Learning Outcomes, Course Objectives, and Flow Theory

Motivation: Flow Theory

Flow theory is one theory that looks at interest from a cognitive perspective. In particular, it examines the relationship between ability and challenge. Before you read about this theory, please view the two YouTube videos

✪ Csikszentmihalyi and Flow Theory. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved from

✪ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow. (n.d.).
YouTube. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs

Now, read through the Wikipedia entry for Flow. Note, this might have changed since it was last viewed by your unit coordinator (which is one major flaw with using it as a reference source). There is much emphasis in academia about not using Wikipedia as a reference (and rightly so). However, this does not mean that it cannot be used to assist students in the research process. As you read over this article, note how it might support an interested reader to explore the content further (and note how this is well accomplished in this particular entry).

Generally, flow theory is seen as a theory explaining interest from a purely individualistic perspective (in fact, one element of the theory suggests an inability to communicate with others whilst in a state of flow). As an
indicator of interest, a state of flow would be desirable. In particular, a teacher or facilitator may want to create interest in her or his students, thus the facilitator may want to create situations that would support flow. However, if this is something that occurs at an individual level, what are the consequences for the inclusion of collaborative learning activities?


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). Happiness in action. In Good business: Leadership, flow, and the making of meaning (pp. 37–61). London: Penguin Books.

Introduction:Learning Outcomes & Course Objectives

There might be a small amount of confusion as the word “course” means something slightly different in higher education in the U.S.A. In that context, a course is a unit taken while studying for a degree (that which is called a course in Australia). So, this topic might better be titled “Course Outcomes and Unit Objectives.” That said, without going into a exhortation about the intricacies between course objectives, learning outcomes, rubrics and demonstrative criteria...learning outcomes are the broadest goals for a discipline—or education in general—and course objectives are the subsidiary goals that will be pursued to achieve the learning outcomes. (A rubric would further elaborate on how those objectives would be assessed; demonstrative criteria are the levels by which achievement of the rubric would be evaluated.)

The first reading (Kennedy, 2007) introduces one possible definition for learning outcomes. Note, a brief extract is provided in the Unit Reader. If time permits, you are strongly encourage to read the longer document provided at the Bologna website.

The next reading (Brown & Knight, 1994) connects the idea of assessment with outcomes. In particular, it suggests that an understanding of the outcomes and objectives should precede the creation of the assessments. The focus is on the context of higher education. The concepts of summative and formative assessment are also explained.

The final reading (Moore, 2002) is a brief introduction to the concept of personal epistemology. This is the set of beliefs a person has about the nature of knowledge and learning. (This has been briefly examined in the introduction to attribution theory: Dweck’s theories of intelligence.) Pay careful attention to the end of the reading in which Bill talks about assessment.

The optional reading for this topic (Beard & Hartley, 1984) presents yet another mechanism by which to build and describe learning goals at various levels of


Kennedy, D. (2007). What are learning outcomes? In Writing and using learning outcomes: A practical guide (pp. 15–21). Ireland: University College Cork.

Brown, S., & Knight, P. (1994). Purposes of assessment. In Assessing learners in higher education (pp. 30–41). London: Kogan Page.

Moore, W. S. (2002). Understanding learning in a postmodern world: Reconsidering the Perry scheme of intellectual and ethical development. In B. K. Hofer & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Personal epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about knowledge and knowing (pp. 17–36). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Beard, R., & Hartley, J. (1984). Aims, goals and objectives. In Teaching and learning in higher education (4th ed., pp. 24–43). London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Short Thematic Paper (EDU240)
Title: Course Objectives, Flow Theory, and Learning Outcomes
Author: Lev Lafayette (18605181)

As requested in the Unit Information and Learning Guide ('the Guide') the thematic response addresses a response to the readings, plural emphasised. The response, although in an academic style, also incorporates personal experiences and reflections. As an critical example a slight re-ordering of the titles presented in the Guide has been conducted to provide a propsed chronological approach to how the issues of Course Objectives, Flow Theory, and Learning Outcomes are related. "Course objectives" are applied first which, which can create the psychological state of "flow", resulting in excellent "learning outcomes". This synchronic ordering is not meant to exclude feedback and relationships between the three categories, but rather to enhance the model for practical application. As a contribution to the course, it is noted that the full Kennedy paper (2007) is no longer available at the URL provided in the Guide; however a copy has been unearthed and is available on my own website (http://levlafayette.com/files/learning-outcomes.pdf).

