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Understanding the Learning Personalities of Successful Online Students

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Key Takeaways

  • Long studied as a way to help people better understand themselves and others, personality research and theory has evolved to include the use of assessment tools to identify various personality types and temperaments.
  • These tools have been used in education to identify learning styles, teaching strategies, and opportunities to increase success for both students and teachers.
  • Building on studies of traditional students, this study uses the True Colors model of personality characteristics to identify characteristics common to successful online students as well as strategies for improving how online courses are designed and taught to better meet the needs of all students.

Tena B. Crews is a professor in the Integrated Information Technology Department and a Certified True Colors Trainer, Sradha Sheth is a previous master's student in Retail Management, and Tamlyn M. Horne is a current master's student in Sport and Entertainment Management at the University of South Carolina Columbia.

Many factors contribute to the rapid growth in higher education's online course offerings, from economic realities to the need for alternative ways to teach a new media-savvy generation. As online classes reduce and often eliminate face-to-face (F2F) interactions, it's important for instructors to learn new ways of understanding and interacting with their online students to further enhance their success.

Studies show students' cognitive styles play a key role in their success in online courses.1 As one researcher noted, "Satisfying online learners' cognitive styles was a critical success factor for online instruction"2 and suggested further research studies to identify instructional strategies addressing online learners' cognitive styles to improve learning outcomes were also provided."

Understanding students' personality traits and learning styles will help instructors better understand the students, create a more conducive learning environment, and help students be more successful in online courses. Studies support that students' cognitive styles play a key role in their success in online courses.3 "Satisfying online learners' cognitive styles was a critical success factor for online instruction, and suggested further research studies to identify instructional strategies addressing online learners' cognitive styles to improve learning outcomes."4

To further this work, our study used the True Colors personality assessment inventory to investigate the learning styles/preferences of successful online students. Here, we offer a brief overview of personality research, then describe our study and the resulting recommendations for helping faculty design and teach online courses to meet the needs of all types of students.

Modeling Personality Traits

Using personality theories and studies as a foundation, researchers have created many assessment inventories to help identify and illuminate different personality types and temperaments. Today, personality inventories are used in multiple ways, including to investigate and guide students in choosing a career path, a roommate, or a suitable learning process.5 Such assessment tools are founded on a rich history.

Foundational Models

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, postulated a four-factor theory of temperament in 400 B.C. noting a link between external factors and their impact on human organs and body fluids. According to Patricia Hedges,6 "Hippocrates proposed each temperament was formed by an inequality of secretions coming from the heart (sanguine), the liver (irascible), the lungs (apathetic), and the kidneys (depressed)." In essence, he believed that human temperaments were based on bodily functions that caused people to be happy, easily angered, relatively emotionless, or dispirited.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung advanced the field's evolution when he theorized human behavior was not random but rather synchronized to a pattern. "This pattern is governed by the person's choice or preference for specific ways of functioning and living."7 Therefore, a person's behavior might appear irrational to others, when it is actually an outcome based on logic and consistency.

Many other philosophers, physicians, and scholars have also classified human nature using different scales. In one well-known example, Isabel Briggs Myers, a student of Jung, created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to measure human behavior. She developed the MBTI to support Jung's theory of psychological types8 and identified perception and judgment as causes of differences in individuals' behavior (see table 1).

Table 1. Descriptions of MBTI Personality Components9

Personality Component

Qualities

E =

Extraversion

outgoing, people person, comfortable in teams, quick to action, energizes other people, has many friends

F =

Feeling

caring, warm, tactful, people- or communication-oriented, makes decisions from heart, compassionate, idealistic, indirect, may have difficulty communicating the hard truth of a situation

I =

Introversion

reflective, reserved, independent, prefers to know a few people, does not move into action quickly, may tend to ignore and/or forget to check the fit between ideas and the experience

J =

Judging

uses decision making, has a planned or orderly way of life, task-oriented, makes a to do checklist, flexible, work comes before play, pays attention to deadlines, may focus too much on the goal

N =

Intuition

reads between the lines, experiments with different ideas and possibilities, looks at the big picture first and then at the facts, trusts symbols, impressions and metaphors more than experience, may focus too much on new possibilities

P =

Perceiving

open to new information and experiences, plans, decisive, open to respond to the happenings, approaches work as play, stimulated by deadlines, sometimes too involved in taking information and misses deadlines

S =

Sensing

goes deep into the problem to find a solution, pays attention to physical reality or senses, pragmatic, starts with fact and then forms the big picture, experience speaks louder than words, may over focus and hence miss out on new possibilities

T =

Thinking

consistent, logical, analyzes pro and cons, fair, more truthful than tactful, sometimes may ignore the "people" aspect of a situation, indifferent

Researchers have conducted many educational studies based on the MBTI. One study10 examined the impact of certain personality types in relation to secondary teachers' inclination to use technology. Through the use of a questionnaire, the study identified four combinations of personalities: sensory/feeling (SF), sensory/thinking (ST), intuitive/feeling (NF), and intuitive/thinking (NT). Each type had a different attitude toward technology acceptance. For example, NT teachers were more receptive to using technology than SF teachers. Using the study's findings, teacher education programs can modify course curricula and delivery to meet the requirements of different personality types. Educators can also use the study to more effectively design programs for pre- and in-service teachers based on the diverse personalities of students. This is just one way personality inventories can impact the classroom.

