Knowledge of Personality Types Can Enhance Instructional Programs

Knowledge of Personality Types Can Enhance Instructional Programs

R. Bryan Kennedy, Ed.D
Professor Management

Susan D. Herring, Ph.D

Athens State University


This paper presents information concerning the possible effects of personality preferences on teaching and learning styles. Special permission was granted in writing by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), Gainesville, FL for extensive summaries of type information from People, Types and Tiger Stripes by G. D. Lawrence. No original research was conducted by the authors of this paper.


Research by Dr. Carl G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, confirmed that individuals have mental or psychological preferences for performing certain tasks, just as they have physical preferences such as preferred hand or an eye that is dominant. Many of the mental processes are not conscious but nonetheless dictate many of our choices in life, i.e. preferred communication patterns, study habits, teaching styles, what we consider the ideal vacation, stressors, etc. Jung utilized this knowledge in dealing with patients and people he came in contact with. Jung wrote and lectured extensively on this theory of personality preferences, but only limited research was available to insure practical application of the theoretical principles. Two of Jung’s female students (although the students and teacher had not met in person) conducted research in the early 1940’s on how to measure personality preferences and invited Dr. Jung to participate in the research. Dr. Jung declined to become involved in the research because of other projects that consumed his time, his age, and the geographical distance between himself and the researchers. Dr. Jung recognized the potential of their proposed research to help bring his theory of personality type into more practical application and encouraged the mother/daughter pair to go forward with their research. Subsequently, as a result of their research and development, the Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorÒ (MBTIÒ) emerged as a personality instrument having numerous applications, including (but not limited to) teaching and learning preferences, preferred communication, and negotiation styles.

Using the MBTI® to Enhance Teaching and Learning

The MBTIÒ, developed by Myers and Briggs, identifies and measures within four basic dimensions (energizing, attending, deciding, living) eight mental or psychological preferences for performing certain tasks, outlined by Hirsh and Kummerow (1989, pp. 5-6):

There are two ways a person can be energized. Extroversion is the preference that relates to drawing energy from outside oneself in the external world or peers and activities. Introversion is the preference that relates to drawing energy from one’s inner world of ideas, emotions, and impressions.

The two preferences for attending are Sensing and Intuition. Sensing relates to the preference for paying attention to information that is perceived directly through the five senses and for focusing on what actually exists. Intuition refers to the preference for paying attention to information that is taken in through a “sixth sense” and for noticing what might or could be, rather than what actually exists.

The deciding preferences are Thinking and Feeling. Thinking is the preference that relates to organizing and structuring information to decide in a logical and objective way. Feeling is related to the preference for organizing and structuring information to decide in a personal, value-oriented way.

Judgment and Perception are the two preferences that relate to how one likes to live one’s life. Judgment is the preference that relates to living a planned and organized life. Perception refers to the preference for living in a more spontaneous and flexible way. (pp. 5-6)

The MBTIÒ is based on the idea that people have preferences, and there are two opposing behavioral dichotomies for each of the four preferences. Even though people use all eight, only one from each of the four basic preferences is generally favored. The combination of these four preferences results in a psychological type (e.g. Introverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging).

Information gleaned from the MBTIÒ can be used by teachers at all levels to more effectively engage individual students’ learning styles.  Lawrence (1993) explains that the term “learning styles” is used variously and loosely in educational literature.  McClanaghan (2000) agrees that the term has several definitions, but describes it succinctly as “an individual’s characteristic means of perceiving and processing information” (p. 479).  Lawrence gives a broader definition which covers four aspects of psychological makeup (p. 39).

  1. Cognitive style in the sense of preferred or habitual patterns of mental functioning: information processing, formation of ideas, and judgments.
  2. Patterns of attitudes and interests that influence what a person will attend to in a potential learning situation.
  3. A disposition to seek out learning environments compatible with one’s cognitive style, attitudes and interests, and to avoid environments that are not congenial.
  4. Similarly, a disposition to use certain learning tools, to use them successfully, and to avoid other tools.

