Introversion/extroversion is an often misunderstood dimension of personality. According to Psychology Today, “introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits.” They aren’t necessarily shy; shy people can be extroverts or introverts. Most people fall somewhere on a continuum from introversion to extroversion but often with definite preferences when it comes to communicating—and learning.
According to Chris von Baeyer, client director and facilitator at The Ariel Group, common characteristics of introverts include “thinking carefully before speaking, a preference for 1-1 interactions rather than presenting in front of large groups, the ability to ask thoughtful questions and to listen carefully in response, and, most importantly, a frustration with settings that demand an extroverted approach to communication.”
Considering these attributes, it’s natural for instructional designers to wonder: Is e-learning a better option for introverts than for extroverts, and do introverts learn better online than they do in-person?
The Benefits of E-Learning for Diverse Personalities
Dr. Kate Earle, CLO of the Quiet Leadership Institute, says that “introverts thrive in learning situations that enable solitude, independent thinking, and time to process.” They may enjoy working with other people, but “they will need to have those social experiences bookended by quiet moments in order to really be their best selves.”
A blended learning or flipped classroom approach in which learners first access content online and then participate in instructor-led training can be especially helpful for introverts, considering their preference to have time to prepare. By providing readings and reflection questions ahead of time, instructional designers can ensure that introverted learners have time to explore new content and think about their reaction to it before they have to share their thoughts with others.
In fact, any type of asynchronous e-learning provides that crucial processing time for introverts. On the other hand, it’s possible that extroverts benefit more from e-learning when it is designed as part of a blended learning experience, so that they are still able to reap the benefits of interacting with other learners, energized by the dynamic conversations that happen in the classroom.
E-learning also can provide more opportunities for one-on-one interactions than in-person classroom training. Communicating via an online chat, for example, may be more comfortable and impactful for an introvert than speaking up in a classroom full of other learners. And because it typically takes much more energy for an introvert to be in a group of people, being alone can be energizing, especially if paired with the interaction that is still beneficial for learning.
Tips for Training Professionals
While introverts are not necessarily shy, onboarding can be a draining experience, as they are pushed into a new situation with a new group of people. Using e-learning for onboarding can be an effective way to increase engagement for introverted new hires. Incorporating social media can maintain an aspect of socialization, especially if such platforms are a key component of the organization’s culture.
When delivering a virtual session, use feedback tools like “hand raises,” chats, polls and videos. Keep track of which participants have asked and answered questions. Just like in a classroom, make sure that a few students aren’t dominating the conversation and that you are engaging all learners. Establish behavior guidelines so that expectations are clear for all learners.
Machine learning is changing e-learning by enabling automatic personalization of learning experiences and helping to eliminate biases. Take advantage of the tools you have to adapt learning to individual preferences and to make sure evaluation doesn’t favor extroverted personality traits, such as speaking up more in meetings or training.
Before, during and after training, collect feedback from participants. Ask specific questions to measure learners’ comfort levels and to determine if they felt empowered to participate fully. While it’s important to get introverts and extroverts outside their comfort zones by challenging them to communicate in new ways, it’s also important that they feel valued and encouraged to participate.
The key to remember when designing a training program is to ensure that it is inclusive of diverse learning styles and communication preferences. As many as one-third of the global population are introverts, and in the U.S., that number could be as much as 50 percent. Our workplaces are a mix of introverts, extroverts and people who fall somewhere in between. E-learning can help ensure that employees across that spectrum are successful.