The True Colors Model

Based on this thought and an understanding of personality concepts developed by Jung, Briggs, David Keirsey,11 and Plato, Don Lowry was the first to apply the color metaphors to identify personality types:

Color has been used to shape and describe our lives, our habits, as well as our values and feelings throughout the ages. Research into the physiological effects of color has shown it truly has an impact on our lives, often in unconscious and mysterious ways. The colors for the True Colors model were chosen to correspond with the various metaphors associated with each color.12

The True Colors personality assessment inventory was founded by Lowry13 based on the belief that "successful people know who they are and what their True Colors are and once they understand their values and needs, it would become easier for them to perform their best in every area of life."14

The True Colors model is built on four colors and their corresponding qualities:

  • Blue: mediator, optimistic, communicator, passionate, true romantic, cause-oriented, sensitive to other's needs, encourages others, cooperative, peacemaker, helpful, enjoys friends, patient, open minded
  • Gold: prepared, planner, detail-oriented, trustworthy, punctual, values order, values family traditions, loyal, precise, believes in rules and procedures, responsible, organized, appreciates deadlines, motivated, determined
  • Green: intellectual, theoretical, perfectionist, visionary, abstract, conceptual, needs private time, approaches interpersonal relationships in a logical manner, always asking "why" and seeking knowledge, prefers independent work, competent, knowledgeable
  • Orange: playful, risk taker, quick witted, negotiator, entertainer, high need for mobility, energetic, competitive, likes tangible rewards, laid back, natural nonconformist, appreciates immediate feedback, appreciates freedom, physical, social, visual

According to True Colors, those with Blue personality characteristics are relationship builders and good communicators, and have good people skills. Those with Gold personality characteristics have initiative and are organized, manage time well, and pay attention to detail. Those with Green characteristics are knowledgeable, calm, self-controlled, determined, and focused. Those with Orange characteristics are social, risk-takers who enjoy their freedom. Table 2 shows how the True Colors model relates to other theories and inventories.

Table 2. How the True Colors Inventory Relates to Established Theories/Inventories15

Theory/Inventory

Blue

Gold

Green

Orange

Hippocrates

Phlegmatic

Melancholic

Choleric

Sanguine

Jung's Theory

Feeling

Sensing

Thinking

Intuitive

Keirsey's Temperaments

Idealist
NF

Idealist
NF

Rationals
NT

Artisans
SP

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

INFP, ENFP, INFJ, ENFJ

ESFJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ISTJ

INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ENTP

ESFP, ISFP, ESTP, ISTP

True Colors and Online Education

Every individual has a combination of all four colors within their personality; this is referred to as their personality characteristic trait spectrum. Mary Miscisin noted various student personality trait characteristics based on each color as well.16 By identifying particular characteristic traits, educators can better understand student needs. For example, in general, students who have self-respect and a sense of their worth typically exhibit behavior that contributes to the overall productive learning environment. Identifying students' True Colors personality spectrums can give teachers a wealth of information to enhance their instruction.17

Miscisin related True Colors personality characteristics to students in face-to-face (F2F) courses.18 However, understanding online students' personality traits is equally important, especially given the growth in online education. The Illinois Online Network (ION) highlights the qualities online students should possess to succeed in the online learning environment.19 Online courses often require students to use theoretical knowledge and work experience throughout the learning process. According to ION,20 characteristics of successful online learners include

  1. being open-minded about sharing personal and professional experiences online;
  2. having good written communication skills;
  3. using proactive communication;
  4. being self-motivated and self-disciplined;
  5. having a commitment to learning;
  6. having critical thinking and decision-making skills;
  7. believing that quality learning can take place in an online environment; and
  8. being spontaneous.

Individual Colors and Online Success

Table 3 outlines the connections between the eight characteristics of successful online learners and the four True Colors. The first three success characteristics are primarily Blue characteristics and pertain to communication and being open-minded. However, communication skills — particularly being proactive in communication — overlap with Gold characteristics, as people with strong Gold traits are planners. Sharing personal experiences overlaps with Orange characteristics; people with the latter traits like to talk about themselves and be social. The next two success characteristics (4 and 5) are Gold and Green characteristics pertaining to self-motivation, self-discipline, and a commitment to learning. Those with Gold traits are responsible, dedicated, and will be committed to learning, and those with Green traits are focused knowledge seekers. Success characteristics (6 and 7) represent Green traits and focus on critical thinking skills and learning quality. The last characteristic (8) corresponds to the Orange trait of spontaneity. However, these characteristics and the students alone do not make a successful online environment.