Knowledge of personality type can help identify some of the normal differences in learning styles, and will provide instructors (in both educational institutions and industrial/organizational settings) a rational structure for designing activities that will help to encourage learning. Myers (1998, p. 37) states that individuals demonstrate different ways in which they learn best, starting from their earliest years:

  • Some children prefer to get careful, complete instructions before they begin a new game or task.
  • Some like to observe others playing with a toy before they try it themselves.
  • Some like to plunge in right away and learn as they go along.
  • Some prefer to learn while interacting with others.
  • Some prefer to focus by themselves.
  • Some like to know all the rules and follow them.
  • Some like to create their own rules and change them frequently.

McClanaghan (2000) points out that helping students understand their learning styles can lead them to become more engaged in the learning process, can enhance underdeveloped aspects of their styles, and can assist them in taking charge of their own success as learners. By enabling students to “learn how to learn,” instructors can nurture students’ ability to become lifelong learners, capable of learning and working in the diverse settings of the 21st century.

Lawrence (1993, pp. 43-46) provides the following summaries of the learning preferences and their effect on learning as well as the way the trainer or teacher can evaluate the learner.

Learning Styles Based on Preferences*


Cognitive style: The extraversion preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Learning by talking and physically engaging the environment,
  • Letting attention flow outward toward objective events,
  • Talking to help thoughts to form and become clear,
  • Learning through interactions, verbal and non-verbal.

Study style: The extraversion preference is associated with a study style that favors:

  • Acting first, reflecting after,
  • Plunging into new material,
  • Starting interactions needed to stimulate reflection and concentration,
  • Having a strong, interesting, external-extraverted reason for studying,
  • Avoiding distractions that will cut into their concentration,
  • Studying with a friend, studying to prepare to teach someone.

Instruction that fits E’s: The extraverting types do their best work with:

  • Opportunities to “think out loud”; for example one-to-one with the teacher, classroom discussions, working with another student, action projects involving people,
  • Learning activities that have an effect outside the learning, such as visible results from a project,
  • Teachers who manage classroom dialogue so that extraverts have ways to clarify their ideas before they add them to class discussion,
  • Assignments that let them see what other people are doing and what they regard as important.

Cognitive style: The introversion preference is association with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Quiet reflection,
  • Keeping one’s thoughts inside until they are polished,
  • Letting attention flow inward,
  • Being engrossed in inner events: ideas, impressions, concepts,
  • Learning in private, individual ways.

Study style: The introversion preference is associated with a study style that favors:

  • Reflecting first, acting after (if necessary),
  • Looking for new data to fit into the internal dialogue that is always going on,
  • Working privately—perhaps checking one’s work with someone who is trusted,
  • Reading as the main way of studying,
  • Listening to others talk about the topic being studied, and privately processing what they take in,
  • Extraverting just when they choose to.

Instruction that fits I’s: I’s like learning situations that let them:

  • Work internally with their own thoughts: listening, observing, lab work, reading, writing,
  • Process their experiences at their own pace,
  • Present the results of their work in forms that let them keep their privacy,
  • Have ample time to polish their work before needing to present it,
  • Have time to reflect before answering the teacher’s questions
  • Tie their studies to their own personal interests, their internal agenda.


Cognitive style: The sensing preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Memorizing facts,
  • Observing specifics,
  • Processing data step by step,
  • Starting with the concrete, then moving to the abstract,
  • Being careful and thorough,
  • Aiming toward soundness of understanding,
  • Staying connected to practical realities around them,
  • Being attentive to what is in the present moment.

Study style: The sensing preference is associated with a study style that favors:

  • A sequential, step-by-step approach to new material,
  • Beginning with familiar, solid facts,
  • Moving gradually toward abstract concepts and principles,
  • Approaching abstract principles and concepts by distilling them out of their own personal, concrete experience.

Instruction that fits S’s: S’s do the best with instruction that allows them to hear and touch as well as see (or only read about) what they are learning. They like:

  • Hands-on labs,
  • Relevant films and other audiovisual presentation,
  • Materials that can be handled,
  • Computer-assisted instruction,
  • First-hand experience that gives practice in the skills and concepts to be learned,
  • Teachers who provide concrete learning experiences in any learning sequence, before using the textbook,
  • Teachers who show them exactly what is expected of them,
  • Teachers who do not move “too quickly” through material, touching just the high spots or jumping from thought to thought,
  • Assignments that do not expect them to generate possibilities not based on solid facts,
  • Skills and facts they can use in their present lives.

Being naturally observant of detail in the here and now, they tend to overlook the big picture, general meanings, and implications for the future.

