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During my university preparations to be an educator, I was taught to identify my students’ different learning styles and to develop lesson plans that would include the applicable learning styles in my classroom. The different types of learning styles and the names of each style have changed over the years, but the concept of teaching for diverse learning styles and different types of students remains the same. We must learn to identify what motivates our students to learn and how to work with their personalities and learning styles so they can have the best academic outcomes.  We must also recognize our own learning style and teach consciously using our strengths, while at the same time eliminating our weaknesses according to our own personality and learning type.

“We must learn to identify what motivates our students.”

Some of the most popular personality tests include Myers-Briggs, True Colors, Big Five, and the Enneagram. There are, of course, many more personality tests that can be discovered online, but it seems that one of the most popular in regards to education is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Because of its popularity, I will focus on these traits for the purpose of this article, and I hope to touch on others in the future.

I have been an ESL teacher for the last 15 years in Latin America, so identifying the learning styles of students has become second nature to me in my brick-and-mortar classroom. I recently became an online ESL tutor and have found that personality types appear to be the same in cyberspace as in regular classrooms. The Myers-Briggs personality test would be difficult for me to administer to my young, foreign students, but I can ascertain basics about them through my classroom and take advantage of those basic traits to help them engage and enjoy our short classroom time together.

“Personality types appear to be the same in cyberspace as in regular classrooms.”

The Myers-Briggs personality type test focuses on four major areas: Orientation to life, perception, decision-making, and the attitude toward the outside world.

MyersbriggstypesThe first part of the Myers-Briggs test focuses on the individual’s orientation to life. Are the students extroverts or introverts? This is easily observed and determined in the first few moments of a class. The students who are bold in greeting and quick to answer the questions are extroverts, while the more timid students who need coaching tend to be the introverts. I try to always keep in mind how intimidating it must be for my young students to have a foreigner speaking directly to them through their computer monitor. For some, it is the first time they have ever interacted with anything but a fellow countryman, and that can be very frightening. The best thing I can do is to use the universal smile and to speak slowly and quietly to the introvert. My tone of voice changes, my expression alters, and I am more patient with them as I gently prod them along in the class. The extrovert doesn’t need much prodding, as they are likely to answer for everyone in the classroom, and I quickly establish my authority and define limits for them. I welcome their enthusiasm and use it to encourage the introverts; all the while making sure the introvert is not completely overshadowed and hidden by the more rambunctious extrovert.

The second part of the Myers-Briggs test is about the perception of the outside world, whether the individual is intuitive or sensing. The student who uses intuition is more likely to see the lesson in a broader category, while the sensing student will see things in a more concrete way. When I teach my lessons, I like to present the general overview of the lesson and examples to help the intuitive student. For my sensing students, I have found the concrete examples rather than concept explanations tend to help them maximize their ESL learning. To make sure I cover both personality types, I make sure that I state the objective of the lesson and give a brief introduction. Doing this allows for the intuitive students to know what they need to take in during the lesson. A sensing student will want to have concrete examples during the lesson. For an ESL classroom, this may be as simple as stating, “Today we will be looking at the simple present tense, like ‘I am…’ and ‘She runs…’” for both types of learners.

The third part of the Myers-Briggs personality test refers to decision-making. A person may make a decision using their feelings, or they may decide using their thought processes.  In a classroom, we can help our feeling students by encouraging them to listen to their gut after they have learned a concept, while we are reinforcing it. Those feeling students rely on their knowledge, though they may not be able to walk through the process step by step. They will be able to tell you an answer based on their gut feeling, which is their way of processing knowledge, without telling you the reason behind it. The thinking student may be able to tell you the reason, but they will take longer to answer at times because they aren’t processing based on a feeling. They have to go step by step in their brain in order to answer a question posed by the teacher.  As educators, we must remember that neither of these types is right or wrong. I might prefer to see a student logically walk through the steps to obtain an answer, but the feeling students will perhaps get the right answer quickly without being able to explain it at all.

Finally, the fourth part of the Myers-Briggs personality test refers to the individual’s attitude toward the outside world. Each person leans either toward judgment or perception. This seems very similar to the sensory vs. intuition, and it is very much in the learning environment. I prefer to simplify the personality assessment when it comes to learning by analyzing if the student uses logic or feelings to solve a problem. The student who leans towards judgment will want a structured environment, which is easily provided in the online ESL classroom environment. The student who leans towards perception will prefer a less rigid approach, and enjoy a trial-and-error approach.

In order for a tutor or teacher to create a healthy and engaging environment for their online classroom, we must keep in mind that not all students learn the same as we do.  I find this can be easy to remember when we are uncomfortable, but once we fall into our educational routine, we tend to teach the same way and forget about the variations needed by those who learn differently. I challenge you to spend some time becoming aware of your own personality and learning style, and then study the types you do not have, so you can better meet the needs of your online and offline students.

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