Let’s Face It, Extroverts Love Online Learning Too

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When I mention that I work in online learning, I often hear a response like, “Oh yes, online, that must be great for introverted learners.” And I always feel a little surprised. I’d never thought that online courses were better for introverts. Do you know why?

Because I am extroverted and I love online learning!
Here are some reasons why extroverts may prefer online courses:

  • You don’t have to wait your turn. That’s right, you can wax verbose and post lengthy responses to your classmates anytime! If you have something to say, you can say it. And you can say it without anyone telling you to sit down. (Now there are those tricky instructors who might limit the post count or word count, but most don’t.)
  • You can have one-on one conversations with LOTS of people. You can read a multitude of posts and contribute to many conversations on varying topics. In the physical classroom, you are limited by the constraints of time and even your placement in the room. The person you may have wanted to share ideas with could be on the opposite side of the room; when learning online, that person becomes easily accessible anytime.
  • You can be MANY PLACES at once. This is an extroverts dream! Extroverts are prone to try and create as many connections to others as possible — through different social media, group projects, discussion boards, etc. Online options give them the opportunity to virtually “be” in more places at once.

Personality theory states that extroverts are energized by the external world (i.e. talking with people) and introverts are energized by their own internal worlds (i.e. privately reflecting on their thoughts).

Introvert: Think, Think, Think, Do, Think
Extrovert: Do, Do, Do, Think, Do

Isn’t an online course about both things – doing and thinking? Aren’t we both talking to people through various technologies AND reflecting on our thoughts?

So, I never assume an introverted personality type has led someone to sign up for an online course. I typically think it’s the people who want to have more control over their learning experiences. The ones who are hoping to be more strategic in their class participation. The ones who are looking to thoughtfully connect with folks who are interested in the same things they are.

What about the more introverted types? Do they prefer online courses as well? They also enjoy these commonly cited benefits of online learning:

  • More time to process your thoughts. You don’t have to come up with a snappy answer in front of the class. You can write and revise (or record and revise) as you see fit.
  • Less “small talk.” Conversation is centered on topics on interest.
  • You participate when you’re ready. You determine when you work on your online course. You are not tied to a specific schedule.

I also consider myself an introvert at times and like learning online for these reasons as well. It’s nice to be able to sit back and reflect on a topic of interest for a period of time. That’s why I enjoy writing these blog posts.

I don’t think we can say a certain personality type has a stronger preference for online learning. The introverted vs. extroverted distinction is only so helpful anyway because people often switch between these modes of behavior, depending on the situation.

What do you think? Do you think someone’s personality determines his or her preference for online learning?

It could be a factor. But no matter how you look at it, both extroverts and introverts will see some advantages to learning online.

Choosing Online Tools (A Lot Like Buying a Car?)

Often, online course designers have their heart set on using a particular technology tool, e.g. web meetings, whiteboarding, online journaling, simulations, etc. This may be because an individual is already comfortable with a specific tool OR attended a demo where the tool looked really useful or cool. However, a fantastic demo or past experience can falsely lead someone into believing a technology tool is the best choice.

So, how do you decide on the most appropriate technology for your online course?
It’s actually a lot like buying a car. Both activities benefit from a logical decision making process.
Let’s compare these two processes:

Buying_A_CarBuying a Car 

  1. Shop around
  2. Go for test drives
  3. Consider alternatives
  4. Purchase
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

As compared to:

Selecting_Technology_ChecklistSelecting Technology for an Online Course

  1. Shop around
  2. Use the tool in real situations (practice!)
  3. Consider alternatives (more practice!)
  4. Commit
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

This five step process helps course designers select the most appropriate technology tool(s) for an online course.

Step 1 – Shop Around

There’s no point in getting tied to a technology solution before you’ve considered a variety of options. Research is critical to any decision making process. What are the pros/cons of the various technology options that may work for your course?

Consider the following example:
Web meetings can be useful, but will your learners always be available at specific times? Have you considered other interactive discussion tools without time constraints? Would they also meet your needs?

Step 2 – Use the Tool in Real Situations & Practice!

Test_DriveStep Two is often overlooked when selecting a technology tool. Folks may think because they attended a web demo of the tool, they have enough information to move forward. This is not necessarily true. When buying a car, the test drive portion is critical. You may think you love the car, but then you get in and your legs are cramped and there’s no place for your coffee cup.  Similarly, you also need to test drive your technology tool – ask for the trial version and actually try teaching a short lesson with the tool.

What questions do you have after use? With practice, do you feel like you will be able to use the tool effectively?

Step 3 – Consider Alternatives & Keeping Practicing!

Continue learning about and practicing with a variety of technology tools. You may reaffirm your “gut” technology selection or find a better solution. Considering alternatives is always valuable because you are 1) reaffirming that you have selected the best available tool and 2) getting additional practice with available tools.

Step 4 – Commit

Decide_Commit_SucceedStep Four seems obvious – Commit. However, some folks don’t like to close the door on potential technology options for their online course. Commitment is not closing the door forever. It is saying: for this version of the course, I will use this technology until I re-evaluate technology options in the future. It takes time and energy to learn technology tools and get them properly set up. Therefore, once you commit, stay focused on using that tool as effectively as possible:

  • Learn everything you can about that tool.
  • Include easy-to-follow instructions on using the tool for your learners.
  • Document troubleshooting steps to make using the tool easier.

Step 5 – Go Boldly Forth With Courage!

The final step, “go forth boldly with courage,” is the attitude that one must maintain while instructing with their selected technology tool. You should consider yourself “all in” at this point. And you might think – with all the planning and practice you put into selecting the tool – that things will go almost perfectly. But, it won’t. There will be hiccups with the tool and something will happen that you didn’t plan for.

Stay focused on doing what is best for your learners when there are problems:

  • Send out clarification instructions.
  • Develop a workaround for learners.
  • Be empathetic but frank about the fact that technology doesn’t always work perfectly.

ForgiveWe need to cultivate learning cultures that accept that technology doesn’t always work perfectly. In your online course, encourage a culture that forgives technology mishaps – they happen. With this culture of forgiveness in place, learners will be less afraid of technology and more willing to experiment and do great things.

When everyone relaxes their technology expectations a bit, the chosen technology is recognized for what is — only one part of the learning culture. Technology alone does not determine culture. The people and processes put in place around a chosen technology determine how the technology is used, and ultimately, how others react to it.

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