The initial reading is the optional text by Beard and Hartley, which addresses the issue distinguishing between aims, goals, and objectives (Beard and Hartley, 1984). Each is described as an elaboration on the former; aims provide a general statement of intent, goals are more specific statements on how aims are achieved, and objectives a description of what the student will be able to do at the end of instruction. The verb "do" is of their own choosing, emphasising that even "understanding" must be expressed in measured actions, thus course objectives are explicitly linked to learning outcomes. Following Davies, objectives themselves consist of conditions, actions, and standards, with a set of objectives constitutes a course or programme. Objectives themselves (following Bloom) are differentiated along cognitive, affective, and psychomotor with different levels of category or skill. Finally, emphasis is given that objectives should be planned in a systematic approach, but are invariably constrained, and are thus typically carried out in a piecemeal fashion.

Existing in between the stating of course objectives and the actual learning outcomes is the period of instruction and learning. Here, the reading on the psychology of 'flow' (Csikszentmihalyi, 2003) is appropriate. Some prior knowledge is noted here through graduate studies in business, which the theory is aimed towards. Unfortunately typical to many such texts in that discipline the empirical basis is implied rather than properly referenced (e.g., "Studies conducted around the world in these last few decades..."). This aside, "flow" is described as a state that can be experienced as enjoyment; challenging, stressful, and not always pleasant, the feeling of being alive, is a potential state from a high skill-high challenge situation. In the reading Csikszentmihalyi notes a number of characteristics that are pertinent to the state of flow; clear goals., immediate feedback., balance between opportunity and capacity., deep concentration., immersive control., the sense of "here and now"., the sense of ekstasis. Csikszentmihalyi describes the purpose of flow as something that is largely intrinsic, autotelic, and an opportunity to improve one's quality of existence.

One possible association with flow theory, especially given its representation as a subjective experience, is the notion of building a personal understanding of the world (Moore, 2002). One could argue that this "personal epistemology" proposed by Moore dovetails with the "personal ontology" described by Csikszentmihalyi. Moore's analysis starts from a pleasing recognition that postmodernism should represent an extension and reconstruction of modernism, and in doing so reviews the schema elaborated by Perry for intellectual and personal development. The review describes the development according to stages based on consideration and experience, which can be placed in four general categories: (i) dualism, an absolutist approach to propositions., (ii) multiplicity, which acknowledges epistemological uncertainty and allows for agnosticism in subjects., (iii) contextual relativism, which establishes the primacy of context and difference., (iv) commitment within relativism, where acceptance of multiplicity correlates with subjective choices. It is surprising that Moore seems unaware of the widespread literature on the intellectual development from absolutism, to relativism, to universalism (e.g., Habermas, Lenhardt, Nicholsen, 1990). Ccognition is expressed as a situational collection in discourse communities achieved through deep thinking structures which are associated with "underlying meaning" (which, contrary to Moore’s proposal is universalistic, not contextual). Assessment recommendations of interpretation, judgement, and self-assessment, are also part of the personal epistemology.

Brown and Knight (1994) look at a summary of criticisms assessment as an opportunity to ground the reasons for the activity. A few of the suggested reasons are somewhat spurious (e.g., expectations, prior history), but most are satisfactory (e.g., provision of feedback, opportunity to remedy mistakes, peformence indication), although the strength of the latter depends strongly on the use of continuous assessment in realistic situations. A distinction - acknowledged as being "crude" - is drawn between summative and formative assessment, where the former represents an evaluation of what has been learned (assuming that the assessment is graded), where the latter represents evaluation as part of learning (assuming there is feedback). The authors give priority to the latter as a "a model for self-directed learning and hence for intellectual autonomy".

