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Engaging Introverts and Extroverts

Jan. 23, 2014
Introverts and extroverts learn differently, and this can create challenges for trainers and educators.

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re on a plane, sitting between two strangers.  The man on your left has his nose buried in a book.  He barely says hello.  On your right is a woman who can’t seem to sit still.  She fidgets and can’t relax.  Finally, almost in desperation, she strikes up a conversation with someone—anyone.  If it happens to be you, you could be chatting for hours. 

Now imagine you’re a corporate trainer.  You are faced with a room full of people like these two.  They are extreme introverts (the bookish man) and extreme extroverts (the talkative woman). 

How will you teach these people? 

On the spectrum of introversion and extroversion, most of us aren’t as extreme as these examples.  But introverts and extroverts do learn differently.  And this can create challenges for trainers and educators.  So let’s look at some key ideas.    

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality testing tool based on the work of Carl Jung and updated in the 1950s. It’s still the most widely used tool of its kind.    

According to the MBTI, extroversion/introversion values measure how people get their energy. It’s not about liking or not liking people, but about what interactions do to energy levels. 

Extroverts are energized by being around and interacting with people.   Introverts generally like people just as well as extroverts.  But they tend to get worn out faster by long interactions, especially with big groups.   

Over the years, researchers have discovered ways each type learns best.  Understandably, extroverts work well in groups.  They also learn by explaining.  In studies, these people have reported thinking they understood material until they tried to repeat it back to others.     

Introverts, on the other hand, need time to reflect on material they’re learning.  They like to integrate and connect ideas to get a big picture view.  

Trainers and other educators can reach both types by creating learning experiences that integrate these learning styles.  The following method is one example.  Based on the “nominal group” method of consensus-building, it has something for everyone.     

1. Teacher poses a question and allows quiet time for reflection.  

2. Working in teams, students share ideas round-robin style. 

3. Teams discuss ideas, building connections and offering new insights.   

4. Teacher offers critiques of selected team's answers and provides closure.

Can you apply these ideas to learning situations in your organization?

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