Grab a seat in any classroom from kindergarten to graduate school. When it’s time for students to interact, you’ll probably notice the same voices and the same hands in the air. Typically extroverts, these students enjoy public interaction with others, which awards them nice participation points, and more importantly allows them to analyze and clarify their ideas about the topic at hand.
But what about the student who does well on tests but sits in the back of the room, or the strong writer who avoids eye contact, or the student on academic scholarship with a quiet response when called upon? Myers et al. (1998) found that about half our population are introverts who, up until the development of online learning, had learned in relative isolation compared to their extroverted classmates. However, with the arrival of online learning (learn more about how online learning works here) and virtual discussions, we’ve seen the growth of a form of interaction that better suits introverts. How so?
Time for reflection
In well-designed online discussions, students can respond to the initial question or others’ responses right away, in five minutes, or in five hours. While extroverts are more comfortable sorting out their ideas verbally and publicly, introverts prefer to reflect on their ideas and refine their comments before jumping in.
Introverts are more likely to become involved in discussion when ideas can stand apart from the person sharing them, and are judged on merit without consideration for presentation (assuming it is not sloppily composed). The content of the discussion is most important, not how it’s presented or who communicates it.
Time for reflection and anonymity create valuable differences between face-to-face and online interactions for those with more introverted tendencies. But the benefits of online learning aren’t limited to just introverts. There’s evidence that it can benefit everyone, and here’s why:
More voices, richer discussion
Rather than just a few students sharing their ideas, every student feels comfortable joining the conversation. Research suggests this leads to better learning outcomes for introverts and extroverts alike, as a more diverse range of perspectives is shared. With many students engaging in the discussion, everyone gains a richer, more complex understanding of the topic, and when questions are value-oriented, more perspectives help the group come to a productive, efficient, effective solution. Maybe more importantly, as stated by Ronald G. Shaiko in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, students interact with others who are outside their social circles, and are able to interact with those from different backgrounds from their own.
In an online environment, the structure of discussions determines if students perceive these interactions as merely course requirements or true opportunities to flesh out ideas with fellow learners. When students interact with their fellow classmates rather than only with the instructor, discussions can take on a life of their own.
Are you an introvert or extrovert? Have you experienced these or other benefits of online learning?