Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Learning and the Introvert

My idea of a perfect day off to relax is a day at the beach by myself with a good book that I may or may not choose to read (after spending time with the horses of course). Quiet time spent enjoying the sights, sounds and scents of natural beauty around me is good for my soul.  I have a number of friends who also like to relax at the beach, but they want to go with friends, play lots of beach games like volleyball and have a grand time socializing.  I am sure that they too enjoy being at the beach, but they need social contact to relax while I need quiet.  The difference between us? They are extroverts and I am an introvert.

I have recently read the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain.  A very interesting read indeed, and it got me thinking about the differences in how introverted and extroverted riders learn.  Introverts prefer less stimulation than extroverts (hence the desire to be on the beach by myself), whereas extroverts enjoy more stimulation, like meeting new people.  Extroverts are often the life of the dinner party, prefer talking to listening and rarely find themselves at a loss for words.  Introverts may have very strong social skills and enjoy socializing but they will often want to leave the party early to go home and relax alone or with close family.  In working and learning environments, extroverts enjoy working in groups whereas the introvert prefers working and learns better alone.

This has significant implications for the way we learn and teach about riding.  I have one riding student who absolutely cannot focus on the lesson until she provides me with lots of details about her life on and off horseback since the last time we met.  For the first ten minutes of her lesson, she talks, and I listen while she walks her horse on a loose rein to warm him up.  I have come to understand that this is necessary for her, for her own warm up.  As a strong extrovert, she needs to develop that sense of connection with the other person in the arena before she can get on with the lesson.  I am practiced now and I can tell when we have reached the point where she is ready to focus.  When we reach that point I usually proceed with “Now that we are warmed up, let’s begin, and that marks the beginning of our real work, even though. I am sure she would tell observers that her lesson actually began 10 minutes before.  Initially I thought this person was suffering from a serious lack of focus.  Then I realized that she is an extrovert and I need to respect her need to connect before proceeding.

In great contrast to this, my lessons with my own coach are often filled more with silence than spoken words. After we establish what we want to work on, she will give some verbal instruction or feedback and then she waits quietly while I experiment with how to implement what she has just told me.  I work with my horse and she tells me when it is right or offers a correction when needed, but she respects my introverted learning style that is based on quiet focus.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  How does it impact how you learn as a rider?  If you are an introvert taking group lessons all of the time, you might want to think about semi-private or private lessons.  If you are an extrovert who mostly works alone, you might want to make sure you find time to socialize with like-minded equestrians to satisfy your need for connection with others as part of your equestrian experience.

Take home message for equestrian educators:

It is important to know if your students are introverts or extroverts and adjust your teaching style accordingly.  For example, often in group lessons, I have watched riding instructors have all the group members line up in the centre and then ask each rider to demonstrate a skill one at a time.  This can be incredibly stressful for the introvert who may not learn well with other people watching, whereas the extrovert will be energized by the presence of others. People cannot change if they are introverted or extroverted.  It is hard-wired into our personality.  Therefore, it is up to riding instructors to adjust their teaching style to maximize the learning opportunities for both extroverted and introverted students.

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April 1 2017