Introverts. Who are they and how do we ensure they thrive in active learning classrooms? If you have ever come to the midterm point of the semester and graded a stellar paper of a student whose name you don’t recognize and who has never raised her hand in class, you may have just identified an introvert in your classroom.

In every classroom there are a significant proportion of students who would identify themselves as introverts, if they understood what that term meant. Originally conceived by Carl Jung, the concepts of introversion and extroversion have been helpful ways of understanding basic differences in human temperament (Jung, 1970). Often confused with shyness, introversion is an aspect of personality which affects how we engage in social activity and our preferences for learning. Unlike extroverts, who typically are energized by social interaction, introverts can find connecting with large groups of unfamiliar people exhausting. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy meaningful friendships, but are quite happy in their own company.

In an academic environment, introverts may prefer to work completely alone and discover their best ideas in solitude. They are likely to be comfortable in a lecture hall; listening and learning without the demands of engaging with others. But what we know about learning suggests that this passive mode of learning has its limitations, so many of us infuse our classrooms with more active learning strategies.

So how do we respect introverts’ needs amidst all of this active learning? The very first class is an excellent time to establish participation norms and to create a classroom climate that supports introverts in their learning. An activity where students work with a partner is likely to fall within the comfort zone of even the most introverted student, and it still communicates that active participation is both an expectation and a benefit for learning. Whether it is having pairs of students review the syllabus and come up with questions for clarification, or inviting pairs to identify what they most want to learn in the course, working with a partner right from the beginning will create at least one personal contact for the introverted student who, left to his own devices, might sit through an entire semester completely on his own.   … Read More