Applying The Flow Theory In Online Training

Applying The Flow Theory In Online Training
Summary: Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the noted psychologist and professor who introduced the Flow Theory, described it as "the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement" [1]. This just about sums up the mental state that all eLearning professionals strive for when we are creating online training courses. In this article, I'll highlight the 4 components and the 8 dimensions of the Flow Theory, and I'll share the importance of achieving optimal flow in online training.

Components And Dimensions Of The Flow Theory

The Flow Theory centers on intrinsic motivation. When an individual is truly in the "flow", they are learning for the sake of learning. They aren't in it for the rewards or badges. They don't actively participate simply because they want to avoid negative repercussions. Instead, they are fully immersed in the online training experience and do not let distractions stand in their way. While many theorists had touched on intrinsic motivation in the past, Csikszentmihalyi took it further by describing how it should feel and the characteristics associated with internal motivation.

Applying The 4 Components Of Flow In Online Training

According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are 4 key components that must be present in order for a learner to achieve a state of flow:

  1. Control
    First and foremost, the learner must have control over the online training experience. This may come in the form of being able to choose which online module they will complete next, or determine their own performance goals. They must feel a sense of empowerment and be aware of the fact that they have a say in the online training process.
  2. Attention
    Secondly, learners must be completely dedicated to the task at hand. Their full attention should be devoted to the online training activity. Distractions do not deter them from achieving their goals and actively participating in the online training experience.
  3. Intrinsic interest
    This is, quite possibly, one of the most essential aspects of flow. Online learners must be willing and ready to participate in the online training activity because they are intrinsically motivated to do so. In short, achieving the desired outcome as a result of being in the flow is what truly motivates them.
  4. Curiosity
    Online training programs that encourage flow center on curiosity. They pique an employee’s interest and prompt them to move forward, even if they are not sure where the online training activity will lead them.

How To Use The 8 Dimensions Of Flow In Online Training

Csikszentmihalyi suggested that there are 8 distinct dimensions of flow. eLearning professionals can use these dimensions to design eLearning programs that trigger flow in their audiences and help them get the most benefit out of the eLearning experience:

  1. Goal centered
    The eLearning course must have clearly defined goals and objectives. Trainers or facilitators should also provide employees with constructive criticism and feedback as soon as possible.
  2. Challenge
    The online training experience must be challenging, but not overly difficult. The goal is to create an online training course that is ideally suited for an employee’s skill sets and knowledge base. If the online training activity it too easy, the corporate learner may become bored and disengage. On the other hand, if it is too challenging they may become frustrated or discouraged.
  3. Knowledge application
    The online training must provide the opportunity to apply the information or skills that are being learned. In other words, the employee must be able to put their knowledge into action.
  4. Concentration
    Corporate learners can only achieve a state of optimal flow if they are completely focused on the online training experience. Thus, the online activities, assessments, and online training content should all command their attention and be free of any distractions. For example, a cluttered layout or chaotic color scheme can prevent flow.
  5. Empowerment
    Employees should feel as though they are in control and self-empowered. Even something as minor as being able to choose which online training activities they access, and in which order, can bring them one step closer to achieving flow.
  6. Reduced self-consciousness
    One of the most important elements of flow is losing sense of sense. All of their other thoughts, needs, and goals take a backseat to the task they are currently performing.
  7. Losing track of time
    Corporate learners in the flow stop watching the clock and start actively participating. They lose all track of time and aren’t concerned with how long they have been engaged in the online training course or how much time it will take to reach the desired outcome.
  8. Experience powered by intrinsic rewards
    Above all else, an online training experience that triggers flow centers on intrinsic motivators and rewards. Earning badges and points is not part of the process. Instead, employees are participating simply because they know it will lead to goal achievement.

Achieving Optimal Flow

According to Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, Whalen, and Nakamura, who are the primary proponents of the Flow Theory, some corporate learners may be able to achieve a state of optimal flow. This occurs when all of the dimensions mentioned above are present and the corporate learner becomes fully engaged in the online training process. This is the ultimate goal of any online training program, regardless of the performance goals or employee’s needs.

Optimal flow is so important because it has the power to increase the effectiveness of every online training activity, assessment, and exercise. If a corporate learner is able to lose themselves in the process and understands that achieving the objective is the only true reward, then they are more likely to develop their skills and master work-related tasks. Thus, the organization can increase their ROI and employees are more satisfied with their job performance, which reduces the risk of them leaving the company to seek out employment opportunities elsewhere.

Encouraging a state of flow and allowing your corporate learners to lose themselves in the online training experience is the ultimate goal. Use this article as a guide to help your employees forget about the clock and just focus on improving their skills and filling those performance gaps.

Skills are the most important assets your employees possess. This is why skills assessments are an essential part of a successful online training program. Read the article 6 Tips To Conduct A Successful Skills Assessment For Your Corporate Audience and narrow the performance gaps by identifying the core skills your corporate audience needs to fulfill their work responsibilities.


  1. Flow Theory