Online learning: Balancing students’ diverse communication, learning styles

Lessons that account for personality-derived preferences help students adjust and succeed
By: and | April 13, 2020
(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)
John Hackston is a chartered psychologist and head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Co. Chris Mackey is general manager at The Myers-Briggs Innovation Labs.

John Hackston (left) is a chartered psychologist and head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Co. Chris Mackey is general manager at The Myers-Briggs Innovation Labs.

As schools have gone virtual due to coronavirus closures, communities have stepped up.

“You can never overemphasize the importance of community and industry involvement in going virtual,” observes Daniel Spinka, district CTE coach at Oakland USD in California. “In Oakland, local businesses contributed refurbished computers and equipment to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in virtual learning. It really does take a village.”

Beyond getting students digitally connected, that village effort involves helping them adjust. Even top students may have trouble due to personality-derived preferences for learning, working and socializing.

While some students may initially be relieved to not haul books, most people don’t prefer to learn remotely. In our study of 1,632 training participants on virtual learning, we found that only slightly more than 10% prefer exclusively remote learning.


Read: Updated: 148 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


Educators must balance the needs of those who enjoy the solitude of remote learning with the needs of those who miss the buzz of the classroom. This will involve accounting for different ways students experience change and helping some cope with isolation.

In tailoring their approach for students’ learning styles, educators should keep in mind differences in the four areas of personality based on the Myers-Briggs® framework. While most teachers won’t have the luxury of giving each student a personality assessment, they likely have an understanding of their students’ preferences.

Where they get their ‘energy’

Students preferring “Introversion” are energized by the inner world of thoughts and ideas. They’re not necessarily shy, but they do like time to think things through internally before responding out loud to questions and can become uncomfortable when put on the spot. Educators can counter this by giving them the opportunity to ponder the information so they feel prepared when it’s time to interact.

Educators must balance the needs of those who enjoy the solitude of remote learning with the needs of those who miss the buzz of the classroom.

Students preferring “Extraversion,” on the other hand, may need to discuss things in the moment, bouncing ideas off others. Our study showed that respondents with a preference for “Extraversion were about 17% more likely to find group discussion useful.

Technologies with collaboration features such as person-to-person chat and breakout rooms that allow teachers to assign group projects give students a chance to work directly with their peers. The ability for teachers to “drop in” on various breakout rooms may provide flexibility of interaction in a way that keeps students’ varying needs in mind.

To balance or complement learning styles, teachers can assign groups according to personality type, for example. Depending on objectives, teachers might consider homogeneous groupings, pairing like-minded individuals, or more heterogeneous groupings to offer multiple perspectives.


Read: Years of training eases shift to online instruction during coronavirus closures


How they take in information

Students preferring “Sensing” tend to focus on facts and details that can be confirmed by experience. Teachers can connect with these students by using experiential exercises that provide practical examples of what is being taught, such as grids of pros and cons, debates, or post-it parades.

Conversely, if students prefer “Intuition,” they tend to focus on possibilities and relationships among ideas. To engage them, teachers can give them flexibility to explore. Opportunities to conduct their own research and pursue other less-structured activities will engage this group most. Consider providing an open-ended assignment giving students a choice between several different topics.


Read: How to collaborate, communicate and create online


How they make decisions

Students who prefer “Thinking” use objective, logical analysis to reach conclusions. To tailor learning, educators can give them ample opportunity to pose questions. Instant message, direct voice and video features can be effective ways to engage such students if educators don’t want to derail a class discussion.

Students preferring “Feeling” use person-centered subjective analysis to reach conclusions. They want to feel connected, so assignments that allow them to interact with other students before making plans and decisions should be considered.


Read: Expert tips for shifting to online learning during COVID-19


How they deal with the outer world

Students who prefer “Judging” like to plan and organize, and they want to feel that they’re progressing toward a defined objective. Having an agenda, timeline and up-to-date online calendar will help them. Educators should provide regular updates on where the class is in the learning process as well as what they plan to accomplish in class.

Meanwhile, students preferring “Perceiving” like to be spontaneous and are adaptable, collecting information as they go and staying open to new options. They value flexibility and like to ask questions as they come to mind. Since these interjections may veer off course from the lesson plan, educators can manage this (and not feel constrained by time limits) by including a “sandbox” for questions that arise and by following up on questions individually.

As teachers apply these strategies, they’ll find their students more engaged and their remote class time more productive.


John Hackston is a chartered psychologist and head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Co. Chris Mackey is general manager at The Myers-Briggs Innovation Labs.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.


Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.