I’ve been slowly (re)reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience out of order. The basics of Flow are: have a clear goal that denotes rules to follow, feel that the goal is challenging but not overwhelming, and have frequent feedback so you can make and measure progress towards your goal.
I find that learning something out of order sticks with me more because I’m forced to make guesses and connections for the stuff that doesn’t yet make sense. It’s sometimes hectic and scary but that fear draws me in more. Yesterday I was tearing through chapters, finding nuance where I previously just said, “that makes sense” to my self. The more I read, the more I started to understand why I like to learn so much — it is the epitome of a Flow experience. Think about it. You are working at the edge of your skill level on something with clear goals, you often have ways to get feedback, and if the subject is something you’re into, the activity is aligned with your greater goals. It is a very empowering experience.
Now think about the way kids currently learn, especially college students. They are told what classes are required for them and have maybe 3 exams all semester. Feedback is infrequent and spread apart so the student doesn’t have enough data to course correct, so they fall behind on skills and fall out of flow. Instead of feeling the Flow of knowledge and creativity run through them, the rapidly connecting synapses that form a fuller brain, the whole experience feels like a grind.
My takeaways: If you are teaching a gen ed class like this, either use frequent exams to give close to real time feedback or do all your exams in the beginning to make sure the students are headed in the right direction and then let them work on projects of their choosing as they further develop the required knowledge or skills.