Creating space for the quiet voices

If we believe that adult education grows from learner needs, styles, experiences and motivations, and that the purpose is for learner emancipation and transformation (Wang & Sarbo, 2004), then as educators we should feel inspired to adapt our perspectives and methods to create an inclusive learning environment. Challenging our assumptions and beliefs about the extrovert ideal and asking, “whose voice has not been heard?” can help identify and make space for the introverted learners in the room.

In general, introverted learners need time to process their thoughts; they work better in small groups; they prefer fewer, deeper relationships; they express themselves better in writing; and they need time alone to recharge. Designing our courses to accommodate these needs means deliberately structuring the learning environment and the methods we use to teach.

People participate more when they feel comfortable, and introverted students are no different (Salisbury, 2014). While educators may not have complete control over the learning environment, Cain (2013), Rocca (2010), Salisbury (2014) and Schwegman (2013) offer these suggestions to help create a welcoming space for introverted students:

  • set up the room with smaller tables, perhaps using rows in a semi-circular configuration,
  • reduce the lighting and external noise,
  • consider shorter, more frequent breaks,
  • begin the course with a neutral discussion about learning preferences based on introversion-extroversion,
  • expand the learning space beyond the room for walking reflections or small group work,
  • after asking a question, pause 3 to 5 seconds before inviting responses,
  • make eye contact with learners and get to know them by name,
  • seek out individual students after class time to check in or set up an office hours meeting,
  • build the teacher-learner bond with careful self-disclosure,
  • and grade participation more qualitatively and include non-verbal participation.

We know that learners who actively participate in class are more motivated, learn better, improve their communication and critical thinking skills and even function better beyond the classroom (Rocca, 2010). So why not make it as comfortable for the introverted learners as it is for the extroverted learners? Cain (2013), Greenstreet (2013), Monahan (2013), Phillips (2012), Rocca (2010) and Schwegman (2013) make these suggestions for learning activities that may appeal to introverted learners:

  • begin the day with journal writing or pair up to produce questions or ideas for the larger group discussion,
  • use learning partners: think/pair/share or write/pair/share throughout the course to add depth to discussions,
  • use synchronous and asynchronous online forums for processing learning between classes,
  • offer on-screen twitter feed or texting during class for questions and comments,
  • take time for individual reflective writing and artwork and share on a wall gallery,
  • use walking contemplation for individual work,
  • spend time on individual reflection and writing before brainstorming to prevent the new groupthink,
  • and reach out to students with in-depth feedback on written assignments and comments after class to increase one-to-one communication.

As educators, we play a significant role in setting up learners for success and introverted students have a lot to offer with their quiet persistence and insight. Taking specific steps to make sure their voices are heard will not only benefit them, it will enrich us all.


Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Broadway Books.

Greenstreet, K. (2013, August 8). How to facilitate introverts and extroverts in your group or class. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Monahan, N. (2013, October 28). Keeping introverts in mind in your active learning classroom. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Phillips, M. (2012, April 16). Student engagement: Introversion and the invisible adolescent. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Rocca, K. (2010). Student participation in the college classroom: An extended multidisciplinary literature review. Communication Education, 59 (2), 185-213.

Salisbury, M. (2014, May 1). Why social integration matters. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Schwegman, J. (2013, December 5). Engaging introverts in class discussion – part 1. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Schwegman, J. (2013, December 5). Engaging introverts in class discussion – part 2. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Wang, V., & Sarbo, L. (2004). Philosophy, role of adult educators, and learning: How contextually adapted philosophies and the situational role of adult educators affect learners’ transformation and emancipation. Journal of Transformative Education, 2 (3), 204-214.


Introversion is the new black

Google the word ‘introvert’ and about 11.5 million results appear in less than a second. Today there is a plethora of insights and advice available on introversion; much of the focus is on children and adolescents, but much applies to adults. Is being an introvert really the new black?

Cain’s (2013) book definitely expands the introvert discussion with a detailed account of cultural biases, the research, people’s experiences, and how to enhance introvert power; her TED talk has over 11.7 million views and her website, Quiet Revolution, provides support for quiet students, links with a Quiet Leadership Institute, and invites people to share their introverted experiences and knowledge. I feel encouraged to see this trend of beginning to honour wherever we land along the introvert-extrovert spectrum.

Really, it’s about finding balance. Our western cultural bias toward extroversion has gone on long enough and seeing the pendulum swing is exciting. Instead of screening ourselves out (Pannapaker, 2012), we are the new cool (Roy, 2013). We are learning from eastern cultures: “soft power… by water rather than by fire… soft power is quiet persistence… soft power wins you over” (Cain, 2013, p. 197). Nowadays, our attention is drawn to introverted leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks (Kahnweiler, 2013), not just for their accomplishments but also as confirmation that introversion and powerful influence can coexist when people are passionate about their cause.

Rather than fixing the introverts, educators are encouraged to reconsider their judgments of the quiet students at the back of the room and recognize the academic strengths of introverts – they think before they talk, have depth of thought and conversation, are creative in solitude, are able to focus and concentrate well, work well alone or in groups of 2 or 3, have strong writing skills, are quietly persistent, and are big picture thinkers (Cain, 2013, Kahnweiler, 2013, Monahan, 2013).

As an educator, I believe it is my responsibility to engage all the learners in the room. Creating a more inclusive learning environment means balancing individual reflective activities with collaborative group work, acknowledging quality of participation rather than quantity, and actively listening for the quiet voices. In my next post on the role of educators, I will explore ideas to cultivate a teaching-learning environment where introverted participants feel welcome and appreciated.


Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Broadway Books.

Kahnweiler, J. (2013). Quiet influence: The introvert’s guide to making a difference. Retrieved from

Monahan, N. (2013, October 28). Keeping introverts in mind in your active learning classroom. (web log comment). Retrieved from

Pannapacker, W. (2012). Screening out the Introverts. Retrieved from

Roy, S. (2015, July 30). The introvert strikes back? The newfound cool of being introverted. (web log comment). Retrieved from