They believe the adult world has specific skills and facts they should be taught, and they are disappointed in any teacher who expects them to discover them for themselves.


Cognitive style: The intuition preference is associated with a cognitive style that prefers:

  • Being caught up in inspiration,
  • Moving quickly in seeing associations and meanings,
  • Reading between the lines, relying on insight more than careful observation,
  • Relying on verbal fluency more than on memory of facts,
  • Focusing on general concepts more than details and practical matters.

Study style: Intuitives typically adopt a study style that includes:

  • Following inspirations,
  • Jumping into new materials to pursue an intriguing concept,
  • Finding their own way through new materials, hopping from concept to concept,
  • Attending to details only after the big picture is clear,
  • Exploring new skills rather than honing present ones,
  • Reading.

Instruction that fits N’s: The intuitive types do their best work with:

  • Learning assignments that put them on their own initiative, individually or with a group,
  • Real choices in the ways they work out their assignments,
  • Opportunities to find their own ways to solve problems,
  • Opportunities to be inventive and original,
  • Opportunities for self-instruction, individually or with a group,
  • A system of individual contracts between teacher and students.

Intuitive types like beginnings a lot more than endings, because beginnings are fired with the fascination of new possibilities. When they have study assignments they can be enthusiastic about, they are much more likely to carry them to the finish line.

In high school and beyond, they generally like experiences rich with complexities, which may include stimulating lectures.

After a concept or skill is understood to their satisfaction, they may find continued practice boring, shift over to new inspirations, and never achieve complete mastery.

They get frustrated with the teacher who paces instruction “too slowly.”


Cognitive style: The thinking preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Making impersonal judgments, aiming toward objective truth,
  • Keeping  mental life ordered by logical principles,
  • Analyzing experiences to find logical principles underlying them,
  • Staying free from emotional concerns while making decisions,
  • Naturally critiquing things, aiming toward clarity and precision.

Study style: Thinking types typically adopt a study style that includes:

  •  Having objective material to study,
  • Compartmentalizing emotional issues to get clear thinking on the task at hand,
  • Analyzing problems to bring logical order out of confusion,
  • Wanting to get a sense of mastery over the material being studied.

Instruction that fits T’s: The thinking types do their best work with:

  • Teachers who are logically organized,
  • Subjects and materials that flow logically and respond to logic,
  • Feedback that shows them their specific, objective achievements.


Cognitive style: The feeling preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Making value judgments concerning human motives and personal values,
  • Attending to relationships,
  • Personalizing issues and causes they care about,
  • Staying tuned to the quality of the subjective tone of relationships and seeking harmony in relationships,
  • Attending to the quality of their own emotional life,
  • Naturally appreciating people and their accomplishments.

Study style: Feeling types typically adopt a study style that includes:

  • Learning through personal relationships rather than impersonal individualized activities,
  • Learning by helping and responding to other peoples; needs,
  • Studying with a friend,
  • Wanting to choose topics to study that they care deeply about.

Instruction that fits F’s: The feeling types do their best work with:

  • Teachers who value a personal rapport with students,
  • Assignments that have a goal of helping people,
  • Feedback that shows warm appreciation for the student and his or her effort, and gives corrective suggestions in that context,
  • Personalized assignments.


Cognitive style: The judging preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Having a clear structure in a learning situation from the beginning,
  • Aiming toward completions and getting closure,
  • Having life organized into an orderly plan.

Study style: Judging types typically adopt a study style that includes:

  • Planned and scheduled work, drawing energy from the steady, orderly process of doing their work,
  • Wanting to know exactly what they are accountable for and by what standards they will be judged,
  • Treating assignments as serious business, and persisting in doing them.

Instruction that fits J’s: The judging types do their best work with:

  • Pre-planned structure, and a teacher who carefully provides it,
  • Predictability and consistency,
  • Formalized instruction that moves in orderly sequences,
  • Prescribed tasks,
  • Milestones, completion points, with little ceremonies to honor successful completions.



Cognitive style: The perceiving preference is associated with a cognitive style that favors:

  • Open exploration without a pre-planned structure,
  • Staying open to new experiences,
  • Managing emerging problems with emerging structures,
  • The stimulation of something new and different.

