Active Learning and the Introvert

I just finished reading Devora Zack’s 2010 book Networking for People Who Hate Networking. As I expected, I picked up some valuable pointers about how introverts, extroverts, and centroverts (someone with characteristics of both introverts and extroverts) can thrive in social situations. Traditional classes are great places for introverts, but as active learning becomes more prevalent in higher education, there are some key take-aways about the way introverts interact that may help when you are planning  classes.

1. Preface group activities with a minute or two of individual reflection

Introverts and extroverts bring different strengths to the table. Introverts are reflective, focused, and self-reliant while extroverts are verbal, expansive, and social. Introverts “think to talk” meaning they need some individual lead time to process the task and strategize before feeling comfortable enough to contribute. Extroverts on the other hand “talk to think” and are quite ready to jump right into a discussion and figure out what they think as they go.Activity is task plus processing time Since active learning is usually collaborative, giving all learners (and therefore the introverts) a bit of time to get their thoughts organized, means you are more likely to end up with better participation and a stronger peer learning experience.

2. Provide authentic, structured, and purposeful activities

Introverts are selective in how they spend their time. With a focus on depth over breadth, they often become lost in whatever they are doing, and find it hard to get back on task if they’re interrupted. Extroverts on the other hand prefer varied stimuli and activities. They jump right in to whatever the task of the moment is and find it quite easy to switch to something new.

extrovert vs introvert in activityIn an active classroom we have to find that balance between providing enough time for the introvert to dig into the assigned task, and keeping it short enough to keep the extroverts engaged. I’ve found that breaking a task into logical chunks that take 15-20 minutes to complete works for my students. Any less time and the introverts feel shortchanged, and any longer the extroverts tend to go off topic.

Introverts often have a difficult time connecting with people, particularly in unstructured situations. How often do we direct a class to “put yourselves into groups of three”? The extroverts quickly form groups leaving the introverts in a really uncomfortable position. Something as simple as randomly selecting groups (by counting off or using a tool like GRumbler to assign groups for the term) gets everybody off to a good start. Make it even better by providing clear objectives and/or instructions for the task before breaking into groups. This structure will help the introvert prioritize and focus in on the task.

3. Punctuate group activities with individual time

Introverts need time alone to recharge, particularly after social interaction. I myself always look for a quiet corner where I can take a few minutes to regroup when I’m at a conference. As Zack says, introverts are inner-directed and “I-time is non-negotiable“. While extroverts are very comfortable and seem to gain energy from working with others, introverts often find it very draining. They don’t necessarily need to be physically alone, but they do need a bit of quiet time when they can connect, reflect and make order from what they’ve just experienced. Adding an individual activity that applies or extends the concept just learned with the group, will help provide this I-time.

process for all introvert & extrovertSo next time you are planning an in-class activity, don’t forget your introverts … give them a bit of time both before and after group activities. You’ll end up with a learning experience from which everyone benefits!

Zack, Devora, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA, 2010