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Friday, January 25, 2013

Learning to Learn - Introverts and Extraverts in Group Study: Innovative Collaboration, or Recipe for Disaster?

by Jim Larkin and Jack Powers

People don’t learn the same way, and much of what’s required in school favors certain learning preferences over others. One common place where we see conflicting learning styles play out is the famous -- or infamous --  “study group.” You know the drill -- the teacher breaks you up into random groups and assigns a theme -- the Holy Roman Empire, it was neither holy, nor was it Roman -- and then leaves you to talk amongst yourselves. 

People’s reactions to this experience are often polarized, and for good reason. The human population is roughly equally divided between those with a preference for Extraversion, who are energized by social interaction, and those with a preference for Introversion, who have to expend mental and emotional energy in social settings. Those preferring Extraversion, not surprisingly, operate much more naturally in group study. If one or two people dominate the conversation, it doesn't mean they’re smarter, more interested, or harder working than the others -- most likely it just indicates they’re predisposed toward Extraversion. Likewise, if other members of the group aren't talking, it doesn't always mean they’re less engaged in the assignment -- just that they prefer Introversion, and don’t operate as naturally in a group study setting. 

Does this mean we should abolish group study? Certainly not. Not only does it provide a valuable learning experience, but it also allows us to explore how those preferring Introversion can more effectively engage with Extraverts, thereby gaining communication skills that will serve them far beyond school.  
  1. Know thyself. Often those who feel less comfortable in group study don’t know why -- sometimes they even think there’s something wrong with them. Simply recognizing that you have a preference for Introversion can help stem resentment, and empower you with the understanding that you can flex within your preference to get more out of the experience. How do you “flex” within your natural preference?
  2. Come prepared. People who prefer Introversion often like to think about a subject before commenting on it, and don’t always feel comfortable speaking off the cuff. Therefore, the better informed you are on the subject beforehand, the less hesitant you’ll feel about participating in the conversation. If you really want to make an impact, outline beforehand a few points that you want to bring up with the group and fully formulate them in your head.
  3.  Leave your comfort zone and learn to offer a less-than-complete package. Recognize that you won’t always have the luxury of feeling fully prepared to expound on a subject, and that not knowing everything doesn't mean that you can’t say anything. For some speaking extemporaneously is an inborn talent, for others it’s a learned skill. Like any other learned skill, the more you you do it, the less awkward and more confident you’ll feel doing it. 
As you grow in your understanding of your preference for either Introversion or Extraversion and how it affects how you naturally tend to participate in a study group, you’ll be able to contribute more purposefully to the group’s success, as well as enjoy the experience. In our next post we’ll discuss how those with a preference for Extraversion can work more effectively with their Introversion-preferring counterparts in group study.

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