When I was a sophomore in college, I took an introductory communications class that surprised me.
It wasn’t the subject – it was the professor, Ms. H.
Up until that point, most of my classes had been pretty standard. Lectures in big rooms. PowerPoint presentations. A few group projects sprinkled in. But this class was different.
The first day of class, Ms. H asked every student whether they were the kind of person who liked speaking up in class or preferred to sit and observe. From that day on, she made an honest effort to remember and respect those preferences. Every once in a while, she’d give all of us “sit and observe” students fair warning that during the next class, she expected us to participate more or even lead a discussion. It was such a thoughtful way to help us get outside our comfort zones.
I don’t know if Ms. H. knew about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) assessment back then, but it was helpful to have a teacher who understood personality differences.
In fact, her approach covered the first MBTI preference pair: Extraversion and Introversion. When you know which one you prefer, it can tell you a lot about how you’re energized. And how you learn best.
And remember – this isn’t just for students in the classroom. When you start new career, a new project, even a new task, you’re often learning something new. If you have a growth mindset, you’re likely a life-long learner.
Let’s dive into the different learning styles and strategies of extraverted vs. introverted learners. Extraverted types, you’re up first:
Things extraverted learners say: “Let’s talk this over” and “What’s next?”
People who have a preference for Extraversion (E) process information externally and may not spend much time thinking before they speak or act.
That’s because they best understand the world around them when they’re actively involved in it. Their “sweet spot” involves plenty of opportunities to discuss, debate, question, and apply what they’re learning. When environments or instructors don’t leave room for these things, extraverted learners tend to get frustrated – and sometimes give up on the material altogether. They also prefer to learn about a bunch of different topics with a group, rather than focus on one subject or activity alone.
If you have preferences for Extraversion, it’s important to understand and appreciate your natural learning style. But it’s also important to consider some learning strategies that may not come as naturally to you. After all, you’re going to come across different kinds of teachers, leaders, classmates, and colleagues in your life – all with different personality preferences and learning styles. Here are six ways to become a stronger, more flexible learner:
Six learning strategies for those preferring Extraversion
- Be an active listener. While some sit-down lectures can feel restrictive, it’s the perfect time to implement any active listening skills you’ve learned (i.e., nodding, notetaking). One extraverted learner said, “During workshops I’ve learned to sit at the front of the room. If I don't sit up front, I'm tempted to talk to others and check my messages.”
- Read the material out loud. Sometimes a solo activity like reading can seem boring if you’re easily distracted. It might even feel like the words on the page just bounce around in your head. Reading aloud gives them a place to go – and potentially helps you retain the information.
- Start or participate in discussion groups. Make your learning experience more interactive by forming a study group or finding a partner. If you can’t get together in person, consider virtual options like Facebook groups, Slack channels, or Zoom meetings.
- Limit your questions and comments. To respect others’ learning styles and stay focused, hold your questions or comments until the end of the lesson or class. If it helps, quickly jot down your questions while you take notes so you can stay on task and still remember what to ask later.
- Adapt to situations that require more depth of knowledge. Extraverted learners often dislike complex procedures or working on one subject for a long time. But if those things aren’t optional, you’ll need to stretch outside your comfort zone. One Extraverted type said, “In some college courses I was tested on depth rather than general understanding. I found it difficult, but I learned to slow down and pick up more details in those courses.”
- Gather sufficient information before you process it. Before you dive into the learning material and all related activities, make sure you’re not relying on incomplete information. It’s only going to frustrate you.
Bonus tip for extraverted leaders and teachers
If you’re an extraverted leader or teacher, you probably lead, and teach, the same way you prefer to learn. To be more inclusive and balanced, try to change things up. Since those with introverted preferences need time to think before they act, give them ample time to prepare for any discussions. One thing to try is sending out the discussion topics ahead of time. If there are times they don’t participate, don’t take it as disinterest. They could still be processing the information.
Things introverted learners say: “I need to think this through” and “Hmm . . .”
People who have a preference for Introversion (I) process information internally and need more time to think about things on their own. They typically prefer a quiet, calm learning environment where they can concentrate without interruptions.
If their thought process is interrupted or they’re forced to respond too quickly, it can feel uncomfortable and chaotic to them. Introverted learners prefer to explore one topic in depth, rather than skim over several different topics.
We’re all lifelong learners – whether we’re at school, work, or home. And if we’re lucky, part of those learning experiences involve expanding outside our comfort zones. If you’re an introverted type, it’s important to understand and appreciate your natural learning style. But it’s also important to consider any learning strategies that can help you adapt to any given situation. Here are six ways to become a stronger, more flexible learner:
Six learning strategies for those preferring Introversion
- Find a quiet space. Find opportunities to do what you do best: listen, observe, read, and contemplate. If possible, make sure you have a quiet space where you can clarify and consolidate information.
- Protect your independence. Since you value a quiet space, online classes might be your best bet to control your environment. If you do end up craving a bit of interaction, look for a study partner or virtual small group.
- Read ahead when possible. Group discussions are an important part of the learning experience. Try to get information in advance so you feel more comfortable if called on. Feel free to use phrases like, “let me think about that for a second” to let others know you need more time.
- Try not to appear withdrawn. Be intentional and generous with nonverbal cues that signal you’re actively engaged. One introverted learner said, “To some people I may appear disinterested and withdrawn, but that’s usually not the case. I'm just thinking and processing.”
- Embrace opposite actions. Even if it feels uncomfortable, try to jump into a learning activity every once in a while. If it helps, visualize tapping into your extraverted side of your personality. One introverted learner said, “I went to a weekend workshop and volunteered to demonstrate a new skill. To my utter amazement, I actually gained a lot from the experience and the feedback.”
- Speed things up when necessary. When your schedule doesn’t allow you to dive deep into a subject, figure out alternate ways to absorb the information (i.e., videos, summaries). Another introverted learner said, “There just wasn't enough time to read everything as carefully and thoroughly as I wanted to, so I adopted some strategies for skimming articles. It wasn't the way I wanted to learn, but I needed to do something to survive the course load.”
Bonus tip for introverted leaders and teachers
If you’re an introverted leader or teacher, you probably lead in a way that aligns with your natural learning style. To make sure you’re being as inclusive as you can given personality differences, consider different methods for a more balanced approach. Since extraverted people like to actively apply the information they learn, make time for people’s interaction or experimentation. This can help them stay engaged and focused.