Table 3. ION's Characteristics of Successful Online Learners and True Colors

Characteristics

Color(s)

Being open minded about sharing personal and professional experiences online

Blue and Orange

Having good written communication skills

Blue

Using proactive communication

Blue and Gold

Being self-motivated and self-disciplined

Gold and Green

Having a commitment to learning

Gold and Green

Having critical thinking and decision making skills

Green

Believing that quality learning is taking place in an online environment

Green

Being spontaneous

Orange

The Role of Faculty

To ensure commitment from the students, faculty should make an effort to create an excellent communication plan and engage students who are motivated and committed to learning. Colleen DeVine noted faculty should implement key teaching strategies to help students succeed in the online environment.21 These strategies include being highly communicative with students, serving as a coach in the learning process, being flexible, providing continuous feedback, and developing a sense of community. Understanding students' learning personalities can help faculty better implement these key instructional strategies.

Hedges discussed personality discovery as a way to help those seeking a better understanding of self.22 Among her suggestions were that teachers use the results of their True Colors personality assessment inventory to understand their own personality patterns, and to highlight the strengths of their own teaching styles. By understanding their own True Colors spectrum, teachers can better grasp their strengths and weaknesses and adapt their teaching accordingly. Understanding their students' True Colors will let teachers better understand students' learning patterns and modify the course's schedule and structure accordingly.

When faculty understand their students' personality trait spectrums and learning personalities, they can "more effectively communicate with students and develop activities/projects to engage all students."23 Students are more likely to approach a learning environment with enthusiasm when their personality traits are addressed because they feel esteemed when working or learning within their highest personality traits (that is, their high color). Students will thus become engaged in the learning instead of becoming passive, disconnected learners who might drop the course or earn a failing grade.

The Study: True Colors

We conducted a study to expand the True Colors personality traits to online learners to better understand their success characteristics and learner personalities. Our work has implications for how educators can modify and enhance online course content and delivery to better meet students' various learning personalities and needs, and thus provide a successful learning experience for all students.

Although any instrument's reliability depends on the extent to which a measuring procedure yields the same results on repeated trials, an instrument's validity — that is, it measures what it is meant to measure — is crucial to its credibility. Judith Whichard conducted a study to determine the reliability and validity of True Colors as an accurate assessment of temperament theory, personality types, and behavioral characteristics.24 A total of 167 students divided into seven groups participated in the study, which used three temperament instruments: MBTI; Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance (DISC); and the True Colors word cluster.

Whichard's study found the True Colors word cluster and MBTI both had the ability to measure personality, psychological, behavioral, and temperament characteristics. The study also showed both instruments can be used interchangeably yielding the same results, and that True Colors and DISC showed similar measures for temperament and behavior, with the exception of the dominance-orange dimension. Therefore, True Colors is viewed as an instrument that precisely assesses and defines personality traits. Our study furthers personality assessment work by investigating the True Colors personality trait spectrums and learning personalities of successful online students.

Methodology

Our study's participants were undergraduate students enrolled in a Computer Business Applications online course. The course content included learning Microsoft Excel at the intermediate level and Microsoft Access at a beginning level. We asked participants to complete an online survey as an end-of-course evaluation. The survey consisted of a variety of questions about the design of the online course, communication within the course, demographics, and questions related specifically to our personality trait research. These questions included True Colors character words that students ranked from "most like me" to "least like me." We also included the following open-ended statement related to student success in the online environment: "List the top two most valuable things that led to your success in this course." Of the course's 218 enrolled students, 175 completed the demographic survey questions and 172 completed the survey questions pertaining to True Colors, for a response rate of 79 percent.

Findings

Table 4 below provides an overview of the demographics of the participants, which included approximately as many females (85) as males (90). The majority of the participants (78 percent) were Caucasian, and 76 percent were between the ages of 18 and 21. Few participants were seniors as the course is typically a prerequisite in many programs of study.

Table 4. Demographics (N = 175)

Gender

No.

 

Ethnicity

No.

 

Age

No.

 

Class Rank

No.

 

Female

85

49%

African American

26

15%

18–19

71

41%

Freshman

48

27%

Male

90

51%

Asian

3

2%

20–21

62

35%

Sophomore

66

38%

 

 

 

Caucasian

138

78%

22–23

18

10%

Junior

45

26%

 

 

 

Latino

3

2%

24–25

5

3%

Senior

16

9%

 

 

 

Multi-Race

4

2%

26+

19

11%

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native American

1

1%

 

 

 

 

 

 

We asked participants to review sets of four character words related to the True Colors spectrum and rank those words from "most like me" (4) to "least like me" (1) as follows:

  • One word must be rated "most like me" (4).
  • One word must be rated "more like me" (3).
  • One word must be rated "somewhat like me" (2).
  • One word must be rated "least like me" (1).

