The Personality Question

The multiple aspects of human personality are deep rooted and complex. Personality is a product of nature and nurture: who we are genetically, how we were raised, and the experiences that have formed our lives. The way we function in the world is as unique as our own personal DNA.

The American Psychological Association defines personality as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Personality impacts everything we do in our lives, including how we interact with information and others. Both of which have a direct impact on the way we learn.


Human fascination with personality has led to multiple tests and inventories, each designed to measure aspects of our being and how we operate in various situations. Three frequently cited measures as related to learning include:

MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®)

This is perhaps the most popular of the inventories, identifying 16 different personality types based on four dichotomies:

Extrovert – Introvert
Sensing – Intuitive
Thinking – Feeling
Judging – Perceiving

MBTI helps to define how an individual focuses on the world (externally or internally), and whether they trust information over instinct or vice versa. It also measures if they value logic (thinking) or people (feeling) most highly, and how they like to approach a project.

FFM (The Five Factor Model)

FFM drills down personality traits into five overarching factors which encapsulate all aspects of human behavior. These factors (OCEAN) have a direct correlation to student behavior and learning style:

Openness to experience (intellectual curiosity)
Conscientiousness (achievement striving)
Extraversion (sociability)
Agreeableness (cooperation)
Neuroticism (anxiety)

The OCEAN characteristics are measured on a scale from low to high. For example, someone with a high level of conscientiousness and a low level of extraversion would be characterized as being self-disciplined and dutiful toward assignments, but uncomfortable in group study scenarios.

VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic)

VARK does not measure personality but rather assesses learning styles based on individual preferences for processing and sharing information:

Visual – images, charts, graphs
Aural – lectures, discussion, reading out loud
Read/Write – lists, notes, written materials
Kinesthetic – field trips, experiments, experiences

Knowing how students will best respond to new concepts and ideas can greatly improve an educator’s chance of achieving successful outcomes.

Personality-Centric Learning Environments

We can make some assumptions about personality type and learning style. For example, an MBTI Introvert with a low FFM Extraversion factor and high FFM Neuroticism factor would be unlikely to enjoy a group field trip Kinesthetic experience.

Of course, educators need to be able to accommodate all personalities and learning styles. This is where the concept of “accentuated learning environments” comes into play.

This concept allows for both teachers and students to assimilate into a classroom according to their natural tendencies and preferences. An accentuated environment would offer both group and individual seating, within a space designed for different teaching methods and varying levels of interpersonal interaction.

Formal personality testing and predictive behavior analysis can provide a definitive look at each student’s potential to learn. However, simply looking at where students choose to sit, gauging how often they interact, and paying attention to which learning tools work best can also go a long way in tailoring courses and classrooms for optimal results.

How Personality Testing Impacts Education Leaders

As an education leader, you can make an impact on how teachers and students succeed. Consider your own personality and learning style when choosing the right Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership degree for your continuing education and achievement.

To learn more strategies for maximum impact in modern higher education, visit Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership program.


American Psychological Association – Personality

ACS Webinars – The Impact of Personality and Learning Styles on Professional Success


Accent Learning Environments

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