From course aims, goals, and objectives, via personal ontology and epistemology through to assessment, this narrative of thematic exploration concludes with consideration of the full Kennedy paper (URL provided above) on learning outcomes. Learning outcomes is described as part of a move from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach, which illustrates demonstrated achievements and competencies. Using Bloom's hierarchy (with knowledge as the base, followed by comprehension, application, synthesis, to evaluation at the apex), Kennedy notes how this is no mere taxonomic classification, but rather a stage theory of thinking processes. As a practical implementation Kennedy describes the use of active verbal expressions for each stage in the thinking process. These thinking processes are matched with an affective hierarchy and the psychomotor domain. Kennedy argues that "there is alignment between teaching methods, assessment techniques, assessment criteria and learning outcomes" that must be linked as formative assessment.


Brown, S., & Knight, P. (1994).

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). Happiness in action. In Good business: Leadership, flow, and the making of meaning. London: Penguin Books.

Beard, R., and Hartley, J. (1984). Aims, goals and objectives. In Teaching and learning in higher education (4th ed., pp. 24-43). London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Habermas, J., Lenhardt, C., Nicholsen S. (1990). Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kennedy, D. (2007). What are learning outcomes? In Writing and using learning outcomes: A practical guide. Ireland: University College Cork.

Moore, W. S. (2002). Understanding learning in a postmodern world: Reconsidering the Perry scheme of intellectual and ethical development. In B. K. Hofer & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Personal epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about knowledge and knowing, (pp. 17–36). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

(Post by Miriam)

The Flow Theory by Csiksezetmihaye, Mihayi and that was an awesome experience. By the end of it I really was in the Flow and experienced that exhilaration and happiness which by Csiksezetmihaye talks about. Once you get over the stage how to pronounce his name: "Cheek-sent-me-high, the rest is easy reading.
According to Csiksezetmihaye and his collegues who interviewed ten thousand people to draft their theory of Flow in every given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one's mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Mihaly's 1956 study, that number is about 126 bits of information per second. That may seem like a large number (and a lot of information), but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just having a conversation takes about 40 bits of information per second; that's 1/3 of one's capacity. That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much attention on other things.
For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, he or she is completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, loses awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. This occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.
Flow has been experienced throughout history and across cultures. The teachings of Buddhism and Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the "action of inaction" or "doing without doing" that greatly resembles the idea of flow. Also, Hindu texts on Advaita philosophy such as Ashtavakra Gita and the Yoga of Knowledge such as Bhagavad-Gita refer to a similar state.
Historical sources hint that Michelangelo may have painted the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel while in a flow state. It is reported that he painted for days at a time, and he was so absorbed in his work that he did not even stop for food or sleep until he reached the point of passing out. After this, he would wake up refreshed and, upon starting to paint again, re-enter a state of complete absorption.

Csiksezetmihaye, argues that “Contrary to what most of us believe, happiness does not happen to us. It’s something that we make happen and it results from our doing our best”. This is the nut shell of this theory, in my view, but the rest of it is included in massive information in his fascinating article Csikszentmihalyi, M., (2003): Happiness in action in the reader of unit 249, in Wikipedia on flow theory and you Tube as well.
What really interested me about this theory and which I did not have the space to include much in my presentation was its connection to education. Of course all the indications about Flow theory pointed out that it is very much a positive psychology theory and a motivation theory so it should lead to education. But the Flow theory apparently is being adopted in business studies, gaming such as video games and other fields as well.
The article sent to me by Dr. Harbaugh was strictly related to the Flow theory and adult education. If you are interested, it is there on the web for you to delve into:
Latz, A.O., (2012). Flow in the community College Classroom. International Journal for the scholarship of teaching and Learning, vol. 6, No.2 (July 2012).
Latz says that she discovered that her experiences as a community college instructor were riddled with periods of being in flow. During the spring academic semester of 2010, she created weekly journals of her teaching life. Then, she coded and analysed the journals and three themes were generated: preparation rituals, feedback, and solidarity. This self-study provided her with a wealth of knowledge about teaching and could assist others in understanding t their own teaching experiences. It also highlighted the importance of affect in the college classroom. This study adds to the existing literature on flow theory, college teaching.

