Introverts face challenges in all areas of their life, and these challenges can become particularly pronounced when it comes to college or university education.
A recently amended study published in the Open Journal of Nursing found that the perceived unwillingness of introverts to get involved in open discussion and answer questions can create negative perceptions in tutors. This, coupled with the intense social demands that college presents, can create an environment that seems outwardly hostile to introverts.
However, while college can seem daunting, the reality of modern high education can actually provide distinct benefits to introverts. Colleges now use a wide range of learning methods and tools to help learners from all backgrounds succeed; when paired with the very nature that many introverts experience, higher education can actually be a better opportunity than most for introverts.
Understanding exactly what being introverted means is a key step in understanding this dynamic.
Fundamental personality types
There are many, many ways to classify personality, but one of the most readily understood is introverted versus extroverted. On a simple level, the difference is in how people impact you.
Typically, introverted people are comfortable in their own company or in small gatherings, whereas extroverted people will feel energetic from large gatherings or have consistent social interaction.
On a more detailed level, Healthline provides a full explanation as to what the key facets are.
The five key themes that experts focus on are:
· Openness to experience
These principles are fluid, of course. Times fluctuate, but there will be an average point on the scale where, in normal times, an individual sits. There is also no one-size-fits-all approach, either – there are shared traits, shared experiences, and different ways of perceiving the world that crosses over into both.
Generally speaking, an introverted person will prefer their alone time and may find their energy drained in large groups of people. However, defining oneself as an introvert is a bit more complicated.
What it takes
There are several different factors that can indicate you are an introvert. Psychology Today, in its coverage of the most basic personality types and factors, has settled on a few key areas where introverts clearly diverge from their peers.
One factor that introverts often experience is a heightened sense of self-confidence. They will naturally spend longer thinking over their decisions and all of their consequences, and this can mean more joined-up thinking. Others might perceive this as slow, but extroverts are known for making snap decisions that don’t always take account of all the necessary facts. For this reason, introverts often make excellent leaders – given some quiet and enough time, they will make excellent decisions.
Introverts also often have very close relationships with their friends – but only a handful. Maintaining social relationships can be exhausting for introverts, whereas extroverts are social butterflies able to flit from one place to the next. However, the depth of their relationships often doesn’t compare to those that introverts experience.
Introverts are also very well-equipped to deal with a very modern problem – constant noise and stimulation. Generally, at peace with listening to their own thoughts and enjoying the quiet, they have an uncanny ability to cut through the never-ending bombardment of media and find real space for their mental health. This is one of the key advantages introverts have when it comes to education, funnily enough.
What introverted people aren’t
There is an idea that introverted people tend toward social exclusion and are bad at making and keeping friends. This has been conclusively disproved by studies. One journal, published in Frontiers, found that self-reported introverts experienced the same level of loneliness, social anxiety and depression that their peers reported during the social lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. While introverted people may keep a smaller circle, they cannot necessarily do without that circle at all.
Notably, one advantage that introverted people do have in this area is executive function. The same people highlighted in the study did not experience decreases in cognitive ability, despite their mental health-related experiences. This shows that introverted people have the ability to work for longer under less-than-ideal social circumstances, though the long-term impact is not yet well understood.
Introversion and undertaking education
The deep thinking that many introverts exemplify is key to their ability to excel in higher education. Study is as much about understanding and digesting educational materials in a way that helps the information to ‘stick’ and puts it at ready use to be deployed in exams, coursework, and so on. As a result, you need to focus on learning tools that benefit you in the first instance.
Education experts Owlcation highlight a few key strategies for introverts. The main advice comes in the form of creating a creative space for learning. It should be quiet, neat and tidy, with plentiful space – but not too much – and with organized distractions for breaks, such as magazines, music, or radio. Avoid clutter; it is in itself a mental distraction that can drain energy.
When considering the actual act of learning itself, a few ideas come into play:
· Mix up study methods. Introverted people are experts at considering ‘quieter’ media forms, such as a simple book, but even they will reach plateaus. Switching out to noisier forms, like audiobooks, podcasts, eLearning videos or narrated journals, can help to break the rigmarole and inspire new thoughts.
· Develop a routine; a basic example could be an hour of study each night after the evening meal. This can help to bed in learning and provide real structure to the study process, meaning mental and physical preparation can come beforehand – helping introverts to make the most of their study period.
· Organize and maintain study materials, such as lectures, videos and recordings. Having synchronous media that can be easily controlled helps when getting in ‘the zone’ of study and will be a big benefit.