We created a web survey to provide for a 4–1 rating for each set of character words, as participants could not choose the same rating (4–1) for two or more words in the set. Table 5 shows an overview of the ranking of words associated with each of the model's four colors (Blue, Gold, Green, and Orange).

Table 5. True Colors Personality Spectrum for Participants Overall (N = 172)

Blue Words

Most Like Me

 

More Like Me

 

Somewhat Like Me

 

Least Like Me

 

Sensitive

34

20%

37

22%

38

22%

64

37%

Optimistic

48

28%

29

17%

50

29%

46

27%

Caring

76

44%

49

28%

26

15%

22

13%

Passionate

63

37%

53

31%

37

22%

20

12%

Peaceful

20

12%

50

29%

68

40%

35

20%

Romantic

22

13%

57

33%

49

28%

45

26%

Kind

56

33%

51

30%

30

17%

36

21%

Encouraging

39

23%

64

37%

51

30%

19

11%

Cooperative

39

23%

62

36%

49

28%

23

13%

Positive

88

51%

43

25%

18

10%

10%

14%

Overall Blue

 

28%

 

29%

 

24%

 

19%

Gold Words

Most Like Me

 

More Like Me

 

Somewhat Like Me

 

Least Like Me

 

Detail-oriented

41

24%

48

28%

46

27%

38

22%

Prepared

30

17%

35

20%

54

31%

54

31%

On task

34

20%

40

23%

66

38%

33

19%

Trustworthy

100

58%

36

21%

16

9%

21

12%

Helpful

53

31%

46

27%

45

26%

29

17%

Punctual

21

12%

37

22%

38

22%

77

45%

Loyal

75

44%

56

33%

30

17%

12

7%

Reliable

82

48%

46

27%

23

13%

22

13%

Goal-oriented

47

27%

50

29%

40

23%

36

21%

Predictable

17

10%

38

22%

48

28%

70

41%

Overall Gold

 

29%

 

25%

 

23%

 

23%

Green Words

Most Like Me

 

More Like Me

 

Somewhat Like Me

 

Least Like Me

 

Conceptual

17

10%

57

33%

77

45%

22

13%

Philosophical

27

16%

18

10%

39

23%

89

52%

Intelligent

36

21%

80

47%

35

20%

22

13%

Theoretical

21

12%

23

13%

37

22%

92

53%

Complex

26

15%

24

14%

42

24%

81

47%

Calm

32

19%

41

24%

43

25%

25%

33%

Independent

40

23%

45

26%

69

40%

19

11%

Logical

51

30%

43

25%

46

27%

33

19%

Collected

28

16%

31

18%

43

25%

71

41%

Analytical

23

13%

28

16%

53

31%

69

40%

Overall Green

 

18%

 

22%

 

28%

 

32%

Orange Words

Most Like Me

 

More Like Me

 

Somewhat Like Me

 

Least Like Me

 

Playful

59

34%

29

17%

34

20%

51

30%

Energetic

42

24%

61

35%

44

26%

26

15%

Charming

42

24%

54

31%

51

30%

26

15%

Quick witted

27

16%

63

37%

47

27%

36

21%

Creative

66

38%

29

17%

36

21%

42

24%

Entertaining

56

33%

40

23%

36

21%

41

24%

Mobile

13

8%

37

22%

59

34%

64

37%

Inventive

24

14%

32

19%

56

33%

61

35%

Competitive

64

37%

33

19%

31

18%

45

26%

Risk taker

51

30%

35

20%

30

17%

57

33%

Overall Orange

 

26%

 

24%

 

24%

 

26%

In reviewing table 5's data, it's important to understand the importance of the second color in an individuals' True Colors spectrum.25 The first color (the "high color") is the dominant color representing the most personality characteristics that an individual has; however, the second color represents personality characteristics that also influence behavior. When we combined the "most like me" and "more like me" columns, the overall True Colors spectrum of the online students in our study, we found that Blue was most common (57 percent), followed by Gold (54 percent), Orange (50 percent), and Green (40 percent). A small percentage difference separated the Blue and Gold, while Green was ranked last.

When using only the "most like me" ratings, Gold and Blue remained the top two colors in the spectrum, with Gold slightly higher (29 percent), followed by Blue (28 percent), Orange (26 percent), and Green (18 percent). However, Gold and Blue are again separated by only a small percentage difference, indicating that students have many personality characteristics in both colors. Green was again ranked last, with students recording the least of these personality characteristic traits. Both Gold and Blue have characteristics pertaining to communication, which might allude to why the color choices are more like the students than others.