Latz argues that the research question that drove this study was: How can flow theory add to my understanding of my teaching practices within a community college?
This literature review consists of three sections: flow theory, autoethnography, and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). Her research is based on the Flow theory by (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) which she describes as being used heuristically in a variety of areas.
Recently, flow theory has emerged as a means of understanding the ways in which technology, and online sociality specifically, has impacted daily life. It has been applied tithe study of on-line gaming (e.g., Cowley, Charles, Black, & Hickey, 2008; Wan & Chiou,2006), human-technology interactions (e.g., Chen, 2006; Lu, Zhou, & Wang, 2009), and eLearning
(e.g., Liu, Liao, & Pratt, 2009; Shin, 2006). While flow theory has been used within the context of higher education (e.g., Steele & Full agar, 2009), it has not previously been methodologically paired with auto ethnography. SOTL which is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. According to Latz, systematic inquiry on the processes of teaching and learning has taken place for some time. However, it was not until the publication of Boyer’s (1990) canonical text that the SOTL has emerged in understanding processes of teaching and learning within higher education (e.g., Liao, 2006). However, Bakker’s (2005) research on teachers and students within music schools in the Netherlands provides important context for the present study. Bakker addressed two questions within his work: (a) could job resources be possible flow antecedents among music teachers? And (b) does flow transfer from teachers to students?

Regarding the first question, he found that job resources—a combination of autonomy, performance feedback, social support from colleagues and supervisory coaching—had a positive relationship with the balance between challenges and skills, and that this balance, in turn, had predictive value for the frequency of flow among music teachers. In regards to the second question, Bakker found a positive relationship between teachers, flow experiences and the flow experiences of those teachers’ students. The more an each experienced flow, the more his or her students experienced flow. More specifically: “teachers’ intrinsic work motivation was related to flow experienced by students” ( Latz, 2012).

Well I can talk about the Flow theory forever but I think this is enough for me to be in the Flow and seek happiness from knowledge

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation and is the experience of optimal fulfilment and engagement. It could be said that flow theory is strongly linked to the concept of intrinsic motivation.

Csikszentmihaly describes eight conditions that create a flow experience:
1. Goals are clear
2. Feedback is immediate
3. A balance between opportunity and capability
4. Concentration deepens
5. The present is what matters
6. Control is no problem
7. The sense of time is altered
8. The loss of ego

A person may experience some of these conditions in isolation but all conditions must be present in combination for it to be described as a flow experience.

The idea of optimal experience is when individuals find the activities challenging and also believe they have the skills to accomplish them.

a) Considering this what are the implications of the Flow principles in adult education?

b) Can you as an adult educator create opportunities for flow?

c) Flow implies a very individualistic experience. Given this is it possible to create a suitable Flow experience for a group? Can you use Flow experiences in collaborative learning and if so what would be an example of this?


Item (c) concerning the individualistic experience of flow has been an issue of consideration for some weeks, even with the notion that it includes "[t]he loss of ego". Obviously that latter component simply means that the experience is as if the participant is in an unconscious state, rather than a state of shared consciousness.

This was a troubling notion, especially with the increasing consideration of collaborative learning experiences. Does it mean that flow is either not appropriate for education (adult or otherwise) or only appropriate for individualistic paths in education?

A consideration that I have come to in recent days - and like all such intuitions it's annoying obvious in hindsight - is to bring the notion of flow within collaborative learning via engagement. That is, an environment where engaged and collaborative learning (whether through, for example, learning style preferences or mentoring) creates a situation where a large number of individuals (and hopefully) all find themselves in an educational and learning experience of flow.


