Education and the bias against introverts (and what to do about it)

8 Mar

Recently I watched Susan Cain’s talk at TED about “The Power of Introverts.” In this talk, Cain argues that the majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert (someone who is assertive, bold, outgoing, works best in groups) and consequently design activities accordingly – group exercises etc … However, Cain points to research that contradicts this opinion. Rather than extroverts, research suggests that introverts are the ideal students, getting better grades and having more knowledge.

So why the disconnect? Cain argues that there is a “deep and real bias” in society against introverts, historically forged by the raise of the “culture of personality.” The raise of the “culture of personality” has sidelined the introvert in favour of those who shout loudest. Of course, not only does this exclude a significant proportion of the population but as Cain notes, there is “zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

So how do we, as educators, change our own misconceptions and societal bias against introverts? I believe we need to start by focusing on instructional design and the activities that we create for learning transfer. For example, group exercises are great for sharing ideas, but where are the moments for individual reflection to generate ideas? We should create opportunities for learners to think about their own solution to a problem before turning the exercise into a group discussion. This should shift the perceived value of the introvert. Rather than someone with nothing to say, the introvert is given the opportunity to express their ideas (and research suggests that introverts have the best ideas!).

I would recommend watching Susan Cain’s talk at TED. Here is the link:

Her talk offers educators a different perspective. One that can only enhance learning for all.


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