As noted earlier, the ION's characteristics of successful online learners consisted mainly of Green, Gold, and Blue characteristics (which account for seven of the eight characteristics in table 3). These characteristics include open-mindedness, good written communication, proactive communication, self-motivation, self-discipline, critical thinking and decision-making skills, believing quality learning is taking place, and a commitment to learning.

We also gave participants in our study the opportunity, through an open-ended statement, to indicate what they believed helped them succeed in the online course. When determining success in a course, grade distributions are often discussed. The actual grade distributions for all 218 students at the course's end were:

  • A — 70 students (32 percent)
  • B — 60 (28 percent)
  • C — 40 (18 percent)
  • D — 14 (6 percent)
  • F — 34 (16 percent)

In this study, we defined "success" as earning an A or B in the course. Table 6 shows the breakdown of the successful students who replied to our open-ended statement (106), and also categorizes by color their comments (a total of 201) on the factors they said impacted their success.

Table 6. Successful Students' Comments Connected to True Colors

Color

Number of Comments

Percent of Comments

Gold

71

35%

Green

65

32%

Blue

48

24%

Orange

17

9%

Table 7 shows a detailed summary of comments from successful students categorized based on the model's colors and organized by the number of times students mentioned the characteristic.

Table 7. Students' Comments Categorized by Color and Frequency

Student Comment

No. of Times Students Made the Comment

Color

Color Descriptor

Time management

21

Gold

Planner

Helpfulness of chapter tutorials

17

Blue

Helpful

Previous Microsoft Excel knowledge and skill

12

Green

Competent

Working ahead

11

Gold

Planner

Set deadlines, schedule, and due dates

10

Gold

Appreciates deadlines

Online training

8

Green

Independent work

Learning what Excel does and knowledge gained

7

Green

Knowledgeable

Working at my own pace/ability to schedule my classwork around my work schedule

6

Orange

Appreciates freedom

Communication with Dr. Crews

6

Blue

Communicator

Not procrastinating

6

Gold

Punctual

Reading the book

6

Green

Seeking knowledge

Good with computers/technology

5

Green

Competent

Learning what Access does and knowledge gained

5

Green

Knowledgeable

Dr. Crews' availability

5

Blue

Helpful

Organization

4

Gold

Organized

Case problem automatic grading with immediate feedback

4

Orange

Appreciates immediate feedback

Checking Blackboard and e-mail for communication daily/often

4

Blue

Communication

Having a friend to work with

4

Blue

Enjoys friends

Interest in learning/actually learning new things

4

Green

Seeking knowledge

Helpfulness of the students I met in the class

3

Blue

Helpful

FAQ discussion board on Blackboard

3

Blue

Helpful

Staying on task

3

Gold

Determined

Communicating with others to get questions answered

3

Blue

Communication

Motivation

2

Gold

Motivated

Initiative

2

Gold

Motivated

Planning ahead

2

Gold

Planner

Self-discipline

2

Green

Independent

Previous Microsoft Access knowledge and skills

2

Green

Competent

Step-by-step

2

Green

Logical

Hard work and drive

2

C

Responsible

Determination

2

Gold

Determined

Detailed syllabus

2

Gold

Detail-oriented

Independent work/learning

2

Green

Prefers independent work

Dr. Crews' helpfulness

1

Blue

Helpful

Dr. Crews' knowledge of the course

1

Green

Knowledgeable

Expectations and guidelines of course

1

Gold

Rules and procedures

Course content related directly to my major (accounting and finance)

1

Green

Seeking knowledge

Knowing how to deal with stress and work overload

1

Orange

Laid back

Working in my own preferred environment and not having to go to class

1

Orange

Appreciates freedom

Online lectures

1

Green

Prefers independent work

Ability to follow directions

1

Gold

Rules and procedures

Ability to learn

1

Green

Knowledgeable

Pictures to guide work

1

Orange

Visual

Clarity of work instructions

1

Blue

Communication

Past experiences

1

Green

Knowledgeable

Help from Google

1

Green

Seeks knowledge

Ability to see my progress

1

Orange

Immediate feedback

Learning hands-on

1

Orange

Physical

Relaxed, no pressure environment

1

Orange

Laid back

Ability to pick up skills easily

1

Green

Intellectual

Open labs

1

Orange

Mobility

Working in a quiet environment

1

Green

Needs private time

My knowledge

1

Green

Knowledgeable

Patience

1

Blue

Patient

Devoting large chunks of time to the course

1

Gold

Planner

Work ethic

1

Gold

Responsible

Wanting to earn an "A" in the course

1

Green

Intellectual

The successful students' comments indicate that Gold characteristics helped the most students succeed (35 percent), closely followed by Green (32 percent) and Blue (24 percent) characteristics; Orange characteristics were the least helpful (9 percent). Therefore, the top two colors noted by their success comments were Gold and Green. These comments were provided by the students after they completed the self-assessment, ranking the trait characteristic words from "most like me" to "least like me." In the self-assessment, they indicated Green as their "low color" — that is, the color with the fewest personality traits — along with Gold, as the color with the most personality traits.

