Introverted Learners

Objective
The purpose of this journal entry is to reflect on Susan Cain’s presentation entitled “The Power of Introverts” (Ted2012, 2012). It was a very interesting discussion in which Cain highlighted, through personal and historical anecdotes, the characteristics and educational challenges of introverts. The point that really jumped out for me was the contrast between how many introverts there are and how many traditional and modern educational practices are structured to benefit extroverted learning styles, a paradigm that also serves to hinder, impede, and confuse typical introverted learners.

Reflective
Throughout my life, I have always considered myself to possess an introverted personality type, based on the fact that I prefer working alone to in groups, and I often feel that I “need my space.” Despite this understanding, I have recognized that to achieve certain goals in life I have to “flick the switch” from introversion to extroversion. I have been acutely aware of this in employment contexts, where it has been clear to me that one must distinguish oneself to be awarded positions or promotions, and maintaining an introverted demeanor runs a real risk of missing out on opportunities. Cain supported this sentiment by contending that introverts are routinely passed over for promotions or leadership positions (Ted2012, 2012). Tyron (2005) described an employment interview scenario that illustrates the challenges of introverts:
…being an introvert presents problems for a Real-World job seeker. To the two extroverted career coaches who were making their pitch and evaluating my response, I appeared to be unenthusiastic, even uninterested, in the process. In a job interview, a misunderstanding like that would be fatal to my prospects (p. C-2).
Aside from an employment context, the educational environment is also a domain that rewards extroverted types more than introverted ones, although it less obvious here. With stress placed on collaboration and group work in many classes, introverts can be pushed to the sidelines in what Cain coined as the “new group think” model of education, or that “all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place” (Ted2012, 2012). I have certainly experienced – and, as an instructor, perpetuated – this in my educational experiences, although I have never really been consciously aware of the challenges this makes for introverted learners.

Interpretive
As noted above, many educational practices are situated to reward extroverted tendencies, which would make sense if the majority of learners were indeed extroverted. I liken this to how most technological or commercial products are primarily designed for right-handed people; an unfortunate fact for “lefties” but an understandable necessity from a utilitarian perspective. This might also be the case for extravert-centric classrooms, but there is evidence to suggest that the number of introverts in the classrooms is much higher than most would have assumed. Trienweiller (2006) contended that a quarter of students are introverts, while Cain maintained that one third to half of the population is introverted. These numbers are not insignificant. Pro-extroverted classroom practices not only present barriers to the learning of such a large portion of people but also marginalize and criticize those as “bad” or “difficult” or “unmotivated” students. This is something that clearly needs to change.

Decisional
Realizing that many modern and accepted educational practices are detrimental to introverted learners was a shock for me. As an introverted learner myself, I can see how this fact is hard to recognize when it is so ingrained in not only the culture of education, but everything in our lives, like employment. Obviously, there benefits to collaboration and group work, but learners who don’t excel in these situations need to be considered as well. In the future, I will try to remember this as I teach classes, and if students exhibit signs of struggling with pro-extroverted type activities, I will be aware that it might be the activity and not the student that is causing the problem.

References

Ted2012. (2012, Mar). Susan Cain: the power of introverts [Video file]. Retrieved
From: http://www.ted.com/talk/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

Tryon, B. (2005). Lessons for the Academic Introvert. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 52(17), C2-C3.

Trienweiler, H. (2006). The Hidden Gifts of Quiet Kids. Instructor, 115(7), 23-25.

Changing Education Paradigms

Objective
In this journal entry, I will comment on Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture about changing education paradigms (The RSA, 2013). Mr. Robinson’s main contention was that much of our public education has been and continues to be “all about standardization” and that “we’ve got to go in the exact opposite direction” to change the paradigm. To do this, he suggests that divergent thinking – non-linear, multi-perspective, “outside the box” ways of thinking – be encouraged in modern public education. He proposes three ways to achieve this: first, we need to reconsider conceptions we have about human capacity for education, like relating academic success to smart people and non-academic success to non-smart people; second, we have to recognize that a large amount of great learning happens in groups and through collaborations; third, we need to address the culture of institutions, particularly the facts that they are not only designed to operate like factory lines but are also essentially meant to perpetuate an industrialized social framework. As these ideas were presented, several interesting ideas resonated with me, and these are discussed below.

Reflective
As with all of Mr. Robinson’s presentations, this was lecture was captivating, informative, and enjoyable. Several points jumped out for me, the first of which was what was said about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I had no idea that it was as prominent as it is, and I certainly didn’t realize that the treatment of it could be so detrimental and contradictory to achieving divergent thinking. Another shocking idea that I was made aware of was the considerable influence industrialization has had on education. I found it very interesting to see the parallels between a factory line and public education, including ringing bells, the specialization of separate subjects in different facilities, and the “batching” of products (students) according to dates of manufacture (age). Finally, divergent thinking was something I had heard and read about before, but I didn’t realize the extent to which public education quashes this. This point was powerfully demonstrated when Robinson summarized the findings of a longitudinal study measuring children’s abilities to think divergently, which pointed to the continuing erosion of this ability as they became more educated.

Interpretive
All of these points that I reflected on in the previous section significantly affect how I understand modern public education. With ADHD, my views have been polarized in the way that I think this is an affliction that is over diagnosed. In fact, it is not hard to imagine students showing symptoms – specifically, lack of focus in traditional education environments – with the ever-increasing number of distractions we have in our modern society. And it is clear that the treatment, to anaesthetize or dull the senses with medications, is counter-productive in the promotion of divergent thinking. Turning to the influence of industrialization on education, I am convinced that how we provide public education needs to go through a drastic overhaul. This is daunting and difficult to know where to start. One good place might be rethinking how education is delivered in schools. We can make an effort to break the mold of “factory line” schools in favor of learning environments that maximize learning potential. This would mean having classes with mixed ages, allowing students to study at optimal times, and veering away from standardized testing to pursue more learner-beneficial methods of assessment. The data from the studies showing how divergent thinking deteriorates as children progress through the education system strongly indicate that changes need to be made to the latter – what Robinson negatively refers to as the “gene pool of education” – and I am inclined to agree with this sentiment.

Decisional
As I progress through the courses of this program, my views towards education are bubbling and boiling in different and better-informed ways. The ingredient of this journal entry was shifting the paradigm of public education towards a system that promotes divergent thinking. My views on this topic have expanded in the way that I do believe a change is needed with education systems, and I clearly see the benefits of embracing divergent thinking in public education. I also recognize how challenging, and frightening, these revolutionary changes are for learners and teachers alike. It’s not easy to go against established norms. My contribution to this movement will be spreading awareness to students and peers, identifying and possibly challenging previously established norms in public education, and pushing myself to adjust my teaching practice to reflect divergent thinking principles.

References
The RSA. (2013, May 22). RSA animate – Changing education pardigms [Video file]. Retrieved
from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=player_embedded&list=PL817E8F047824C4B4