According to a recent Forbes article, online learning is still just getting started as an industry. Forbes also made a prediction that a ‘new world of curation and collaboration tools’ will be coming this year. Just imagine the effect on education.

At a time when there is a widely-reported international digital skills gap, online learning could offer many flexible options for those who need it. According to SAP recruitment specialists Eursap, digital skills have become more significant due to a saturated job market. This means it’s becoming more important for candidates to distinguish themselves.

In order to get the best training and truly specialise in a subject, it will be crucial for individuals to understand what learning environment works best for them. Knowing whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert will be extremely useful.

Learning for introverts and extroverts

Introversion is a personality trait that defines the stimulation a person needs in order to be productive and motivated. Generally, introverts thrive on less stimulating learning environments and prefer solitude. According to a TED Talk, ‘the power of introverts’ by Susan Cain, our most important institutions like schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts.

Extroverts generally prefer more stimulation, more face-to-face contact and a more hands-on learning experience. So, naturally the classroom is an ideal setting for these personality types. But, does that necessarily mean that the opposite is true for introverts?

The benefits of online learning for introverts

Often quiet and contemplative, introverts tend to think before they speak. They’re less likely to put their hand up in a classroom, but might go home with many unanswered questions. This is one of the main reasons introverts benefit from online learning and remote tutelage. As Professor Curt Bonk states, when subscribed to an online course “you can respond an hour later or a day later – whenever you feel you have contemplated on the idea enough“, which takes pressure off the ‘raise your hand’ moment, where introverts often withdraw.

Other benefits include having a flexible timetable, less distractions and an emphasis on written discussions. These are all things that satisfy the introvert’s innate need for independence and often very considered responses to communication.

Online learning allows students to process their thoughts and formulate questions in their own time. They have a choice to ask for help or browse online resources for the relevant topic or answer. This type of learning can be likened to postgraduate research. While some people may not find this type of learning motivating, it would certainly build research skills and academic independence in those who do.

The downsides of no real classroom environment

While it is clear that the more investigative, self-starters among introverts would benefit from online learning, perhaps others would struggle to find motivation. As with any personality trait, introversion exists on a spectrum.

One of the main problems with online learning is that it significantly reduces contact time with teachers. For students that require demonstrations, or an explanation to be repeated, things can get more tricky. It is also a valuable skill to be able to contribute to discussions and debates.

This becomes particularly important when transferred to the workplace, as ‘even virtual workspaces need structure’ as i2Office state. Face-to-face communication is important even in a virtual workplace as video calls present an advantage over audio-only calls. Whether you end up working in an office or at home, gaining interpersonal skills and being able to handle face-to-face discussions are an essential part of learning. This is particularly important for introverts, because this type of communication comes less naturally to them.  

E-learning is not always suitable

There are also issues with e-learning that have nothing to do with personality type. There may be a digital skills crisis, but there are other industries also facing skills shortages where online learning isn’t a practical option. As Emerson Cranes have said, the shortage of skilled and trained workers in the construction industry is no secret and affects projects ranging from skyscrapers to government buildings.

Another example, as identified by Activia Training, is First Aid. It would be efficient, cheaper, and less disruptive for a corporation to subscribe employees to an online First Aid course than send them to conventional classes. But would you want to be given First Aid by someone who learned it online, or someone who’d actually practised it on the floor of a classroom?

The point here is not that online learning is intrinsically bad, but that it isn’t appropriate for every scenario. It’s certainly crucial that classroom learning is an option for those subjects that do require demonstration, discussion or real face-to-face participation.

Best to strike a healthy balance

While there may be positive and negative aspects to online learning in general, it is clear that it is a particularly valuable resource for those who have traits of introversion. While the merits of face-to-face teaching are undeniable, experts say that a combination of in-person and online classes might be the best path. Flexible programmes combining online resources and written discussions, with face to face instruction are described as ‘blended learning’. This way of teaching could have the potential to increase student learning.

Researchers have also concluded that it is important to be aware of different personality types in order to facilitate their different learning styles. In terms of e-learning and the classroom alike it’s important to have an understanding of what environment is most stimulating and motivating for different types of students. If given these sorts of options, students can discover a suitable learning style through trial and error and form a more sustainable relationship with education.