Monday, February 27, 2012

Different Personalities in the Classroom

This week, the GTC group discussed how different personality types can create different learning styles or classroom environments. Before our meeting, we each took a Jung Typology Test (also called Myer Briggs Type Indicator) to calculate our personality type. The MBTI test is based on four dimensions, each consisting of two bipolar preferences. For each dimension, a person is assigned a letter that represents their preference in that dimension. The four dimensions are as follows:

1) Your Source of Energy: Extrovert (E) vs. Introvert (I)

Extroverts react to people and things in their environment while Introverts look inward to their internal environment

2) How You Take in Information: Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)

Sensing individuals take cues from their actual environment while Intuitive individuals use their unconscious perceptions and rely on intuition

3) How You Make Decisions: Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)

Thinkers use logic while Feelers use emotions

4) Your Lifestyle Preferences/How You Interact with the Environment: Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

Judgers are decisive, start and complete single tasks, they like to make plans, and they often act quickly. Perceivers are curious, adaptable, and spontaneous, and they start many tasks that they have a hard time completing

The final result of an MBTI test is a four letter combination (e.g. – ESTJ) that represents one of 16 personality types.

The goal of our meeting was to demonstrate how student personality types influence their learning styles and how teacher personality types create varying classroom environments for the students. We also discussed diverse ways to present material in the classroom, and the pros and cons of using the MBTI as an indicator of teaching/learning style.

We started by drawing a pie chart of personality types among our group, and observed that our personalities were already very diverse (11 types out of 16 were represented), even though we were 15 people with at least one interest in common: teaching! Different personality types will likely have varying preferences for effective learning, so what are the best teaching methods for each personality type? From the description of each MBTI dimension, some general learning preferences can be drawn.

1) Extroverts learn best by explaining to others and enjoy working in groups, while introverts need to interconnect pieces of knowledge and to see the “big picture”. As a result, introverts like frameworks of ideas and will best learn when taught how to chunk and organize new knowledge into concept maps. For extroverts, the Thinking Aloud Paired Problem Solving (TAPPS) and Nominal Group methods are excellent choices. In both methods, the teacher provides a question and students start thinking about it individually. Then they form either a pair (TAPPS) or a group, in which they present and discuss each other’s ideas, until an agreement is reached. At the end of each exercise, the teacher critiques some of the groups’ answers and provides closure. Interestingly, most undergraduate students are extroverts, while more than 55% of university faculty are introverts.

2) Sensing students want facts, are detailed oriented, and need to see the practical use of new knowledge. They prefer linear and well structured lectures with numerous applications of the theory. As a teacher, you can use the “What Must Be Known” (WMBK) organizing strategy to prepare your lecture. Two other in-class organizing strategies are the Application-Theory-Application (A-T-A) and the Advance Organizer. The A-T-A starts with the presentation of an applied problem that students are asked to solve before they are presented with the chapter’s concepts. After the class has given a fair attempt to the problem, the teacher presents the relevant theory, applies it to solve the problem, and finally provides more examples/problems for students to apply the new ideas. Finally, an Advance Organizer demonstration provides mental scaffolding for students to anchor new material by relating new ideas to their existing knowledge basis. A great example of Advance Organizer uses Martin Luther King’s march on Washington to introduce Gandhi’s march to the sea (find details for these techniques here).

Intuitive people, on the other hand, seek out patterns in knowledge and are drawn to theoretical ideas. In addition to relying on framework of ideas, teachers can use the traditional Theory-Application-Theory approach (T-A-T), or the Application-Theory-Application (A-T-A) strategy based on discovery learning (more here). For this information-gathering dimension, students and faculty again tend to differ: more than 60% of undergraduate students have sensing persona, while 65% of university faculty are intuitive.

3) Thinking students value principles and logic in decision-making, so they enjoy precise and action-oriented course objectives. The Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great resource for writing clear objectives involving diverse learning domains (example). Feeling students tend to make decisions based on human values and like working in small harmonious groups. They will learn to form and maintain efficient groups with tips on how to: foster win-win behaviors, encourage equal participation, make suggestions to regain session focus, prevent personal attacks on each other, etc. While most university faculty are thinking individuals, undergraduate students seem to be evenly distributed between these two decision-making preferences.

4) For day-to-day lifestyle preferences, judging students are self-regimented and focused on completing a task, but sometimes take action a little too quickly. They will benefit from tips on effective note-taking and from techniques to ensure they thoroughly addresses a question. Perceptive students, on the other hand, like to postpone completing an assignment until the last minute, as they will spend more time exploring different ideas related to the question. The best way to ensure completion of an assignment is to decompose a complex task into a subset of smaller assignments, each with a specific deadline. Such “staged assignments” allow perceptive students to stay on target and provide an opportunity for continuous feedback, fostering constant learning. In this case, both undergraduate students and college faculty are mainly thinking individuals, but it doesn’t mean that students would not benefit from staged assignments!

We also talked about how teacher personality can influence teaching effectiveness and student perceptions of the teacher. Based on our research, NF and SJ types make up 90% of all teachers, but NF types are probably less effective at teaching than SJ types. This is because NFs typically focus more on discussion of theory and less on hands-on activities (active learning). According to Barrett (1991) teachers of SP and SF types have the highest teaching effectiveness scores. These types of teachers engage students in active learning, they provide positive feedback to their students, and they help students recognize progress and achievement. Furthermore, extroverted teachers tend to do better than introverted teachers.

Do these studies imply that introverts will always have students that perform worse than students of extroverts? No way! This just means that if you tend to be more introverted you may need to go out of your comfort zone to engage your students. Lots of teachers are introverts and introverts study best when given organized lecture notes (as opposed to extroverts and group learning). However, as teachers we should recognize that how we learn may not be the same as how students learn. The bottom line is that we should employ a diverse toolset in the classroom in order to reach as many students as possible.


Kent, H. & Fisher, D.L.: 1997, 'Associations Between Teacher Personality and Classroom Environment', Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Barrett, L. A. (1991). Relationship of observable teaching effectiveness behaviors to MBTI personality types. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Association for Psychological Type. Richmond, VA.

Links for More information:

Take the test!

History of the Myers-Briggs theory

Teaching techniques

Other learning styles and teaching methods focused on improving intro science classes

Personalities in the general population

Deconstructing your Type

Click on your personality type to read more about it (Sections 2 and 3 on this website)

click here for more info on teacher's personality types.

Courtesy of Bree Putman and Sandrine Matiasek

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