The Introverted Student Online

With many institutions’ abrupt transition to online instruction, I thought I’d share a post from January 2018 that examines how interverted students navigate the online learning envrionment. Enjoy!

I’m teaching an online class over the winter semester and I’ve been particularly impressed with the level of engagement and involvement from my students. The class is a graduate course on Designing Online Learning Environments and we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the needs of students and how best to support their learning online. One of the students in the class remarked that she really enjoys online classes because she’s an introvert and that the structure and organization plays to her strengths. While I try to create my online classes following principles of Universal Design for Learning, I hadn’t really thought about how online classes could specifically benefit introverted students. After doing some digging and reading, however, I came away with a few critical thoughts that educators should keep in mind when working with students in online and face-to-face learning environments.

1. Introverts aren’t “shy students.” Psychology Today published an article identifying some behavioral signs of introversion. Across the signs, it’s clear that introverts aren’t people who have social anxiety or dislike other people.  Instead, introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by more solitary pursuits. Introverts are also the last ones to share their opinions in social settings. “Whether it’s a family discussion around the kitchen table or a staff meeting to decide how to market new products, people high in introversion will keep their views to themselves and let the noisy extraverts take control.” Instructors may see this play out in online and face-to-face learning environments with introverted students often being the last ones to raise their hands or post to discussion boards.

2. An introvert offline is an introvert online.  In another article from Psychology Today, Sophia Dembling discusses her use of social media. As a self-identified introvert, Dembling writes, some people are surprised that she uses Facebook and Twitter and even blogs.  While the tools give introverts “control of our airspace, and time to think before we respond,” Dembling also talks about her limits. With technology, she’s able to shut down when she gets “the same kind of tiredhead I get at a party.” Computer-mediated communication isn’t going to instantly make an introverted student more extraverted.

3. Introverts prefer online classes. After hearing from my graduate student, I wondered whether any research had been conducted to examine introverts and learning environments. I found a 2010 study reported in The Internet and Higher Education. In the study, Harrington and Lafredo examined 166 collegiate students and compared their responses on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and their “preferred teaching modality.” Results revealed that a statistically significant majority of introverts preferred online classes and extraverts preferred face-to-face classes.

4. Online classes offer introverts an ideal learning environment to be successful. After reading that introverts need “the opportunity to reflect quietly on a problem,” it’s clear why introverts (like my graduate student) enjoy online classes, especially asynchronous ones.  As Tony Baldasaro writes on Edutopia, “The asynchronous environments found on the Internet can provide introverted students with the ideal space needed for them to learn. The freedom to explore their passions, the ability to connect with similar learners, and the time to participate at their personal pace and depth, all with the solitude needed by the introvert, can make these communities the ideal space for learning and creativity to blossom in the introvert.” By offering the time to process information and craft responses, online classes provide introverted students with an environment that is better suited for the personality.  They can still interact with their classmates to socially construct their understanding of content but the environment gives them the time and space to be successful.

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