Personality Type and Learning

Many of the pioneering studies for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument were done with high school and college students. These original studies, plus the ongoing data collected by colleges and universities worldwide, have resulted in a wealth of information about how personality affects learning and teaching styles.

Think of a "learning style" more as a "learning preference." The word "style" gives the impression that it can be easily changed. For example, today I like this style, tomorrow I may like another. Learning preference, as denoted by personality type, recognizes an innate, natural way of learning. Your learning style does not limit you to one way of learning. What it can do is bring awareness to your natural strengths so that you may utilize them to give your best results.

We all have a preferred way of learning—our natural way that makes the most sense to us. Now, that does not mean that you never use the other preferences for learning, we all do; however, rather than feel a lack of intellect, we can recognize when we are using a stretch and ask for help and guidance, as needed.

Type can tell us many things about the way people prefer to learn. An understanding of type leads to the appreciation that there are many different and equally valuable ways to learn. Type can also help you identify some of your strengths and challenges as you approach studying and learning.

How might type preferences show up in learning?

  • Young people who prefer Extraversion might like projects that involve talking with others and being physically engaged with their environment, whereas someone with an Introversion preference might like projects that offer private or quiet time for reflection, where they can process their thoughts internally until they are more developed.
  • A person who prefers Sensing typically likes clear, detailed instructions, whereas someone who prefers Intuition tends to like a framework so they can do their own original, innovative work.
  • For students who prefer Thinking, classrooms organized in logical systems help them do better work, whereas one with a Feeling preference tends to do their best learning in a classroom that is warm and friendly with teachers who tune into emotional needs and deal with personal relationship issues.
  • For those who prefer Judging, clear plans and an organized classroom are necessary for them to do their best work, whereas a person with a Perceiving preference likes the flexibility to follow their curiosity and explore a variety of interests and experiences.

Sensing and Intuition: Key Processes in Learning

All type preferences influence how a young person naturally learns, however Sensing and Intuition preferences seem to play a key role. Sensing and Intuition reflect the ways we pay attention to experiences and perceive what is being learned. Students benefit from teachers who conduct their classrooms to serve the learning processes of both Sensing and Intuition.

Learning Styles vs Teaching Styles

Students have preferred ways of learning, but so do teachers. And teachers often teach from that vantage point. When teachers and students understand the differences in their teaching and learning styles, communication and learning is enhanced.

A student's interests and ways of learning directly affect how he or she takes in information. This calls on educators to consider different teaching approaches, based on the needs of students.

For example, teachers who prefer Intuition may give open-ended directions that provide a basic framework for the assignment but young people who prefer Sensing do better with clear instructions presented in sequential order. Issues can arise, as well, with teachers who give too many details and step-by-step directions to a child who prefers Intuition who just wants to do it their own way and build upon their many innovative ideas. When taking personality type into consideration, teachers can design lessons that meet the needs on both sides.

Students whose preferences are different from those of a teacher may find it difficult to adjust to the classroom atmosphere and the teaching methods of that teacher. Teachers who vary their teaching styles after learning about personality type often find they can motivate and teach a wider range of students because they are developing diverse approaches that better meet the needs of all students.

When students and teachers disagree, type knowledge can help both to recognize the validity of the other person's approach and needs. Instead of labeling the student as "misbehaving" or the teacher as "unreasonable," differences are better understood and respected.

When the common language of personality type is understood, lesson plans can be tailored to meet the needs of all students. Teachers who know type can then approach the same lesson in multiple ways, appealing to the preferences of all their students.

You can read about the insights teachers had in a study where personality type was assessed for third grade teachers and students and applied in the classroom at peoplestripes.org.

Parents, Teachers, and Type Awareness

Parents also have type preferences and when these differ from the preferences of the teacher, without type awareness, misunderstanding on what is considered acceptable behavior of a child can ensue. For example, a student's preference for Extraversion can appear as a positive attitude and social adjustment to a parent who shares the same preference, while appearing as disruptive and unproductive to a teacher who prefers Introversion.

A teacher who understands personality type can give feedback to parents in ways that respect the child's preferences. And parents who understand type can appreciate that a teacher's point of view may only reflect his or her own preferences, not a rejection of their child.

Type Awareness Supports School Counselors

School counselors are tasked with a heavy load of managing all students in a school. Their main role is to help maximize student success. Type awareness can help them do this by promoting:

  • A better understanding of oneself and others
  • Academic achievement strategies
  • Emotion management
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Postsecondary career planning
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

More can be learned about how type supports school counselors at peoplestripes.org.