Wednesday, October 05, 2016

7 tips to engage introverts in social learning

Introverts love to stay indoors and have difficulties expressing themselves, while extraverts are outgoing and enjoy telling all their stories. That is the image we often have about intro/extraverts. How does this relate to social learning? Can introverts engage in social learning? It could be that introverted professionals prefer to go through individual e-learning models and more extroverted professionals in social learning activities.  Maybe extroverted learners are especially active in a community of practice and the introverts read along and 'lurk'. But is that true? 

With these questions in our minds we, Annet van der Hulst and Joitske Hulsebosch, have investigated this theme, using articles, blogposts and doing a mini-research. Our aim is to find out what the difference is between both groups and how you can use this in your design of social learning processes. Here's a pinterest board with resources. An important source is the book Quiet by Susan Cain.

The definition of introvert and extravert

A third to half of the people are introverts. From Cain's book: “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough. Think of an introvert like: reflective, bookworm, sensitive, thoughtful, modest, friendly, risk-averse, avoiding conflict. The extrovert is action-oriented, assertive, active, outward looking and feels comfortable in the spotlight. And all without generalizing :). Do you know if you are introverted or extroverted (or ambivert)?

Everybody is social

In this infographic about introverts we immediately find an important conclusion: introverts are not antisocial, they have just as much need for interaction as extroverts. In other words introverts learn socially, but may like other types of learning activities. Susan Cain draws the same conclusion: “Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity”.

What are learning preferences of the introvert and extrovert professional?

We have already concluded that everybody engages in social learning. But let's go back a step: do introverts have different learning preferences? In Kolb's learning cycle he distinguishes four learning activities. Two of them (reflective observation and abstract conceptualization) would, according to him more fit an introvert dimension and the other two (active experimentation and concrete experience) more extrovert. That does not mean that introverts can not or will not perform the other activities, but that introverted and extroverted learners have different preferences. For social learning would mean that activities that are invoked to reflect on the skills and thinking are more attractive to the introvert learner and you can expect more activity and input.

Karin de Galan from the School for training has written in Dutch about training introverted participants. She finds it difficult that the introverted participants provide less response while they are happy with the content of the training. According to her it is easier to engage the introverts if you give time to think, build in one-on-one conversations instead of only discussions in plenary, and in work assignment go at a slower pace. Translated to (online) social learning, this means that you do not always expect an immediate response in an online debate, but offer space to formulate a response (for example, send prior to a Webinar or online meeting some questions to think about). It is also good to get together in smaller groups or to work in pairs  (in a separate room during a live webinar for example, or in a subgroup on LinkedIn or Yammer). In Quiet we read about examples which support this line of thought. Avril Thorne did an experiment with women in conversation in pairs. The surprising thing was that the introverted women talked no less than the extroverted. However, the introverted pairs talked about one or two serious issues, while the extrovert discussed much lighter and wider issues. Another observation which confirms our findings is that introverts really like collaborative learning, but have a preference for groups of 2-3 with clear roles.

Online preferences of introverts and extroverts professionals: "it's a level playing field"

How about sharing online? Online seems just right for the introverted professional, because of the delay in communication. You can think as long as you like about your answer.  Heidi Cohen: Social media engagement affords introverts the ability to engage for short, strategic interactions on their own terms. introvertspring notes that online is perfect for both groups: "It’s a level playing field online".  Susan Cain: “Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the “real me” online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally.” However, online we have to deal with information overload and extroverts seem better at coping with information overload. The reflection of introverted professionals namely takes a lot of cognitive space. If we state our cognitive capacity as 100%, then 75% of the introvert capacity is task-oriented and they use 25% to reflect. For extraverts these figures are  90% versus 10%.

Mini-research (n=8)

We are curious what we ourselves observe with regards to preferences within social learning activities in introverts and extroverts professionals- and especially online. We held a mini- survey (N = 8) within our online course. The result is as follows:

Some tentative conclusions we can draw from this mini-research:

  • The extrovert professionals prefer activities such discussing statement in conversation, face-to-face meetings, a lot of interaction and synchronous online workshops. These are activities where the direct and synchronous social contacts are more central. Also, the more 'do-oriented' activities.
  • The introverted professionals have a preference for activities like a webinar with an expert, discover and experiment with tools and work on their own case. These too are part of social learning, but they contain almost all an asynchronous aspect or an aspect where finding out by yourself is a part. Again, we notice some 'do-oriented' activities, but the thinking and reflection activities are note-worthy. 

At first glance, the results of our little research seems so to confirm the learning activities that Kolb calls more introverted.

Seven tips for designers of social learning processes

Thus we arrive at seven tips for the designer and facilitator of social learning processes that take both groups adequately into account, so that everyone feels good and can actively participate.

Tip 1. Know yourself and your audience. How many introverted and extroverted professionals do you expect? And what are your own preferences? If you know your own taste, you can program the opposite: try to see your program through the eyes of the others.

Tip 2. Blended is a good way to serve both types of professionals. Face-to-face extroverts may take the lead and can be overwhelming for introverts. One seems perfect for the introverted type. A 'level playing field'.

Tip 3. Maintain a good balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning. Synchronous speaks to the extroverts more, asynchronous more to the introverted.

Tip 4. Vary between larger, smaller groups and plenary. Work in pairs of two can provide a secure space for introverts to express themselves.

Tip 5. Find a balance between hands-on activities and reflection. Introverts love to go in depth. Be sure to find the space for it.

Tip 6. Make sure all types of learning activities are covered: reflection, theory, active experimentation and experience, in this way you cater for all preferences.

Tip 7. Help introverts professionals to direct their attention. Extroverts can better cope with information overload. Online, overload is hard to avoid. Help introverts to deal with it by directing them to the most relevant discussions.

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