Introverts and Extroverts: Thriving in the Online Classroom
Is your child quiet, reflective, and more comfortable in one-on-one conversation than in a crowd? Or is your child outgoing and more interested in making friends than “making the grade”?
Parents considering an online school often wonder how their child’s personality will flourish in a virtual setting. With Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strength of Introverts, sparking new discussions of how schools serve diverse personalities, we’d like to offer parents some thoughts on introverts, extroverts, and online schools.
Introvert or Extrovert? What’s the Difference, and Why Does It Matter?
Psychologist Carl Jung first used the terms introvert and extrovert in the early 1900s to describe equally healthy variations of personality type. Contrary to popular usage, introversion isn’t the same as shyness, extroversion isn’t merely about being sociable and outgoing, and neither type is better than the other.
Instead, the terms simply describe how we respond to different environments. Think of it as the answer to the question “What are the situations or conditions that energize and motivate you?”
From decades of research, we’ve learned that…
- Are energized by time alone
- Are drained by large and/or noisy social gatherings—even though they may enjoy people
- Prefer a few close friendships to a wide circle of friends
- Listen before speaking and think before acting
- Work best in a quiet environment without distractions
- Are energized by interaction with large social groups
- Tend to be bored when alone
- Enjoy a large circle of friends
- Express themselves freely, make decisions quickly, and are willing to take risks
- Work well in environments with frequent interaction or collaboration with others
In different situations, introverts may act like extroverts and vice versa. Most of us have a mix of introverted and extroverted attributes.
For parents and Learning Coaches, understanding your student’s dominant personality type can help you better support his or her educational, social, and emotional needs. For students, becoming self-aware can help them understand, manage, and accept the feelings evoked by certain interactions—such as those in the classroom.
Online Learning: Transforming Class Participation
In Cain’s book, she argues that traditional classrooms (and American society at large) are skewed towards an “extrovert ideal”—particularly when it comes to class participation.
In the brick-and-mortar classroom, the socially confident extrovert may answer discussion questions readily or enjoy leading others in group projects. The thoughtful introvert may hold back answers or visibly withdraw when asked to work in groups. As Cain points out, the introvert may completely shut down when faced with negative peer cues such as the classic eye roll.
Usually, the extrovert’s participation will earn praise and the introvert’s relative nonparticipation will earn well-intentioned concern.
“In an online school,” says Connections Academy Director of Counseling Tisha Rinker, “class participation looks totally different. We’re not observing the students’ affect [their manner of expressing themselves]. We’re observing their engagement.”
That engagement takes several forms in an online school:
- Real-time class sessions give extroverted students the space to interact with others and introverted students the distance they may need from in-person distractions.
- Ongoing online discussions allow students to contribute at their own pace and convenience—allowing introverts to express themselves more freely and extroverts to express themselves more carefully than they might in person Group projects conducted online enable different styles of leadership to emerge—not just those characterized by an outgoing or forceful presence.
Socializing in an Online School
Parents of introverted students may be understandably concerned that an online school won’t help those students gain the social skills needed to thrive in our “proud to be loud” society. An extrovert’s parent may worry that his or her outgoing child may “check out” without the in-person stimulation of other students. But our experience and years of parent feedback suggest otherwise.
When quiet students can be heard and valued in school, parents say they gain confidence that carries over into their social lives.
When outgoing students are encouraged to think more deeply and listen more carefully, their friendships are enriched. And with more flexibility for outside pursuits and fewer social distractions in class, both their social lives and academic performance can flourish.
When these very different types of students meet on school field trips, in online clubs, and at school events, new friendships are built on foundations laid on the equal footing of the online classroom.
What challenges has virtual school helped your child overcome? Share your experiences and insights in the comments to help others considering making this change.