Implications

As we described earlier, Gold, Green, and Blue personality traits best helped students succeed in this online course. Research has also shown that individuals with high Gold traits are detail oriented, responsible and have good time management skills. Those with Green traits typically possess good critical thinking skills and are knowledgeable, independent, competent and logical. Individuals with high Blue traits are optimistic, cooperative,26 good communicators, and appreciate helpful environments.

It is interesting to note the students' self-assessment of their personality traits differed from their comments about what they believed helped them be successful in the online course. Overall, our study participants self-assessed through a ranking of trait words and provided successful comments in the following order, from highest to lowest:

  • Self-assessment of personality traits: Gold (29%), Blue (28%), Orange (26%), and Green (18%)
  • Success comments: Gold (35%), Green (32%), Blue (24%), and Orange (9%)

Students self-assessed themselves to have high Gold personality traits and also noted in their comments that these traits helped them be successful in the class. However, while students ranked Green characteristics lowest in their True Colors personality spectrum, 32 percent of the successful students who provided comments indicated those characteristics helped them succeed in the course. This points to an important concept in True Colors.

The color individuals identified as "most like me" is their high color, and they have many of these personality trait characteristics; in their low color (ranked "least like me"), they have few personality trait characteristics. Most individuals have a high and a low color in the spectrum, yet some individuals have a tie, with two high or low colors or even three colors close to each other. When individuals have many personality characteristic traits (their high color), they might be overwhelming or annoying to others. In such cases, they need to learn to "fade their shade." Fading a shade includes toning down personality traits to improve teamwork, communication, conflict management, and so on. The reverse is true when an individual has few personality traits in a color (their low color) as they have to "pull up their color." For example, is an individual's low color is Blue, they must "pull up their color" in certain circumstances and consciously perform that trait — such as communicate or work cooperatively. When individuals have few personality trait characteristics in a color, they cannot use it as an excuse. For example, people with their low color as Gold still have to be organized and punctual at times. Thus, to be successful, they must "pull up" those personality traits.

This is exactly what the successful students did with their Green characteristics in this study. They realized they had to think critically, gain more knowledge, study book content, do research, and work outside their comfort zone — that is, outside their low color. Therefore, they pulled up their color to be successful. As Moallem noted, "It seems that in online learning environments where social interaction, collaboration and problem solving are highly emphasized, it is likely that students' perceptions of their positive learning experience influence their motivation and willingness to adjust their preferred learning styles."27

Recommendations

Our recommendations fall into two key areas: helping students understand and draw on successful learning styles, and helping faculty design more flexible courses and assignments that play to the strengths of all of their students and thus encourage success.

Helping Students Understand Successful Learning Styles

Certified trainers in True Colors can help others understand their own and others' personality trait spectrums, which can improve communication; help people understand how to work better in teams; develop strategies to connect with others; and help them get along with diverse personalities. Certified trainers can work with interested groups and/or individuals. However, individuals can also access the True Colors assessment program to learn more about themselves and carefully consider how to provide content and instruction to all students. As individuals get to know themselves better and consider carefully how to design learning for all students, everyone benefits. Individuals can assess their spectrum by going to the True Colors International website; Mary Miscisin provides free information about assessing students' True Colors spectrums as well by discussing how students' personalities reveal a "rainbow of student behaviors."28

As noted by Crews, Bodenhamer, and Weaver,29 "True Colors can help educators understand their students more completely and develop a classroom environment to engage all students." Through this deeper understanding, faculty can provide for differentiated and individualized instruction providing opportunities for more valuable and effective learning experiences. When faculty understand their own True Colors personality trait spectrum, they can typically at least identify their students' highest and lowest colors. Faculty must "fade their shade" and "pull up their color" when appropriate to meet all students' needs.

When using this model with students, two important concepts to teach them are to fade their top color so as not to overwhelm others and to pull up their low colors when doing so can help them succeed.

Although it may not be practical for faculty members to understand each online student's True Color spectrum, they can give their online students a list of characteristics of successful students at the start of each semester. Then, at semester's end, they should ask students what they believe made them successful in the course. As in our case, they can do this in conjunction with the end-of-course evaluations, and then provide the results to subsequent students. Faculty can also provide suggestions and/or communication to help each student be successful based on each True Color. For example, Gold students need detail and like specific guidelines, while Orange students need freedom to choose how to complete a project and not-so-specific guidelines. Green students need to be challenged and work independently, but Blue students need the option to work with each other. Therefore, the course design is essential.

Color-Conscious Course Design

It's important for faculty to provide a good online course — one designed and implemented to help all students succeed in the online environment, regardless of their learning personality. This includes developing the syllabus, assignments, and projects to appeal to all four personality types.

