Why Introverts Excel at Virtual Learning, According to a Teacher

An introvert who is learning virtually

In an extroverted world, learning virtually has eliminated some of the challenges introverts face in brick-and-mortar schools.

During this global pandemic, we have been thrown into the world of distance learning, and have heard much about the negative aspects of virtual classrooms and its effects on students. But how about the students who are thriving in this unusual and unconventional way of learning? 

Yes, there are some success stories. And guess what? Many of them are from introverts. I recognize this because I am a teacher and a fellow introvert, and have had the pleasure of watching some of my introverted students come alive over WiFi. Even if you’re not a student, but an introvert working from home, you may be having a similar positive experience.

I teach kindergarten through fifth grade and can usually spot the introverted artists in my physical art room immediately. They are the students who observe, take more time to process things, and who need opportunities to recharge. They don’t dislike people — they just like their alone time. My imaginative introverts don’t converse much, meaning they avoid small talk and rarely participate in class discussions. However, they get right into their artwork and are some of my most creative artists, as is common among introverts. (Fun fact: Georgia O’Keeffe was an introvert.)

When school went virtual, I was already familiar with the personalities of my students and became interested in discovering how my artistic introverts would function in a virtual world. As an introvert, I was in the same boat as my students, leaving me to wonder how we would all keep our heads above water.

The initial transition to distance learning was intimidating. Think of all the things introverts are great at overthinking: joining conference calls, raising our hands in class, showing our face, responding to questions, and letting others in our personal spaces. It was all a bit daunting! However, as my students and I got a handle on the virtual unknowns, I began to realize that many of my introverted Picassos, myself included, were thriving within their virtual environments. Here are several reasons why.

7 Reasons Why Introverts Excel at Virtual Learning

1. Small talk is limited, or eliminated altogether, which gives students more time to focus on their work.      

In the physical classroom, it is expected we will interact with our peers, even when we don’t really want to. We come into the classroom and are nearly forced to talk to the kid next to us, take part in class discussions, and work on the ever-awful group projects.

In the virtual world of distance learning, however, students are, well, distant. Not physically being next to one another puts an end to most idle conversations. The pressure to speak to someone you are sitting next to, or talking to while you are working on an art project, is eliminated. My introverted crew can hunker down to work on their projects without engaging in the small talk they would rather not be a part of. And the best thing is, no one is going to ask the dreaded question, “How come you never talk?”

2. It gives students more opportunities for alone time to recharge.

It’s no secret that students in a brick-and-mortar school are constantly on the go, surrounded by other people all day long. The day starts with a bus ride full of yammering kids, followed by a populated classroom of peers, then to lunch in a loud cafeteria. But, ahhhh, a relaxing recess is coming: Finally, a chance to be alone. Nope! A group game is on the agenda. Maybe a bathroom break will provide some alone time… Oh wait, group bathroom breaks follow recess. Introverted students’ social batteries definitely get drained through all this excessive people time!

But virtual learning provides alone time for my artists, who need plenty of time to recharge. They can learn and create in their own space, camera on or off, without people around them every minute of their learning day, draining their energy. “Peopling” all day is exhausting! This way, my Rembrandts can recharge and revive, alone.

3. They have more time to process responses to questions and class discussions. 

In-person classroom discussions often require students to have an answer ready immediately. It usually starts with the teacher asking a question, followed by everyone looking at the person being questioned and waiting for a response. Contemplating a conversation from a few moments ago, the introverted student begins to sweat — no answers are coming fast enough because they are still analyzing a few conversations back.

The teacher waits patiently for a few seconds, then moves on to the next person. About three questions later, the mindful introvert comes up with a thoughtful response to the teacher’s original question. But it’s too late.

More than likely, introverts would not willingly ask questions or interrupt a class discussion to have their say because it would involve raising a hand, other students watching them, or speaking in front of others. We all know this can trigger anxiety in introverts. 