Study style: Perceiving types typically adopt a study style that includes:

  • Spontaneously following their curiosity,
  • Studying when the surges of impulsive energy come to them,
  • Studying to discover something new to them,
  • Finding novel ways to do routine assignments so as to spark enough interest to do the assignments.

Instruction that fits P’s: The perceiving types do their best work when:

  • They can pursue problems in their own way,
  • They have genuine choices in assignments, as with a system of individual contracts in which the student can negotiate some of the activities,
  • Assignments make sense to them,
  • Their work feels like play.

*From People, Types, and Tiger Stripes, 1993, by Gordon D. Lawrence. Used with permission. Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL •


As MacLellen (2011) explains, “Understanding student personality types can help teachers plan instruction and activities that best suit the personality tendencies of their students. Personality types are related to patterns of thought and behavior, and they provide insight into how students form and maintain relationships with one another and with teachers” (p. 38).

Lawrence (1997, pp. 28-29) offers the following tips for using type:

  • Adjusting to a teacher. There are 16 different personality types, and the chances are good that most teachers encountered will have types different from ours. The variety and fresh viewpoints may be an advantage, if one possesses the knowledge to experience type differences constructively.
  • Study style. The most important advice is to work from the strengths of our type. Extraverts may want to find a study partner to talk issues over with, and remove distractions when studying alone. Studying alone will most likely help introverted students, but they should do a trial run with a partner prior to making an oral presentation. (pp. 28-29)

Kise (2001, p. 4) concluded the following from a one-year-long study in a 375-student middle school with 25 teachers:

  • Type allowed teachers to adapt lesson plans to appeal to all personality preferences. Adjustments were often small.
  • Teachers learned to deal better with other faculty and staff, based on understanding type differences.
  • Teachers began coaching individual students in ways appropriate to the students’ types. Students, feeling more respected and understood, were more receptive.
  • Teachers interpreted and handled discipline problems in terms of type, particularly extraversion and introversion.
  • Parent-student-teacher conferences went more smoothly when teachers could use their knowledge of a student’s type to show respect and valuing of the student.
  • Type made study skills teachers less dogmatic about what techniques are “right.”
  • Teachers working with at-risk students could often link learning difficulties in preferences and take steps to meet the students’ type needs.

However, a thorough understanding of the instructors’ learning styles is necessary before the most effective techniques for improving classroom instruction can be determined. Instructors must examine their own assumptions and beliefs, and understand the societal beliefs on which the school operates, before classroom practices can be changed. This process requires extensive time, analysis, and commitment. Utilizing the MBTI in conjunction with empirical evidence can help improve instruction.  For example, a study by Schroeder (1993) showed that over 75% of college faculty favored the intuitive learning pattern, but approximately 60% of entering college freshmen preferred the sensing mode. Henson and Chambers (2003) demonstrated that extraversion is related to classroom efficacy but negatively related to people management skills. Kise found (2005) that it can be extremely difficult for teachers to overcome their own type preferences when trying to change classroom practices.

Myers (1998, p. 42) suggests that we remember the following aspects related to type:

  • Type describes 16 dynamic energy systems, rather than defining static boxes.
  • There is no right or wrong type, and there are no better or worse combinations of types in work or relationships. Each type and each individual bring special gifts.
  • The purpose of learning about type is to help you understand yourself better and to enhance your relationships with others.
  • Each person is unique.
  • Everyone uses each of the preferences to some degree.
  • You are the final judge of your best-fit type.
  • Type does not explain everything.
  • You may use type to understand and forgive yourself, but not as an excuse for doing or not doing anything. Type should not keep you from considering any career, activity, or relationship.
  • Become aware of your type biases (we all have them!) to avoid negative stereotyping. (p. 42)


Information concerning the influence of personality on learning and teaching styles is important for industrial/organizational training programs just as it is in the educational classroom. Researchers in personality type are convinced that people are born with a certain personality type and that our personality type does not change throughout our lifetime. Much of the research concerning type and learning has been conducted with and focuses on educational institutions but is also applicable in instructional/learning situations in other organizations. Information concerning personality type will enable teachers/instructors and other individuals to consciously choose the appropriate type for approaching and dealing with different situations in their personal or work life.

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them. (Romans 12:4-6, Revised Standard Version)


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MacLellan, C. R. (2011). Understanding your band, orchestra, and choir students. Music Educators Journal, 97(4), 37. doi:10.1177/0027432111405532

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