March 13, 2014

Influence of Personality Types on Learning Preferences

By Margaret Curtin, Pharm.D., Ph.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident,
Sinai Hospital of Baltimore

Pick one image below that appeals to you most.
Read more to interpret your selection.


A variety of learning theories, including behaviorist, cognitive, and constructivist, were developed in the twentieth century to explain how people learn.1 These theories focus on different aspects of learning and the situations in which one theory would be more applicable than another. None of the theories, however, specifically address personality type.1 It can be appreciated that personality affects how people learn and the type of environment(s) in which they will likely excel.  How a person learns is a motivational tendency that has been linked to personality.1 Some learning models have been developed to include personality factors and some personality models have adapted post hoc to including learning preferences.2 

Personality is defined as an inborn temperament and features that arising in response to the external environment.  It is a combination of characteristics that separate one individual from others.1 Since learning styles can be thought of as habits, personality traits inevitably affect learning behavior and serve a facilitative role with regard to motivation. It is critical to emphasize that no one personality type is superior to another and each occur at different frequencies within a given population. Each personality type has its own learning style (e.g. different preferences with regard to the approach to learning) and is motivated by different factors.1 

Many studies have been conducted which have found statistically significant relationships between learning style and personality type.1 For example, one study showed a positive relationship between extroverted personality traits and active-minded learning styles.1 Other studies examined outcomes based on knowledge of personality types, and the results indicated that both work and leadership outcomes were improved when personality types were considered by the learner during the learning process.2

Learning styles describe the way that we take in and process information.  Each individual has a preference for the way they learn and this gets strengthened with practice. Cognitive learning styles are defined as the consistencies in the unique manner that a learner acquires and processes information.3

Many different learning style models have been described, such as the Grasha-Recihmann Learning Style Scale (GRLSS), Goley’s Learning Pattern assessment (LP), and Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles (ILS), to name a few. ILS includes four domains of learning, as shown in the table below.3

Learning Dimension
Preferred Learning Style


Sensory (S)
Likes concrete facts, figures, data, experimentation
Intuitive (N)
Prefer theory and principles, solve problems through innovation
Visual (V)
Remember pictures, diagrams, and flowcharts
Verbal (B)
Remember spoken information that they had heard and discussed

Active (A)
Hands-on experience or discussion of information
Reflective (R)
Requires time to think about what they are learning, learn best by understanding theory
Sequential (Q)
Prefer logically order progression
Global (G)
Gain knowledge by connecting individual aspects to big picture rather than learning individual parts

To address both learning styles in the first dimension (perception), the instructor should optimally provide a mixture of concrete facts and abstract theory. Visual (V) and verbal (B) learners can both be reached if the learning experience includes interactive discussions, visual materials, and illustrations of complex problems.3 Similarly, sufficient pauses (or breaks between learning events) to allow the reflective (R) learner to understand theory as well as including a hands-on activity for the active (A) learner would reach both processing styles. Most curricula are set up in a sequential fashion, but in order to reach the global (G) learner, the instructor should present the big picture prior to discussing details, allowing the G learner to make connections on their own.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a well-known personality test that has been used by many companies to build healthy relationships among employees.4 Personality types are divided into four domains resulting in 16 unique combinations.

  • I (Introvert), E (Extrovert): how people focus attention and get energy
  • S (Sensing), N (Intuition): how people take in information and ways they become aware of things
  • T (Thinker), F (Feeler): how people evaluate and come to conclusions about information
  • J (Judging), P (Perceiving): a person’s lifestyle and work habits

One’s personality traits, as identified by MBTI, has a clear influence on learning styles and preferences.4 Lessons can be constructed to best meet the needs of all students with varying MBTI personality types.3  Instructors may find it easiest to approach this task by presenting the same lesson content in multiple ways, in order to appeal to the preferences of all (or most) students.5

Strategies for effective learning based on S/N and T/F traits are outlined in the Table 1.  For example, extroverts (E) work best in situations that allow time for discussion or working in a group. These learners do well in activities that involve interaction with people.4 Introverts (I), on the other hand, are energized by the inner world of reflection and thought, and tend to enjoy reading and written work over discussions.  I types like independent work.4 In order to appeal to both I and E types, the learning experience should encompass both discussion and independent work, enabling all learners to optimize their potential. Additionally, judging (J) types live in a planned and orderly way.  J types do well with clear, consistent, and formalized instruction and want to complete defined tasks according to a specified timeline. Perceiving (P) types differ in that they are more spontaneous by nature and prefer to operate without deadlines.4 When appealing to both J and P subtypes, a learning experience could be structured so that clear expectations are set at the beginning but leaving it up to the learner to design their own timeline. Opportunities for elective projects and optional activities would appeal to the P subtype but less likely to interest the J type.

Through an understanding of the influence of personality types on learning preferences, the instructor can devise creative ways to customize the leaning process.5  In a large group of learners representing many different personality types (and learning preferences) it will be a challenge to offer something uniquely tailored to each person. By utilizing a variety of teaching approaches, one has the opportunity to appeal to all personality types.5 Simply put, knowledge of personality types and learning preferences put into practice can help educators communicate more effectively with students and deliver instruction in a way that maximizes the learning experience for each individual.

Table 1
Use the table below to uncover your personality based on the image you selected. Are the suggested strategies for learning accurate based on your personality?

If you picked the …
Personality Type
Type of Question
Learning preferences generally include:
Paper clip
(Sensing Thinking)
immediate responses and feedback, details and sequential order, hands-on activities with a specific correct answer, clear concise step-by-step instructions, knowing expectations, drill and practice
Magnifying glass
(Intuitive Thinking)
planning and organizing before working, working independently, arguing and debating, analyzing and examining pros and cons, thinking about ideas and how they are related, logical and strategic games, designing a new way to do something
(Intuitive Feeling)
What if?
learning without time constraints, praise for personal ideas and insights, using creativity and imagination, open-ended activities with many possibilities, working on many things at once, creative and artistic activities
Teddy Bear
(Sensing Feeling)
What does it mean to me?
getting personal attention and praise, sharing feelings and experiences, working in groups/being part of a team, having someone show how to do something, role-playing and personal expression, non-competitive games where no one loses, interpersonal activities

  1. Ibrahimoglu N, Unaldi I, Samancioglu M, Baglibel M. The relationship between personality traits and learning styles: a cluster analysis. Asian Journal of Management Sciences and Education. 2013; 2: 93-108.
  2. Jackson CJ, Hobman EV, Jimmieson NL, Martin R. Comparing different approach and avoidance models of learning and personality in the prediction of work, university, and leadership outcomes. British Journal of Psychology. 2009; 100: 283-312.
  3. Silver H, Perini M, Strong R. The Strategic Teacher:  Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson. 2007 Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  4. Type and Learning. The Myers and Briggs Foundation. [Internet]
  5. Winn JM, Grantham VV. Using Personality Type to Improve Clinical Education Effectiveness. Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology. 2005; 33:210-213.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

loved your write-up.