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PLEs and Personality Styles

Glenn Ross made my blogging job easier the other day by sending me a list of topics he wanted to see me write about related to personal learning environments. One of those questions was:

Is there any data linking personal learning environments to management styles (DISC) or personality types?

The short answer to that question is "no." Or at least I couldn't find anything that specifically looked at either DISC or personality styles and the development of personal learning environments.

I suspect that this is partly because personal learning environments are pretty new on the scene so there hasn't been a lot of time to get any research going. I also think that there's still a lot of discussion around definitions--what exactly do we mean by a PLE? Some people see them as some kind of centralized learning management system, while others believe that it's "small pieces, loosely joined," (a belief that I share.) So when we're dealing with something new and we're not completely sure that we agree on how to describe it, I'm not surprised that there isn't research around it. Of course I may be missing something, so if I am, I'm assuming someone will let me know.

That said, I think you can probably extrapolate from previous personality and management style research some hypotheses about how different types might respond to the ideas and tools of PLEs. Which is what I'm going to attempt to do here. Keep in mind that this is just my thinking, not based on any formal research into the question.

First, let me say that I know that there can still be a lot of controversy about using "personality styles". Many people think that the whole concept of being able to "type" people is ridiculous, confining and dangerous. In general I'm against stereotyping people through these kinds of systems. But I've also found that I can learn much about people through an understanding of various styles.

Glenn asks specifically about the DISC, but unfortunately my experience with it is pretty limited, so I'm not even going to pretend to go there. Sorry Glenn. 

I do have more experience, though, in using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, so I'm willing to take a stab at how the different MBTI preferences might approach PLEs.

A little background, first--Myers Briggs types are based on four different preference areas, which I'm going to describe below. These four preferences make up a four-letter Myers Briggs Type. While I'm going to look at each preference individually, it's important to recognize that the four preferences interact with each other differently, depending on the person's 4-letter code, so this will be a broadly drawn portrait of how the different types might go about constructing and using a PLE.

Extroversion/Introversion (E/I)
This preference is about how people energize themselves. Extroverts get energy from the outer world. They seek social interaction and learn best by explaining to others and in group settings.

Introverts get energy from their inner world. They learn best when they have time for reflection. They need space for private thinking and enjoy asynchronous, computer-based learning.

The majority of Americans are extroverts, which is why I think that the web has really taken off as a core part of people's lives as more social aspects have been developed.

This article takes a look at the E/I preference and online learning environments. It notes that extroverts  place a premium on their external environments. Their surroundings should be attractive and comfortable. This suggests that in constructing an online PLE, extroverts would also place a value on using tools that were visually appealing and that made them feel comfortable and welcome. They will also probably prefer to learn with some kind of background noise, such as music.

Another key finding from the article is that introverts need a "private" space for learning, while extroverts will want a more social space. This suggests that while extroverts may thrive on contributing to group work, such as using wikis with others, introverts will want to have some private space for personal reflection, such as a blog or a wiki for personal space.

The article also suggests that extraverts would be more likely to create PLEs that really emphasize the social nature of learning. Their first choice would be some kind of face-to-face environment. If they used online tools, they would seek out the tools that are most socially and community-oriented and that allowed for real-time interaction. They would want to use a Facebook profile or other social network as the hub for their learning. They would also be more likely to use things like Skype or IM to connect with others.

Extroverts like to talk their way to answers. They often need some kind of audience to learn.  Blogging might work for them, but it's potentially a poor substitute for actually talking. It would be interesting to use podcasting to enhance the extrovert's need for conversation, even if it's only with themselves.

Introverts, on the other hand, would be naturally drawn to creating an online PLE. They would probably focus on creating a PLE that's heavy on information and processing that information on their own. Blogging would be a natural fit, as would heavy use of RSS feeds to gather information. They also prefer asynchronous communication through threaded discussions and lists, which give them time for reflection.

This doesn't mean that introverts wouldn't also want social interaction. They would simply be less likely to see that as the place they would start in their learning. They also want that social interaction to be on their terms, when they're ready for it. Blog commenting, threaded discussions and lists are perfect for this.

Sensing/INtuition (S/N)
This preference is about how you receive and process information. Sensing types are sequential, detail-oriented learners who tend to seek information based on the five senses. They are most interested in concrete, here and now information.

Intuitive types are the big picture thinkers. They look for patterns, possibilities and connections and often make "intuitive leaps," rather than moving step-by-step. Sensing types start with the details while Intuitives first need to see the big picture.

I think this preference would have the most impact on the kinds of content that would be included in a PLE. I suspect that Sensing types would seek out more factual, concrete information. The blogs and articles in their feed readers would be on more practical how-to's and step-by-step instructions. Intuitives would be more likely to seek out "philosophical" content--information that would focus on seeing overall patterns and trends, looking at what things MEAN as opposed to just the facts.

For both types, blogging would probably work well, but, again, there would most likely be different content. I'm an intuitive, for example, and I rarely write "how-to's" that are "step-by-step." I find that I'm more attracted to writing "big picture" articles and posts.   

The majority of people are Sensers, which explains the popularity of lists and how to's on the web.

Thinking/Feeling (T/F)
This preference is about how people make decisions. Thinkers tend to focus on logic, facts and impartiality. Feelers tend to consider the impact a decision will have on people and use personal values as criteria for decision-making. Thinkers value a "just" decision, while Feelers value group harmony.

In terms of PLEs, this preference would probably have the most impact on how people interact in the social networks they've constructed as part of their PLEs. Thinkers would be the ones writing "blunt" blog posts and commentary, while the Feelers would be more likely to seek consensus and look for the commonalities. Thinkers would be "making a case" while Feelers would be wondering how information will impact people.

Judging/Perceiving (J/P)
Judging types prefer structured, organized environments. They seek closure and want decisions to be made quickly. Judgers want an agenda and they want everyone to stick to the agenda.

Perceivers are about possibilities, gathering information and leaving things open-ended. Questions lead not to answers, but to more questions. They dislike too much structure, particularly if it's imposed on them. They also prefer informal learning to more structured formal courses.

I would guess that Perceivers are the ones who are most attracted to PLEs, particularly the "small pieces, loosely joined" approach. This gives them tremendous flexibility to both pursue questions and answers, and to also construct a variety of learning opportunities for themselves. I think that they would have full RSS feeds and would spend a lot of time following leads.

Judgers would like PLEs, too, but would be more likely to want a single, structured system that would move them quickly to answers and closure. They would be more likely to have specific questions to which they wanted quick answers and would use their PLEs in a more problem-solving mode.

Pulling It Together
The real value of Myers Briggs lies in the interaction between the various preferences. I'm not going to go into each of the 16 major types, but it's important to understand that it would be the interaction of these various preferences that would provide the fullest description of how the types might interact with and construct PLEs. An Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking Perceiver (INTP) is going to create a PLE that is very different from an Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling Judger (ESFJ). The INTP will likely focus on creating an entirely on-line PLE that is heavy on information and big picture ideas. The ESFJ will more likely prefer a PLE that is heavy on interaction (preferably face-to-face) and on practical, concrete how to's.

Myers Briggs and Learning Style Resources
If you're interested in the Myers Briggs and learning styles, here are some additional resources:

A final note--Glenn's biggest question for me was "How can I implement PLEs in my organization?" That's so meaty it's becoming a series and possibly a wiki of its own. Stay tuned. 

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