  • Students with high Blue personality traits need an opportunity to easily communicate with their peers and the instructor, work cooperatively, and help others. Blues can become unmotivated when their help is not appreciated or communication is stifled.
  • Students who possess high Gold personality traits need organization, deadlines, rules, and procedures. Gold students also need to know that rules and procedures will be enforced for all students.
  • Students who possess high Green personality traits need to be challenged, to expand their knowledge, and to understand the work they are doing has a purpose. Greens will not be motivated to learn if they believe their work is senseless and not helping them gain knowledge.
  • Students who possess high Orange personality traits need to be able to work anywhere, anytime and be mobile, entertained, and creative in their work; they thus often prefer the flexibility of an online class. Orange students need some structure to keep them from procrastinating throughout the semester, but too much structure can be stressful for them.

In general, then, projects assigned throughout the semester should be designed with a communication component, scheduled with deadlines, and challenge students to gain knowledge, but they should also be flexible, allowing students to use creativity in completing the assignment.

Specifically, faculty can organize courses to suit the strengths and needs of these four types in several of the following ways. For Blue students, faculty might design projects with a service-oriented component that allows students become more involved in the community, or develop a cooperative learning assignment in which students can work collaboratively to help each other.

For Gold students, faculty should use a rubric with clear criteria and ensure learning outcomes are connected to that rubric. If a university's instructional design center creates the rubric, faculty members should be involved in the design; after all, they are the ones delivering the content, assigning the project, and assessing students' work. Gold students will also expect clear communication through a well-designed syllabus with clear-cut deadlines, rules, and procedures.

Green students need the challenge of learning. They will excel when a course is designed to provide for, what they perceive as lesser assignments, weekly multiple choice quizzes to be eliminated if extensive learning is shown through a research project. For example, all students in the course may be asked to complete a research project, but there may be extra items that could be accomplished to earn extra points to take the place of the weekly quizzes. Greens will be bored and frustrated with busy work.

Orange students need flexibility and the opportunity to be the center of attention. Even with a rubric, for example, you might give these students flexibility in how they produce or deliver the final product; if a "presentation" is required, you could give students various options on how they deliver it, such as through slideshow software, video, electronic whiteboard, or any online means in which they can meet the learning objective.

Flexible Course Design: Two Examples

The best way to ensure students are provided with a variety of opportunities to learn within their top colors is to develop and implement assignments/projects that give students choices. To help stimulate ideas, we offer two examples.

Jennifer Fogarty, a previous high school business educator, told us that when students are provided with choices to meet the project objectives, it allows them to direct their strengths to a project that meets their personality traits.30 As an example, suppose you assign a project that requires students to investigate and describe a specific travel destination. To meet the needs of all students, you could ask students to choose and complete three of the following six options:

  1. Create a presentation (of your choice) with visuals about the destination; you can do this individually or with another student.
  2. Research the destination and write a research report.
  3. Create a map with details about the destination.
  4. Develop a detailed itinerary for the destination.
  5. Create a web page about the destination.
  6. Create a budget for a trip to the destination.

Giving students these choices lets them use the strengths in their personality traits to portray the travel destination in their own way and still provide the information the project requires.

A second example, developed by Jessica Miller, current business educator in the Aurora Public School System, Denver, Colorado, illustrates another way to give students flexibility in achieving learning objectives, this time in a personal finance project.31 In this case, students are given the choice of completing two of the following assignments:

  1. Develop a spreadsheet of monthly expenditures for your family, providing specific examples, and recommend a method for storing records safely in your home.
  2. Design and create a flyer or brochure for a financial institution that gives its customers various options for safely storing financial documents. Include advantages, disadvantages, and associated costs for each option.
  3. With one or two other students, write an original 30-second script for an identity theft TV commercial. The script should include factual information about identity theft and ways to prevent it. Record the commercial using appropriate software.
  4. Produce a document or presentation to explain a new identification system that you have invented to replace the social security card and reduce identify theft.

Again, these choices play to the strengths of the Gold, Blue, Orange, and Green personality traits, respectively. When project requirements are matched to learning objectives and to students' strengths and personality traits, impressive work prevails.

Conclusions

As these examples show, general teaching strategies must be well rounded to address the needs of all different learning personalities. Instructors should engage students in the learning process, but remain organized in their lessons. Keep in mind that students who possess Blue personality traits like to help others, so group activities can help meet the needs of multiple student color types. Group projects that are well organized help Gold students and give Blue students a chance to be cooperative rather than competitive; when such projects are designed to be active and entertaining, yet flexible, Orange students thrive,32and Green students can be challenged if appropriately designed, as Greens see knowledge as power.33

Co-author Tena Crews has hopes of working toward assessing all of her online students' True Colors through an online assessment and providing learning personality-based suggestions and communication to help her students be more successful. This will be an ongoing challenge as she will be facing approximately 400 students in the course with assistance from a part-time adjunct and a graduate assistant.