Introverts need time to process and consider things internally, and virtual learning is more forgiving when it comes to processing information and answering questions. Students can use the virtual “hand raise” button if they wish to speak or have a question, and the “chat” function is a huge stress reliever, too, eliminating on-the-spot answers. My introverted imagineers have been known to use the chat to contribute to discussions because they have time to think about their responses. (An introvert’s dream come true!) I found that many like to comment on discussions from earlier in the class, and the chat gives them an opportunity to do so.

4. Silence creates a calm environment (and a perfect learning environment).

If you’ve ever been in an art classroom, you know creating can be loud and busy; students chatter at their tables, get up to retrieve supplies, and hum while they work. Clean-up time can be equally as chaotic, with students heading to the drying rack, washing out brushes, and wiping down tables. 

With the exception of my voice Bob Ross’ing through my virtual classes, the chitter-chatter is virtually eliminated (no pun intended) and no one has to rush to clean up. My cyber classroom is hushed, silent, and peaceful while we create. Many of my introverted students perform better and prefer working in quieter calming environments, making virtual art ideal for their learning style.       

5. They can be “invisible” — they can turn off their cameras.

There is nowhere to hide or fade into the background in a school building. And, let’s face it, sometimes we would prefer to go through a day unnoticed; maybe we are having a bad day or we just want to be left alone to observe.

In distance learning, my observant introverts can still be in class without all eyes on them. Cameras can be turned off or aimed downward to show artwork being created instead. Being the center of attention can make fellow introverts feel self-conscious, or even awkward, especially when the camera acts like a mirror and you are observing yourself all day! With cameras off, the pressure of being “watched” is alleviated, as my Monets can still be an active part of the class without revealing their emotions through their facial expressions. Plus, it also eliminates the need to be camera-ready.

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6. They can be comfortable in their own space, like in their introvert sanctuaries.

School can have a nice, homey feel, but when it comes down to it, there’s no place like home. Ask any introvert. 

Many of my virtual Van Goghs are schooling in their own environments, learning right next to Fido, in their room, or even with grandma nearby. Because they are in a familiar environment, they are comfortable and feel safe in their “introvert zen zone,” complete with familiar and relatable sights, sounds, objects, and smells. In turn, this creates a calm work space where creativity can be expressed to its fullness. (And, really, who wouldn’t want to use their own toilet at break time?)

7. They have control over situations they usually wouldn’t.

Lastly, virtual classrooms allow learners to have control of situations they normally wouldn’t have control over in a physical classroom, such as entering a meeting on their own terms, staying after the meeting to ask a question, and avoiding confrontations with other students. 

My virtual students can see who has already joined the meeting and choose when to join. No more being that awkward first kid in class every day! Just simply click on the meeting and it shows you who has already joined. Then, you can jump right in, or wait for that friend to join before you do!

And then there is always the question my introverts want to ask, but couldn’t make it happen during class. Now, they can be comfortable hanging on till the end of the meeting (until the last person signs off) to ask that burning question, or to even just have the little chat they’d been holding in. In a physical classroom, it’s much harder to be the last one around to talk with the teacher, because there are always the kids who linger to receive every last bit of attention they can, making it harder for introverts to get in some coveted one-on-one “teacher time.”

Virtual classrooms can also be a way to avoid bullies or students who you don’t get along with. Sure, hiding behind the camera is never a good thing, but some anxiety can be relieved for introverts when they can avoid face-to-face confrontations with others who may make them feel less than who, or what, they truly are. In a virtual classroom, introverts have more control over interactions, which is a big win.

Although distance learning is not ideal, for some introverted students, it’s a welcome change (at least for now). In an extroverted world, learning virtually has eliminated some of the challenges introverts face in brick-and-mortar schools. Without these obstacles, introverted students are able to thrive in their virtual learning environments. It’s no secret that the pandemic has created challenges in the education world, and introverts are definitely holding their heads above water. In fact, some may be even floating above the rest.

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I am a graduate of the University of Mary Washington, where I received a degree in Studio Art and a Masters of Education in diverse student populations. I hail from Virginia and am a member of the James River Writers. When I am not writing or teaching art, you can find me photographing various things. You can learn more at Manfrejl.com.