Learners’ personalities affect e-learning outcomes: Turn on, tune in, nod off?

Research indicates that learners’ personalities should be considered before letting them loose on e-learning. Otherwise there will be mismatches.

SHL’s findings in brief



  • For pure e-learning courses, delegates should be self-sufficient, self-driven and comfortable learning alone.
  • Introverts will be happier with more positive reinforcement from the e-learning system they use, whereas extroverts will thrive on recognition from other people.
  • Employees who want more variety in their work could become bored quickly with an online learning system.

Top tips



  • Review the e-learning before it is rolled out and check that it is engaging, interactive and interesting. Also, will feedback be provided? Provision of feedback was rated in the research as more valuable than the flexibility and convenience offered by e-learning.
  • Will online support be offered for delegates via e-mail or phone? The research shows some personality types are more dependent on ongoing tutor support.
  • Ensure sufficient time is allowed for the e-learning. Research supports the idea that people learn more when they are relaxed and able to work at their own pace.

Ever wondered why some people simply switch off when it comes to e-learning? The tendency has been to blame the medium or assume that particular content was dull.Now, it seems, the cause could be the e-learner’s personality.

According to research by psychometric testing provider SHL, only some personalities respond well to e-learning. It found that individuals’ personalities affect the way they learn and neither a pure e-learning, nor pure classroom-based approach suits most people.

Reaction to e-learning

SHL undertook the research to help it understand how it could use e-learning for training individuals in psychometric testing. It trains around 4,000 people a year from the corporate and public sector and clients include many of the global and The Times Top 1,000.

“We often ask delegates their reaction to e-learning. Some would respond enthusiastically, while others would be hesitant because they enjoy the social interaction and other aspects of classroom–based training,” says Tim Evans, head of training at SHL UK.

SHL identified eight different factors relating to learning and asked 90 respondents how important they were. These included being able to learn on your own, ability to decide the location and timing of the learning, being able to determine the pace of the learning, and the ability to monitor and review progress.

Individuals also took SHL’s Occupational Personality Questionnaire 32i (OPQ32i). This divides personality up into three different groups: relationships with people thinking style and feelings and emotions. Within these groups there are 32 dimensions such as decisive and evaluative.

The results from the two were correlated allowing SHL’s researchers to understand which personality dimensions affect learning style and providing insight into the respondents’ needs.

“We don’t want to overstate the findings as it is only one piece of research, but we found that people who are more affiliative and who enjoy mixing with others prefer learning with others, and valued the presence of an instructor,” says Evans.“Those who respond well to e-learning tend to be people who are more persuasive and controlling, who like taking the lead, don’t like being told what to do, and enjoy having control over their own destiny.”

Blended learning

Those with more decisive personalities (decisiveness is based on how long it takes for someone to make a decision) also tend to enjoy e-learning and are likely to be more driven to finish tasks without needing to be encouraged. Those who like to learn with others, meanwhile, can become bored by routine or repetition when working alone.

“To be effective for all personality types, e-learning should not only be clear, interactive, animated and engaging but also form part of blended learning,” says Evans. “This retains an element of the non-routine, face-to-face interaction and could be the future of really successful training.”

Kay Baldwin-Evans, director of marketing at global e-learning providers Skillsoft, says the research is not without merit, but isn’t convinced that personality plays such a key part. “If someone is a ‘completer finisher‘ in e-learning, I think it means they will also be a completer finisher‘ when it comes to the classroom.”

She places more emphasis on playing to e-learning’s strengths, regardless of personality type. “For instance, a lot of our clients use e-learning for performance support or just-in-time learning for a particular task, when they need it,” she says. “And this applies across the spectrum of people and personalities.”

David Marshall, managing director of London-based e-learning and career management consultancy Marshall ACM, says SHL’s research is interesting, but he puts more practical considerations ahead of assessing personality types. These include whether an organisation is going to give the employee the flexibility to do the learning when they want and whether the subject matter is relevant.

“I think the research is of academic interest – and I don’t mean academic in the pejorative sense but in a positive way. It’s like reading: you could always find those happy to plough along alone with their Jane Austen, while there are others who want to go to a book club,” he says. “Everyone needs access to training and information and providing choice and looking at learning styles is important, but I think they are secondary to some of the practical issues.”

Ultimately, SHL wants to make e-learning as palatable to as large a number of people as possible, and this is surely the goal of any employer delivering online training.

It may not be practical for organisations to put every employee through psychometric testing, but Evans says that any employer looking to design the best possible e-learning programme for their staff would benefit from an understanding of their personality. “Humans are social animals,and personality inevitably has an effect on which mode of learning is more appropriate to an individual,“ he says.

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