In this week’s reading ‘Happiness in Action’ Csikszentmihalyi introduces his idea of ‘happiness in action’ being enjoyment. He makes the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment. He suggests pleasure is a powerful motivation tool but it does not foster change or growth. “Enjoyment on the other hand is not always pleasant and it can be stressful at times….at the moment it is experienced it can be both physically painful and mentally taxing, but because it involves triumph over the forces of entropy and decay, it nourishes the spirit.” (pp. 38)

He then goes onto to introduce his concept of ‘flow’. In his definition flow is “the state in which people are so intensely involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

My first set of questions for this topic simply are:
a) What were your initial thoughts when considering the concept of Flow?

b) Please share if you have examples of where you have experienced Flow?


a) Initial considerations were highly negative. The distinction between 'pleasure' and 'enjoyment' were very acceptable, although I prefer a distinction between 'fun' and 'enjoyment', as enjoyment is really a long-term pleasure, to take the utilitarian-Epicurean approach.

Also I was less than impressed with the "positive thinking" drive behind the writing, certainly one of the worst parts of pop psychology, and the lack of referencing. Enjoyment is important, and the state of flow is quite a place to be in, but it can only be experienced if one has the capacity and circumstances to do so.

b) It is common in military parlance to describe "seeing the elephant". It refers to the state of encountering and experiencing a conflict situation, although its origins are broader than that [1]. My sighting of the elephant occurred in Dili, Timor-Leste in December 2002. It was also an experience of "flow".

For many years I have had an attachment to the self-determination interests of Timor-Leste an in early 2002 I was a UN observer to their first (re)independence Presidental election. At the end of the year I joined the Timor-Leste Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a volunteer to help set up their IT infrastructure.

In November-December 2002 there was a combination of bad events. A mob had stormed the Baucau police station, complaining about recruitment policies, with one person being killed in the event. In the same week a large group had been outside the main government building, where I worked, protesting over their loss of Indonesian public service pensions. Then a popular student in a rather unsubtle fashion on a matter related to gang-related violence; if I recall it was related to a woman who had been found murdered and mutilated that morning on the beach near Hotel Turismo.

The combination of effects led to a riot. The parliament (next door where I worked) was completely gutted, the Prime Minister's house burned to the ground, the largest supermarket almost completely destroyed.

The building that I was in was invaded - a fellow staff member - a student leader in the independence movement - came running for assistance. I chose the server room as an appropriate place to seek security.

Not only was it a good place to for lockdown, it was also (seriously, I was thinking of this at the time) my job to protect the Ministry's data. I scanned the room, locating any number of heavy objects to prevent entry and a number of sharp objects if that failed; a desk and a filing cabinet provided the former, knives and screwdrivers the latter. My work colleague was physically sickened by what was happening; and there wasn't much consolation or assurance I could offer.

With the server room secure, the Ministry data safe, we could see from a small window the city in flame with shouts, screams, the sound of breaking glass, and gunshots.

The rioters were dispersed by the local police, but not after some deaths and a large amount of property damage. As I went outside - as the shooting continued - there were some two-score Portuguese UN PKFs with assault rifles at the ready with a thousand-yard stare over Dili harbor. They had been informed that anti-independence militia had been involved in the riots, and there was a serious concern that a re-invasion was imminent [2].

I have seen the videos from 1975 of the paratroopers landing over Dili. Where I was was the entry point for the invasion of the capital. If an invasion occurred again there would be almost no point trying to escape. I made a decision, there and then, that if it did occur, and if any one of those PKFs fell, that I would take their place.

I had caught a glimpse the elephant. And I was in the flow.

[1] e.g., Gerald Conti. "Seeing the Elephant", Civil War Times Illustrated, June 1984

[2] c.f.. "Outside elements linked to Dili riots", The Age, December 6, 2002 and "Australians were 'targets' in Dili riots", The Age, December 9, 2002