What Personality Types Prefer Online Learning

These differences in online study habits reveal how one personality type seems to be apt at learning on the web.

The T.A. Role

Young people need many of the skills they need to succeed in today’s world. Among them: communication, leadership, problem solving, project management, collaboration, and technology.

The ability to successfully engage with and understand the challenges that others face is a big deal. Beyond being just a great communicator, education can teach both individuals and organizations the critical skills to become less disruptive in their communities and be more responsive to people’s needs, which often make up for the lack of technical knowledge.

This is the thesis of a new study by Peter Wellington-Hill and Samantha R. Backman that was published in the Journal of Technology & Society.

Educational Systems for Today’s Youth

According to the researchers, typical learning experiences for millennials tend to revolve around very low levels of interaction and their subjects have no direct relevance to students’ workaday lives. The traditional core curriculum with its scheduled blocks of classes remains important, but students rarely participate in it, and they spend less time preparing for class.

They view learning and education with “digital envy,” looking for ways to be productive, engaged, and enjoyable in the digital age. They increasingly want to learn more from their peers online, engage with subjects and topics that are relevant to their roles and responsibilities as leaders and workers, and come to expect that learning must be available for them whenever they want.

From an organizational perspective, management professionals no longer see education as a rigid and traditional process. Instead, they expect school to be one of a variety of components that can be used to create workplaces where everyone can contribute to a common purpose and be measured by shared goals, shared values, and shared experiences.

So what characteristics and traits do survey respondents identify as being associated with online learning? Do their likes and dislikes vary from those of the general population? To find out, the researchers conducted two large-scale surveys.

The first looked at individual characteristics including age, gender, education and occupation. In terms of qualities like openness, engagement, and rational thought, participants ranked their own educational experiences as to be less impressive than those of younger peers who had completed traditional schooling.

The researchers then shifted their focus to the educational institutions in which participants received their education and examined the characteristics and beliefs of students.

Overall, findings showed that study seekers are significantly more likely to link their online learning experiences to a group experience and as well as to “challenge their independent thinking.” And among those who report using and exploring online learning within their organizations, a high rate reported using or exploring it for occupational, civic, political or emotional needs.

“The rise of online learning is tied to a rich tapestry of research,” said Wellington-Hill, co-author of the study. “The study findings, along with the wider enterprise knowledge base, tell us that this form of learning provides structure, opportunity, and context where students can develop a broad range of skills in environments that are outside of their (or their communities’) narrow educational experience. For leaders, students, employers, and policymakers, these skills offer a rich alternative to learning in an individualized and often overcrowded world.”

About the Authors

Peter Wellington-Hill, an assistant professor in the Department of Management, is the executive director of Business & Society at Princeton University. His research and teaching explores organizational learning in light of the interconnection between public, private, social, and academic institutions. He has conducted and taught several studies examining the ways organizations respond to and serve increasingly digital environments, including aspects of their pedagogical practices, their process of learning and development, and their provision of teaching resources. Wellington-Hill also published The Transformation of the College in the Digital Age, offering a meta-analysis of scholarly work on the digital experience in higher education, online learning, and education innovation.

Samantha R. Backman, an assistant professor of management, is the director of the interactive division at Harvard Business School’s Center for Global Learning. She has written about the collaborative practices of the Walt Disney World Associates; the power of international learning, which touches policy-makers; and the strategies of iconic businesses such as Walt Disney.

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