The Impact of Personality and Interest on Learning Outcomes

Human beings often make decisions based on personality. We choose to hire, live with, work with, or even spend the rest of our lives with someone based on personality. One could even assert that we have become a personality obsessed culture; from the Myers-Briggs® (MBTI®) assessment to Enneagrams to the DISC assessment, there are numerous assessments on the market that help people mine through the complexities of their character. These tools tell them everything they may want to know about who they are, what their motivations are, and how they make decisions. With such incredible insight on character traits, it’s a surprise that the education system hasn’t sooner adopted these principles to understand students’ learning styles and capabilities. This oversight becomes even more shocking in light of the amount of research surrounding the influence of personality types on learning outcomes. 

Scientist Jenna Melvin at the University of Rochester performed a study to determine the influence of personality on learning preference. “Personality Type as an Indicator of Learning Style,” utilized the four dichotomies from the Myers-Briggs assessment to benchmark students’ personality types. She collected their Myers-Briggs results and then asked them to fill out a survey about their learning preferences. While many of her hypotheses were disproved, one held true: extroverted individuals overwhelmingly preferred active learning while introverted individuals preferred reflective learning. In her conclusion, Melwin states “This result is not surprising. Many people are aware of whether they are extroverted or introverted, and this aspect of personality tends to carry over accordingly into many areas of a person’s life.” Retrospectively, Melvin’s conclusion makes sense. Extroverted students glean their energy from outward stimulation. They must apply foundational knowledge through activities or discussion— which often includes group work and talking through ideas. Introverted learners are more likely to appreciate the opportunity to silently meditate on the lesson at hand and work through it on their own. 

Personality also plays a large role in how students learn new information. A meta-analysis titled, “Learning Styles, Personality Types, and Reading Comprehension Performance,” cites many studies that conclude the same ideal: “personality type affects the way people respond to stimuli and the way that they prefer to learn.” The analysis cited one scientist who delved into the science of different personalities’ response to learning stimuli. De Raad states that personality traits affect learning preferences because they act as moderators to the relative process of learning and therefore moderate the successive stages of the information processing sequence. In other words, facets of human beings’ personalities affect how they receive the information and consequently, how they process it. 

The Key to Student Success and Motivation to Learn

Interwoven in the predictive nature of personality lies something even more foretelling of student success and motivation to learn: interest. In fact, in 2015 Pew Research Center conducted a study where they examined the intersection of personality and interest. The scientists were to effectively determine an association between the two. Pew Research discovered that people who are open to new experiences are more likely to be interested in technology and science. While personality may help students understand how they like to learn, their interests push them down the path of academic accomplishment. 

According to Interest Matters: The Importance of Promoting Interest in Education, “Interest is essential to academic success.” Students who develop an interest in a topic are more likely to revisit the material and dig deeper into the topic, therefore increasing learning and engagement. Educational philosopher and progenitor of the conceptualization of the intersection between education and interest, John Dewey noted that “willing attention”, or interest, drives active learning. As cited by an article in Scientific American, “Interest Fuels Effortless Engagement,” interests increase efforts and “effort depletes the mental resources necessary to exert self-control.” Therefore, when students are interested in the information they are learning, they are more likely to persevere in their efforts to simply learn more.  

The role of interests does not stop influencing students’ lives exclusively in school, however. Research shows that students who work in fields that genuinely interest them have higher learning potential. In fact, “interests are more predictive of income (83.3 percent) than either ability or personality.” Once students understand their interests, they are able to find their niche and thrive in that area. 

There is power in knowing how students thrive. There is power in helping students understand who they are, their interests, and how that affects their learning. It gives students vital background information to communicate their needs with educators or seek out different forms of learning that underscore their strengths. It helps them understand what fuels their need to learn more and catapults them into academic success. Beneath the surface of students’ personality lies the unique opportunity for self-awareness about students’ interests and learning-style preferences. Utilizing these skills could truly change the education system, individualized student experience and help students pinpoint their interests. We must recognize personality in the classroom for what it is– an opportunity to tap into students’ strengths.   

The Myers-Briggs Company developed the VitaNavis platform (which offers the SuperStrong® assessment and Student Success Profile) to help students understand their academic strengths, weaknesses, and interests, offer insight on potential career pathways, and much more. To learn more about the influence of your personality on your academic pathways, try a demo through the VitaNavis platform. Click here for more information. 

The Impact of Personality and Interest on Learning Outcomes

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