The swift and exponential growth of digital learning adoption over the past year has spotlighted a frequently overlooked dimension of diversity: Temperament. Tendencies for extroversion and introversion have been largely overlooked by organizations in an effort to offer expeditious solutions to meet the needs of a broad population. Yet, one silver lining of the workplace shifts that COVID-19 ushered in is a new appreciation for temperamental differences and strategies for ensuring more inclusive learning experiences for all.

We understand that the traditional, face-to-face learning that has permeated the workplace for decades frequently favors extroverts. However, those live workshops that work well for learners energized by interacting with others can have the opposite effect on the 25 to 40% of the population that characterizes itself as introverted.

For introverts, traditional training settings can feel exhausting. They place considerable demands on those who learn better – at least initially – in the privacy of their own minds. They also require the kinds of spontaneous interactions and discussions that enable those who thrive on external processing to learn more easily and enjoyably. Unfortunately, these conditions can compromise learning experiences for introverts, requiring them to invest additional time and energy to internalize information and translate it into learning.

Given what we know now about how introverts process information, I could kick myself for having trained so many facilitators on how to “draw out the less vocal learners.” With the best of intentions, I developed a whole range of subtle strategies for engaging quiet participants in the conversation. And yet, my efforts to be inclusive were further excluding a significant portion of attendees and totally disrupting their learning.

Over the past several years, the L&D industry has gradually shifted its approaches and methods. Then, last year, we experienced a dramatic acceleration of change and disruption in response to the pandemic and its implications for the workplace. Nearly overnight, virtual instructor-led experiences became the norm, and asynchronous instruction exploded with more digital solutions than ever.

Remember the jokes early on during the pandemic? “Check on your extroverted friends; they’re not doing well.” Your introverted friends, on the other hand, were likely doing better, and they may have even been learning better.

Many of the creative training methods employed over the past year have consequently favored more introverted learners. For many, it might only seem fair for the pendulum to linger on the quiet learners’ side for a bit. However, the real opportunity for L&D professionals is to discover methods to even the playing field for extroverts and introverts alike. For example:

  • Many organizations are considering offering their solutions via various modalities following the pandemic. For instance, perhaps it makes sense to continue to offer the digital version of a workshop to dispersed or busy learners alongside the face-to-face option. The investments in both have already been made. Why not let learners choose which serves them best?
  • Self-directed, self-paced learning is increasingly being married with study and discussion groups. This allows both introverted and extroverted learners to internalize content in a way that suits their learning styles while building community and a culture of development.
  • Coaching, both human- and artificial intelligence-enabled, is growing by leaps and bounds for learning and follow-up. It’s an ideal next step for extroverts who benefit from verbal processing, and it’s considerably less taxing than group-based learning for introverts.

The past months of struggle have brought a tremendous opportunity. Rather than going back to old ways that inadvertently favored some learners over others, learning leaders can use this time for a fundamental reset as we choose to be intentional about inclusion.

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