Notes
  1. Gerhard Blickle, "Personality Traits, Learning Strategies, and Performance," European Journal of Personality, vol. 10, no. 5, 1996, pp. 337–352.
  2. Eunjoo Oh and Doohun Lim, "Cross Relationship Between Cognitive Styles and Learner Variables in Online Learning Environment," Journal of Interactive Online Learning, vol. 4, no. 1, 2005, pp. 53–66.
  3. Blickle, "Personality Traits, Learning Strategies, and Performance."
  4. Oh and Lim, "Cross Relationship Between Cognitive Styles and Learner Variables," p. 54.
  5. Daniel W. Salter, Nancy J. Evans, and Deanna S. Forney, "A Longitudinal Study of Learning Style Preferences on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Learning Style Inventory," Journal of College Student Development, vol. 47, no. 2, 2006, pp. 173–184.
  6. Patricia Hedges, "Personality Discovery: Personality Patterns in Teachers and Their Pupils," Pastoral Care in Education, vol. 15, no. 3, 1997, pp. 17–22.
  7. Ibid, p. 17.
  8. Myers & Briggs Foundation, MBTI Basics, 2012.
  9. Myers & Briggs Foundation, My MBTI Results, 2012.
  10. Sharon M. Chambers, James C. Hardy, Brenda J. Smith, and Sarah F. Sienty, "Personality Indicators and Emergency Permit Teachers' Willingness to Embrace Technology," Journal of Instructional Psychology, vol. 30, no. 3 (2003), pp. 185–188.
  11. David Keirsey, Please Understand Me II (Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1998).
  12. True Colors Foundation, Keys to Personal Success: Facilitator's Guide, True Colors Publishing, 1996.
  13. Ibid.
  14. True Colors International, What Is True Colors and What Can It Do for Me?, 2009.
  15. Mary Miscisin, Showing Our True Colors, True Colors Publishing, 2004.
  16. Mary Miscisin, "True Colors Reveal a Rainbow of Student Behaviors," online article, positivelymary.com, 2005.
  17. Tena B. Crews, Johanna Bodenhamer, and Tina Weaver, "Understanding True Colors Personality Trait Spectrum of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management Students to Enhance Classroom Instruction," Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism, vol. 10, no. 1 (2010), pp. 22–41.
  18. Mary Miscisin, "True Colors Reveal a Rainbow."
  19. Illinois Online Network (ION), Online Education Resources: Pedagogy & Learning, ION, 2010.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Colleen DeVine, "The Skills Both Online Students and Teachers Must Have," Edudemic: Connecting Education and Technology, Mar. 27, 2013.
  22. Patricia Hedges, "Personality Discovery," p. 17-22.
  23. Tena B. Crews et al., "Understanding True Colors," p. 22.
  24. Judith A. Whichard, "Reliability and Validity of True Colors," presentation, True Colors International, 2006.
  25. Tena B. Crews et al., "Understanding True Colors," p. 35.
  26. Ibid., "Understanding True Colors," p. 25.
  27. Mahnaz Moallem, "Accommodating Individual Differences in the Design of Online Learning Environments: A Comparative Study," Journal of Research on Technology in Education, vol. 40, no. 2 (2007), pp. 217–245; see p. 238.
  28. Mary Miscisin, "True Colors Reveal a Rainbow of Student Behaviors."
  29. Tena B. Crews et al., p. 40.
  30. Jennifer Fogarty, personal communication re: providing students choices in completing assignments and projects, April 10, 2007.
  31. Tena B. Crews and Jessica Miller, "Your Students' True Colors," presentation, South Carolina Business Education Association Conference, 2013.
  32. Tena B. Crews et al., "Understanding True Colors," p. 38.
  33. Ibid, p. 32.

Tena B. Crews

Dr. Tena B. Crews is currently a professor of Integrated Information Technology (IIT) at the University of South Carolina (USC). She also serves as the Director of Online Learning for the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management (CoHRSM) and previously served as the Associate Director of Technology Pedagogy for the Center for Teaching Excellence at USC. Prior to joining the faculty at USC, Tena taught at Ball State University and West Georgia University where she taught in the College of Business and served as the Director of Online Learning.

Tena has taught pure online and blended courses for approximately 15 years and traditional face-to-face courses for 30 years. She has designed and implemented many online courses and an online master's degree. Tena has an Ed.D. in Business Education with a minor in Management Information Systems (MIS) from the University of Georgia. She holds a B.S. in Business Education and M.A. in Secondary Education from Ball State University. Tena's research interests include online learning design, development and assessment.

 

Sradha Narendra Sheth

B.Com, MBA (Marketing), Masters in Retailing

 

Tamlyn M. Horne

Student
University of South Carolina

 

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