1. What’s the best way to motivate people to learn?

Generally, we are motivated by two different reasons. We either do some things for what we call extrinsic reasons. Namely, you work for forty hours a week so you can get a paycheck at the end. And you don’t really like the job much but you want the paycheck to do things with that you will enjoy. So that’s extrinsic because the reward comes after the activity from the outside.

Now, flow is a type of intrinsic motivation, that is, there you do what you’re doing primarily because you like what you’re doing. If you learn only for external, extrinsic reasons, you will probably forget it as soon as you are no longer forced to remember what you want to do. Nor will you be motivated to learn for its own sake. Whereas if you are intrinsically motivated, you’re going to keep learning as you move up and so you are in this lifelong learning mode, which would be the ideal.

2. What is “the flow experience” and what does it have to do with motivation?

The flow experience is when a person is completely involved in what he or she is doing, when the concentration is very high, when the person knows moment by moment what the next steps should be, like if you are playing tennis, you know where you want the ball to go, if you are playing a musical instrument you know what notes you want to play, every millisecond, almost. And you get feedback to what you’re doing. That is, if you’re playing music, you can hear whether what you are trying to do is coming out right or in tennis you see where the ball goes and so on. So there’s concentration, clear goals, feedback, there is the feeling that what you can do is more or less in balance with what needs to be done, that is, challenges and skills are pretty much in balance.

When these characteristics are present a person wants to do whatever made him or her feel like this, it becomes almost addictive and you’re trying to repeat that feeling and that seems to explain why people are willing to do things for no good reason — there is no money, no recognition — just because this experience is so rewarding and that’s the flow experience.

3. What kinds of school activities are most (or least) likely to promote flow?

If you think of where kids have most flow in school, it’s mostly in extracurricular activities like band, music, athletics, newspaper. In addition, if you look at academic classes, they would report flow especially when they work on team projects. That’s the most enjoyable part of school. Next comes working on your own on a project and you can go down and the lowest one [in promoting flow] is listening to a lecture and audio/visual. Anything that involves them, that has goals where they can try to achieve, solve a problem, or do something it’s going to be much more likely to produce flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Motivating People to Learn | Edutopia.