Having worked in the e-Learning field for over 15 years, I have heard dozens of students tell me “I’m just not a computer person” or “I learn best when I am in a classroom”. Or, maybe “I love PowerPoint-based lectures”. Actually, I haven’t had any student tell me the last statement, but you get the point: Many students are intimidated by using computers and technology.
Dr. Casteel’s (2016) dissertation describes research into personality and transactional distance. Michael Moore’s (1993) Transactional Distance Theory focuses on the distance-learning environment and the three learner interactions that occur: learner and instructor, between learners, and between the learner and the content. Among the various measures utilized to evaluate transaction distance is the Structure Component Evaluation Tool (SCET). This rating tool has learners evaluate the content, syllabus, schedule, delivery, and the interactions. Casteel (2016) used the SCET along with a five-factor personality measure.
The five factor personality model (FFM) is probably the most ubiquitous personality measures used today (see my dissertation if you want some more details). The FFM sums personality on five dimensions or traits: Agreeableness; Conscientiousness; Extraversion; Neuroticism; and Openness to New Experiences. There are dozen of measures—both free and paid—that evaluate the FFM (check one out here).
In his research, Casteel (2016) found both Openness to New Experiences and Extroversion were positively correlated with SCET scores. As the strength of these personality traits increased, the transactional distance decreased. In a way, these results are suggesting that individuals with stronger Openness and Extraversion scores may be better prone to learning effectively through e-Learning.
Interestingly, I was unable to find many other studies examining personality and e-learning specifically. In Nakayama et al. (2007), the researchers found Conscientiousness was strongly related to the number of e-learning modules the sample of graduate students completed; however, the researchers did not provide any other information related to this relationship. Another study (Helle et al., 2010) found higher Conscientiousness and lower Openness to New Experiences scores were associated with better performance in a microscopic pathology class.
From other personality literature, it would definitely appear higher Conscientiousness (or a personal awareness behavior impacts others around them) would be a good indicator of e-Learning success. An individual with lower Neuroticism would be more ideal, especially since they would not be able to misinterpret email or asynchronous communication. Higher Agreeableness would be better, as the individual would go along with the e-Learning plan. And, I actually believe higher Openness to New Experiences would be useful for a person who is new to or transitioning to e-Learning. As far as Extraversion, an individual with higher Extraversion will be more likely to connect with the instructor and other learners vs. someone with lower Extraversion.
At present, there is not a ideal personality type for e-Learners. The research field is not clear on the findings, perhaps because there are too many other factors contributing to learning success than personality. What do you think?