Continuum of Engagement: From Compliant to Flow

The Continuum of Engagement provides the characteristics of a learner as they move from being passive about learning to being in the flow. How do we know learners are engaged? Step up the ladder to see how a learner moves from compliant to flow so you can picture what it looks and sounds like in a classroom when learners start engaging in the learning process. If you walk in a classroom, you might be able to see and hear engagement or the lack of it.

continuum of engagementContinuum of Engagement TM by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Graphic design by Sylvia Duckworth



In a Compliant level, the teacher is probably following the curriculum and doing what they know or learned in their teacher education program. If a teacher is directing the learning, it might be to introduce a topic. Some activities are determined by the lesson. The teacher may have prepared the lesson, created or used materials to put on the walls, and set up the seating chart. Learners are usually follow directions from the teacher and are not talking about their learning.



When learners are in the Commit level, you will see learners in pairs, groups, or working individually. The teacher may still be laying the groundwork for learning and determining prior knowledge at this level, but learners are more involved in what they learn. There will be more examples from learners on the walls. You may see the teacher walking around the room or sitting with one learner or with a group. This is the level where the teacher is building the relationship with the learner. The learner starts taking responsibility for some of the tasks or skills they need to learn.



When learners are in the Connect level, there is more noise in the classroom. You will see learners moving around the room, some standing and others maybe even sitting on the floor or hall. The teacher may be doing the same as what they did in the Commit level but now the room is noisier. The learners are doing more of the talking than the teacher. This is where learners enjoy learning from each other and even teaching their peers. Learners are becoming more inquisitive by generating questions and investigating solutions to challenges, issues, and problems.



When learners are in the Flow, this is called “messy learning” and may seem chaotic to some people. There is no way to capture what it might look like. You may have a few learners in the hall, one on a phone contacting a mentor, two sitting together animated, a small group brainstorming in the corner, and someone presenting their evidence to others for feedback. This is when learners are pursing their interests, are curious and seeking what they are passionate about. You can hear it in their voices and actions. They know how to set goals and monitor their progress. They want to share what they learn. They are motivated to learn and take greater responsibility for their own learning.


Deeper into Engagement and Flow…

Engagement is the affective side of learning and has been found to be a robust predictor of learner performance and behavior in the classroom. (Martin-Kniep, 2012) Engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that learners show when they are learning or being taught. When learners have a choice in what they are learning especially if it is something they are passionate about or interested in, they jump in and sometimes get lost in the task or project. This is called “flow” and you can see and hear the engagement.


[Source: Adapted from Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow:
The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row]

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is best known as the architect of the theory of flow. Flow is when a person is fully immersed in what they are doing and there is a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the learner. Flow cannot occur if the task is too easy or too difficult. Csíkszentmihályi published the graph below that depicts the relationship between the challenges of a task and skills. Flow only occurs when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge and requires above-average skills. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results. (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990)



Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth (http://sylviaduckworth.com) from Crescent School, Toronto, Canada for designing the graphic of the Continuum of Engagement 3/6/2016.

This page including the chart was created by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey of Personalized Learning, LLC (c) on 3/6/16 and published 3/22/16. The Continuum of Engagement is also copyrighted in our publication, How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper (Corwin, 2016). For permission to adapt, distribute copies, or to use in a publication, contact Kathleen McClaskey at khmcclaskey@gmail.com.


Other Continuums

Continuum of Choice
Continuum of Voice
Continuum of Motivation
Continuum of Ownership
Continuum of Purpose
Continuum of Self-Efficacy



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York. Harper & Row.

Martin-Kniep, G. (2012) 27. Neuroscience of engagement and SCARF: why they matter to school. https://lciltd.org/WebsitePublications/HandbookNeuroleadership_EngagementArticleGMK.pdf


Cross-posted from http://www.personalizelearning.com/2016/04/continuum-of-engagement.html