It's not uncommon to see students addicted to computer games. Parents and teachers are worried as they see how engaged they are when playing computer games - they were totally immersed in the games, playing without noticing the time is passing by - a state that never occur when they study. What makes the games so special and so attractive? The mental flow theory may give us some insight.
Mental flow is concept proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It describes the state when someone is fulled absorbed in doing something, and the full engagement and enjoyment makes he/she forget the time passing.
Mihaly believes flow when the task difficulty is proportional to one's skill, one would can enter the flow state. If the task is too difficult for one's skill, he/she will feel anxious and stressful. But if it's too difficult, one will get bored of the task. When the difficulty matches the skill, it's called the flow channel and under this conditional, one can enter the flow state.
These components inspires game developers to innovate algorithms to keep users in the flow.
Game developers learned from the mental flow theory and try to keep the users in the "flow channel". This is mostly achieved by adjusting the difficulty of the game to match users' level. Such a challenge-skill balance free users from the boredom of playing easy games and the frustration of losing difficult battles. So users is actually play with an equivalent opponents, who helps to enhance their skills and give them a sense of achievement. But that's not the end of the story.
The actual difficulty of the game is not a straight line in the flow channel, instend, it is fluctuating so that users will go through both challenging and easier stages. The challenge stage requires the students to stay focus and the easier stage give them a sense of control over th egame. By consistently creating and resolve tension, the game will be able to keep the users in the flow as much as possible.
As educators, what can we learn from the game developers? Obviously, we need to assign tasks that matches the level of the students. Sounds familiar? It echos the Confucius‘ padegogy of 因材施教 (teach students in accordance with their aptitude).
In addition, the difficulty of the tasks can vary in waves – sometimes the task can be a little easier, sometimes a bit harder, and that irregularity leads to enjoyment, as proved in the game design. Although this poses high requirements for the teachers, since they need to know their students well, current AI technoclogy is helping out. The smart AI tutor knows their students well based on their study history and response behavior, so they are able to adjust the difficulty of the task dynamiclly.
Can we be addicted to study as games? With the development of AI techonology in education, we are confident that one day our students will fall in love with study!