Personality Traits and Learning Styles For Divergent Learners

Dr. Carol Johnson, Dr. Joe Pitts, Dr. Jim Lane

Presented at the National Conference on the Adult Learner 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.

Abstract of Presentation

Having taught a variety of students with a wide range of abilities, Johnson (1996) became aware that certain personality traits and global learning styles were placing students in a crosswind with traditional teachers and classroom environments, and these factors were contributing to underachievement in academic performance. Therefore, a study was conducted to examine the relationship between specific personality traits and learning styles and academic achievement in gifted students to determine whether or not these factors resulted in their becoming "at-risk" in the educational system because of their divergence.

Results of the study showed that there were significant correlations between ten personality traits and academic achievement, and these findings were consistent with the review of literature that suggested that personality factors and learning styles may be related to academic achievement.

In the final analysis of these data, a set of descriptors was developed to more clearly delineate the personalities of achievers and underachievers (Johnson, 1996). A summary of these descriptors compares achievers with underachievers this way: achievers were found to be more introverted, abstract-thinking, emotionally stable, mature, able to face reality, serious, conscientious, moralistic, self-assured, secure, self-satisfied, self-sufficient, resourceful, prefer their own decisions, socially precise, relaxed, tranquil, and composed. Whereas underachievers appeared to be more extroverted, warm, kind, willing to participate, concrete-thinking, affected by feelings, enthusiastic, spontaneous, expressive, cheerful, expedient, apprehensive, insecure, self-blaming, group oriented, more willing to listen to others, and not bound by social rules. Both groups of students exhibited global perceptual tendencies, but the achievers were highly flexible. Although they were more global in thinking, they could easily adapt to analytical situations whereas the underachievers could not adapt.

Divergent learners are endowed with a unique variety of personality traits that separate them from the general population, and many of these traits are related to their academic achievement and effective leadership. Since personality traits are expressed in learning styles and preferences, teacher education programs should concentrate on making pre-service teachers more aware of personality traits and global learning styles and provide extensive training in how to best accommodate these individual differences in students.

Through in-service and staff development, experienced teachers need to be equipped to utilize learning styles and preferences in their instruction to meet the needs of all learners. Teachers need to be more knowledgeable in identifying reasons for discrepant achievement on the pan of students, assessing the needs of these students, and utilizing appropriate strategies for remediation, circumvention, and intervention. If teachers are to accommodate these differences, there must be a departure from the traditional teaching styles and classroom management approaches, and that departure needs to be understood and accepted by administrators.

Changes in teaching strategies and classroom management should be accompanied by restructuring classroom environments through peer interaction, cooperative group learning, collaboration, and modifications in seating, lighting, and student mobility whenever feasible and possible. Many of these students are visual learners, need a variety of models and involvement with manipulatives and hand on experiences. They resist direct instruction and prefer to solve problems and discover answers using their own methods and techniques. Time preference is a critical factor relating to truancy, and this learning style needs to be addressed whenever possible. Scheduling activities and tasks to coincide with the time of day when certain students are more attentive can have significant positive results in their academic performance and motivation to learn. In addition, many students have a need for high calorie intake during intense study, and ignoring this factor may have a tremendous adverse effect on their engagement in learning.

Classroom instruction should incorporate certain skills and learning styles whenever possible and as often as possible. Students need reading and writing in all content areas and need to be taught how to transfer and apply skills and knowledge from one subject area to another. They need time to brainstorm, share ideas, and have opportunities to express themselves creatively and in multiple representations such as reading, writing, art, music, and dance. Many students need external organizers such as cognitive maps, matrices, outlines, spatial arrays, models, diagrams, graphs, images, and pictures. Research skills need to be developed by allowing them to make observations, gather data, analyze their findings, draw conclusions, and determine implications of results. Students need to be engaged in social interaction, working cooperatively with others, sharing ideas, and valuing others’ points of view.


Johnson, C. B. (1996). Personality Traits and Learning Styles: Factors Affecting the Academic Achievement of Underachieving Gifted Students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S. C.

Posted with permission.