Working as a group
One common demand of university is group working. Extroverts often take to group sessions like a duck to water. Still, there is certainly a level of social anxiety associated with any attempt by lecturers or tutors to get individuals, previously only acquaintances, to work together. Developing a strategy for group work, then, is important.
One way to help introverts make meaningful contributions is by finding single but highly focused tasks. According to TheBestSchools.org, introverts can help themselves to succeed in the group work environment by doing prep work ahead of time. A private brainstorm to help produce subject matter to bring to the session will help to get collaboration rolling and avoid the social anxiety that a lack of ideas sometimes brings.
Then, taking on highly detailed but focused tasks will help to break up the group work effectively.
Introverts also act as excellent organizers, keeping each group member’s individual work and deadlines on track. Rather than navigating the high-energy demands of mixed deadlines and expectations, being able to manage specific expectations can be a boon to the organized-type personality.
How universities enable introverts
Introverts can experience a drain on their energy when around large groups of people. This can lead to an impairment in their ability to complete work and damage their educational ability.
Providing alternate ways of learning is therefore important and can provide huge benefits to introverts.
Virtual learning has formed a key component of college education for many years, but lockdowns necessitated an even heavier swing towards virtual learning. More lectures were taken digitally, in addition to traditionally in-person events such as tutorials and seminars.
While introverts were not able to completely move away from social interaction, being in the home environment and the controlled area of a digital voice call meant that there was a lot more control in place.
Virtual learning via online platforms has been proven to be effective, too, meaning that introverts haven’t lost out on any potential quality. According to the Brookings Institute, numerous studies and papers have shown that digital content, if properly structured, can be just as effective as its in-person counterpart. Providing a hybrid learning model to introverts can help them to excel – and, good news, many universities and colleges have continued to embrace this despite the return to ‘normal’.
A virtual learning landscape
Research has shown that a huge number of colleges have embraced the hybrid learning challenge. According to McKinsey, 92% of traditional educational facilities now offer hybrid learning as a core part of their course offerings.
The number of students who have experienced at least partially delivered virtual education has risen to 220 million, up from 300,000 in 2011. Venture funding for educational hybrid learning spaces has shot up to $8 billion as of 2021. In short, there is huge interest, investment and funding in hybrid learning spaces.
This, in turn, means that a majority of campuses are offering virtual learning – and the quality is always increasing. Simple lectures and non-interactive content will always have an important part to play. Still, the realization by colleges that they need to adapt to a digital way of learning means that there is likely to be an ever-increasing quality of content and better ways of delivery.
All in all, good news for introverts who will need varied learning and the opportunity to sit in their quiet spaces and engage thoughtfully and quietly.
Developing into education
In many ways, further education is about developing these learning faculties and learning from educators on how they use their own techniques to facilitate learning. This makes them excellent educators.
According to Rasmussen College, introverted teachers make excellent educators due to a few key factors:
· Introverted educators are cautious when meeting new people, which helps to build understanding and establish a mutually preferred learning style.
· The lack of desire for attention puts students at the forefront and also opens up their time for honest discussion on learning and subject material.
· They think carefully before speaking, meaning the message they deliver is always on-point and tailored to the educational environment.
· They have the time to be deeply involved in learning; they can spend free time really engaging with their learning and ensuring they’ve properly digested it in order to then provide great experiences to students.
Consider how this could dovetail with your own skills. A lifetime of learning can help to develop and bed in learning abilities; those, in turn, can be deployed to help a new generation of students fulfill their potential. Despite the inherent challenge posed by constantly meeting new people, introverts can become really effective educators – and, in turn, provide excellent service to people who might need higher-quality teachers.
Introverts and extroverts are two of the main personality classifications by which you can understand people – an easy way to pull apart and classify differences. They’re also fundamental in understanding how you are best educated and what tools can be best deployed to gain the absolute maximum benefit from source material and lectures.
Introverts are different to extroverts but can be excellent learners – they just need a little help. Much of that will come from self-discipline and practicing healthy study habits, but there is room for educational institutions to help, too.
Specifically, that comes from the hybrid learning environment. The ability to learn and receive tutoring from a digital source provides introverts with a way to take downtime from high-energy social interactions and enjoy learning in their own time. It enables introverts to take time doing what they do best – thinking through problems, making high-quality notes, and planning for the next challenge. It also ensures that social burnout is avoided, as introverts do need social interaction, even with a tight-knit group of friends.
With this enabling framework in place, there’s a clear argument that introverts stand to gain more from higher education than perhaps any one other group. They have the mindset and dedication to go on and succeed – with the proper framework to support them.