Friday, 13 September 2019

The psychology of online learning and teaching

I have been teaching with digital media for more than 15 years now and something that has always surprised me is that in each school only a few teachers are really enthusiastic about it, with a lot of teachers trying to avoid it altogether. What is more, even though the myth of the digital native has been quite pervasive in the past ten years or so, there are still teenagers who would prefer not to learn digitally and do it the old fashions way with paper and pen.
I started out in the early 2000s with creating my own websites with HTML and web-editors. This was admittedly very geeky and I could understand that not all teachers wanted to invest time in learning and creating their own websites. As technology made it increasingly easier to put content online (in chronological order: Moodle, YouTube, Blogs, Google Docs, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, just to name a few of my favorite online tools) the numbers of teachers using these tools did not increase significantly to my surprise.
A year ago, I started on a quest to find out why this is so and I struck gold with personality psychology. The two most important traits that make somebody interested in online learning or teaching are in terms of the Big Five inventory:
  • openness to experience
  • introversion
These relevance of these two personality traits are actually quite easy to understand:
Introverts tend to spend more time alone and therefore also use their digital devices. Extroverts prefer to spend more time in social settings and also tend to prefer peer learning, whereas introverts tend to prefer to learn on their own and they find plenty of possibilities online, be it blogs, wikis or video tutorials. As far teachers are concerned: the overwhelming majority of teachers are extroverts. Typical subjects for introverted teachers are IT and art.
Openness to experience is also pretty straightforward: these are people who like to try out new things, technology, methods, etc. whereas the opposite would be routine-loving and traditional people.
As there the Big Five Inventory isn’t very operational I turned to Myers-Briggs and asked many eLearning colleagues to take this ten-minute test: https://www.16personalities.com/.  There was a single most important trait that predicted the use of digital media in classrooms: N (Intuition), with introversion as runner-up.
My continued online research showed the same results: INs (introverted intuitive) were the dominant personality group online. Here is one statistic about online gamers (and it probably wouldn’t look very different for online learners/teachers):

The bigger picture regarding online teaching I got from my research:

INTXs: technological innovators, creators of learning sites, apps, scientific researchers, etc.
This group comprises classical geeks, like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, as well as a lot of people with Asperger’s or ASD.
Elon Musk: INTP/INTJ personality, the epitome of the archetypal geek. Source: Wikimedia 

INFXx: very early adaptors of new technology and pedagogical innovators, creators of new learning scenarios, like e-portfolios, flipped classroom, etc.

ENXXs: the extroverted intuitives tend to be early adopters and avid promoters of online learning via online webinars, seminars, conference talks, etc. 
Here is a tentative list of how Myers-Briggs personality traits influence online teaching:

E/I: extroverts tend to be in the foreground; e.g. they love doing flipped classroom videos, giving webinars, etc.; introverts tend to work out innovative scenarios in the background
N/S: Ns tend to be visionary as well as playful (the games-based learning community probably consists exclusively of N types), S types tend to create “practical scenarios”, i.e. their emphasis is on saving time, efficiency, etc. rather than innovative and creative aspects of online learning

T/F: Ts tend to be more interested in the technological challenges, whereas Fs tend to focus on pedagogy.
P/J: P: love trying out new technology and are therefore among the earliest adopters. Plus, they tend to get bored with one tool, so they use a lot of different online tools. Js tend to be more conscientious, but less explorative than Ps, so they tend to focus on fewer tools for which they become experts, e.g. Microsoft Office 365.
To give a concrete example: my own personality profile is INFP/INTP borderline. I have been using  online services and the internet since my teens (early adopter), created websites for my students in HTML, been on YouTube users since year 1 and even created tutorials for my own students (example here), therefore being both a “YouTuber” and “Flipped Classroom Teacher” even before these terms became widely known. However, as an introvert, I feel a bit uncomfortable with being in the limelight on YouTube or at conferences, so I prefer writing blogs (example here). I have even programmed online quizzed for my students and set up alpha versions of Moodle servers that supported mobile devices (my T side).  Time and again, I have tried to gamify my lessons with QR scavengers hunts, online games and digital classroom games like Kahoot and Quizlet life. Last, but not least, I get bored with doing the same projects again and again, so I try out at least a few new tools as well as trying to develop at least one new teaching scenario each school year (my P side). In contrast to J personality types who would choose one tool like Mahara for digital portfolios, I have tried more than half a dozen: Moodle plugins, Google Drive,  Google Slides, Google Sites, Blogs, Wikis and OneNote Classroom. 
As I have noticed differences in affinities towards online learning in my students, I try to teach them differentially; e.g. I leave them the option if they want to turn in homework digitally or on paper, if they want to do a presentation in class or if they want to record it, or if they study vocabulary via the Quizlet app or traditional vocabulary lists on paper.

One last remark, as far as online learners are concerned: online learning seems to be quite successful among special education students. I am not too experience with special ed students, but I have noticed that a lot of them also tend to be introverted intuitive. This is particularly true for ASD and Asperger’s students.

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