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.
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.
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.
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.
Ted2012. (2012, Mar). Susan Cain: the power of introverts [Video file]. Retrieved
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.