jump over to Archy Learning and you can start for free today!

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