Faculty Focus


Five Ways to Engage Classroom Introverts

Introvert and extrovert drawn on chalkboard

It may be a misconception regarding personality traits that the more verbal, outgoing classroom extroverts maintain superior classroom or academic ability. While having an introverted personality is generally not indicative of the student’s cognitive capacity, it may pose obstacles for instructors who value regular classroom engagement. Here are five brief ways that instructors may be able to better support the personalities and enhance engagement of introverted students in the classroom setting.

1. Build in peer-support measures

Active learning efficacy is well-established, but whether students are at an advantage or disadvantage with peer-to-peer interactions is unknown.1 Learning environments with frequent peer-based discussion may beg the question as to whether introverted students may not perform as successfully as their ambivert or extrovert counterparts. Introverted students may prefer less social stimulation and require more time to reflect before contributing to the peer-based group; conversely, more outgoing students may be more comfortable with quick decision-making and spontaneously sharing ideas.2

Within an active learning environment, there are a few ways to make all students feel confident and comfortable in active participation. First, consider building in time for students to discuss within smaller groups before answering to the larger group setting; this can help active participation, networking, and forming study groups, while removing barriers to activity with fellow students. Having students choose group roles in which they are most comfortable may in turn allow both self-comfort and peer support.2 Finally, written reflections that can be shared can help motivate performance without necessarily creating “performance anxiety.”1 With consideration to the development of group work, skills and contribution, introverted students can have a positive experience within active learning and peer interactions.1

2. Attempt problem-based learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) enhances cooperative learning, disciplinary subject learning, iterative learning, and authentic learning.3 When PBL is used between students or individually, it can help strengthen critical thinking, collaboration, teamwork, and creativity skills, thus maintaining its essentiality in the lives of students and strengthening peer-to-peer engagement.3 In one study, a PBL model was employed in an entrepreneurial course, which lead to a significant increase in student motivation.4 This study reported that confidence gained through the PBL process may play a role in learning. When students have more control over learning and establish a baseline of self-awareness and confidence, both motivation and engagement are likely to improve.

3. Utilize both competitive and cooperative learning methodology

Cooperative learning (CL) is a means of working together to achieve a shared learning goal.5 One significant attribute of successful CL is that groups are structured in a way to ensure that members work interdependently and reap both social and academic benefits. By doing so, it is thought that CL can enhance the support of students that identify as introverted.

Interestingly, one study that examined cooperative versus competitive learning for reading comprehension on extroverted and introverted students found that introverts outperformed extroverts in terms of competitive learning in a reading-based environment.6 This indicates that assignment type may also play a role in relation to personality trait, as reading is an activity more likely to be associated with the introverted personality.

4. Incorporate authentic and relatable assignments

In its simplest form, authentic instruction may be achieved by designing curriculums and assessments based on specific material in a context that can be applied to real-world scenarios rather than generalized instruction.7 Therefore, teaching delivery that is more targeted to the student’s environment may allow each individual to more efficiently internalize the information. One study addressing English as a Second Language sought to determine the effect of authentic learning instruction on personality type using immersion with audio/visual (A/V) technology.8 It was found that the utilization of authentic A/V materials significantly improved learning in both introverted and extroverted students, which supports authentic instruction regardless of this personality type. Similar results were observed when project-based learning was utilized to compare speaking ability when looking at English as a Foreign Language in introverted versus extroverted student cohorts.9

5. Bring in the technology

Similar to the implementation of authentic instruction, the use of technology should not be overlooked in modern classrooms. Utilizing applied technology such as A/V material and audience-response systems (ARS) is important in the realms of student engagement, and may be vital for students who identify as introverted. One study evaluated methods that may be used to increase student engagement in large classes consisting of up to 500 students.10 When ARS technology was assessed in a first-year course, the results showed that those who frequently utilized the technology were more likely to be engaged with the lectures. However, the authors demonstrated that extroversion was not associated with an increased propensity to use the technology and engage in the classroom. ARS technology was shown to be an efficient method to increase classroom engagement among those students who identify as introverted.

While introverts may superficially appear disinterested, consistent engagement can be achieved via implementation of relatively simple adaptations. The introvert/extrovert component is only one piece of the trait-based personality makeup. Adapting to unique classroom personalities may be a distinctive, but surmountable task for instructors.

Kimberly A. Pesaturo, PharmD, BCPS, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Western New England University in Massachusetts. Her research interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning and pediatrics/emergency medicine.

Benjamin M. Miller was a PharmD candidate at Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at the time of writing. He will be starting a PGY-1 pharmacy residency at Frederick Health Hospital in July 2022.

Isabella Moniz was a PharmD candidate at Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at the time of writing.


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