What follows is the first in our series of “Ask Elaine” posts:
Do you have any insights when it comes to functions and learning strategy? It would be interesting to learn whether the different function-pairs have different strengths and disadvantages, and how to accommodate and optimize learning.
I am a INTP in college, and would describe my learning process as such: trying to understand how all concepts relate to each other, making sure there are no open ends unexplained. Only then do I feel as if I have a framework to build upon, and if I am unable to create this framework (sometimes book is lacking info/ I can’t make sense of it), I will spend a lot of time looking for possibilities of how things might logically be interconnected. This puts me in a creative-process, but takes time from actually getting through the book and learning effectively for the test. Do you have any advice for me?
Greetings valued readers! I would like to take a moment to sincerely thank you for entrusting me with your penetrating questions, which I hope to answer as accurately and insightfully as possible. I will do my best to cover as much as I can about this topic, though I wager an entire book could be written on the subject.
The first thing worth noting is that (as is regularly discussed in Typology 101) certain commonalities will exist for those with the same preference generally, (e.g., for all Intuitive “N” types), while other attributes will be specific to a particular function (e.g., Ni vs. Ne). I’m going to begin by explaining styles as they pertain to the preferences (e.g., N vs. S) and then break that down into specifics for each corresponding function (e.g., Ni vs. Ne and Si vs. Se).
In truth, a question about “learning styles” is really a question about personality type theory generally. The act of “learning” is uniquely reserved for living things, and at this stage of history, we as human beings have differentiated ourselves from other living beings (note I did not imply a value statement about our evolution as being “ahead of” or “better than” any other living thing) through the development of preferential modes of learning specific to our given type. In fact, most of Jung’s work on type theory hinges on the question of how people (a) acquire information (aka Perceive) and (b) process information (aka Judge).
Learning Styles & Personality: Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P) Types
Let’s begin by discussing the learning differences between Perceiving dominants (Se, Ne, Si, and Ni) and Judging dominants (Te, Fe, Ti, and Fi). Learning is a two-fold process; it involves both being able to collect information as well as process, or organize, it. Where Perceiving dominants (or EP and IJ types) have the edge, not surprisingly, is in the ability to collect information. At play for Perceiving dominants is both their conscious dominant perceiving function, which is generally aware of the perceiving it’s doing, as well as subconscious inferior perceiving (the dichotomous opposite of the dominant Se, Ne, Si, or Ni function) to which they are relatively unaware. For Perceiving types, learning need not necessarily be “formal” since the act of perceiving is such a natural and intuitive process occurring since childhood. Dominant perceiving has no “off switch” – it simply exists and remains open to information whether in the classroom or not. Visually speaking, we could conceive of the Perceiving dominant’s functional stack as being like an hourglass which is open at both ends – it constantly collects and sifts information, and usually without deference to whether the information is purposive or “useful” to some constructive end or not.
While dominant Perceivers’ information gathering skills are generally superior to dominant Judgers, where they usually get tripped up is in the application and dedication to a productive use of that knowledge. In less flattering terms, they are sometimes characterized as “lazy.” I have witnessed several accounts of naturally brilliant Perceiving dominants (the amount of information that they have managed to collect over a lifetime would amaze you), who regularly performed behind other Judging dominant students academically because they simply lacked the drive and dedication to study or complete projects on time.
For dominant Judgers (EJ and IP types), the “learning” process looks somewhat different. As Robin alluded, they really prefer to begin with a “framework” (this framework will look different depending on whether one is a Te, Fe, Ti, or Fi) that sets certain boundaries or limits before they begin information gathering or exploring. “Open ends,” as Robin refers to them, can be unsettling for Judging dominants, as it leaves them stranded in the middle of the stack with no way to reconcile the inferior function. Without a framework, Judging dominants quickly grow impatient and can feel lost at sea in an ocean of apparently irrelevant information. At some point they insist on knowing what the use or application of that knowledge is. In this way, learning is usually less of an intrinsic process and more of an extrinsic one. This is not to suggest, however, that the “end” is necessarily a pragmatic one (like making money), it could be the advancement of a religious cause, an increase in skill at a particular sport, etc. If dominant Judgers have a clear goal in mind, they can be formidable learners and information gatherers – again, putting them on par with, and even ahead of, dominant Perceivers in the knowledge acquisition category.
While we’re on the subject of Judging dominants, it is worth noting that the motivating factor behind a Judger’s dedication to learning or information gathering typically varies between the types. An Fe dominant, for example, will likely be more compelled to study if s/he has people whom the Fe respects counting on him/her to do well academically. Fe types feel responsible to others and can be strongly motivated by an admired teacher or counselor pushing them to do well. Ti types, on the other hand, are more self-motivated and tend to resist external demands on their performance (unless in the grip of inferior Fe which may be seeking ego-gratifying accolades). When a Ti type begins a project of his or her own making, s/he is usually very motivated to follow through with it, including doing the necessary research to see it come to fruition. Summarily, Te and Fe types (not in the grip) are externally motivated and Ti and Fi types (not in the grip) are internally motivated.
Sensing (S) & Intuitive (N) Types
Perhaps the most widely discussed factor influencing learning styles is the difference between N and S types. All Intuitives, whether Ne or Ni types, are holistic thinkers, preferring to comprehensively understand the theoretical ways in which things are connected before diving into hard details. This makes them particularly well-suited to abstract or symbol-based modes of learning (i.e., lecture and text). They do not necessarily need to try things with their own two hands in order to grasp a theory, however the phenomenon of empirically proving/observing a theory after it’s been learned is usually very thrilling to an Intuitive type.
Breaking Intuitives into their respective camps, Ni and Ne, we can certainly detect differences. For Ni types (i.e., INFJs, INTJs), learning is usually more self-directed, and they tend to theorize independently about root causes and underlying information. It is also easier for Ni types to see singularities – that is, to boil causalities into their essences. To be clear, this does not make them simple or narrow-minded. On the contrary; they are usually ahead of their time, renegades of insight capable of extracting esoteric gold from their reserves of observation. They tend to be skeptics about information coming from without, fully trusting only those inferences they’ve come to autonomously. Because of this, many Ni dominants tend not to be voracious readers. Their font of Ni knowledge is sourced within, meaning that parroting information picked up from other sources is generally eschewed, or in the least reviewed with skepticism. Many Ni types find their best mode of learning actually comes through writing (not necessarily in “essay” form, but also in computer code, mathematic formulae, etc.) Ni types often describe their experience with learning thusly: “It’s as if the knowledge has always been there, inside of me; I simply need to tap into it, give it a chance to flow into consciousness.” This is what the act of writing does for the Ni type – it forces him/her to bring that knowledge up into a greater state of consciousness.
This stands in contrast to Ne types who primarily collect information from without. As such, they are usually very well-read and conversant in a breadth of theoretical topics. Extremely resourceful, they make wonderful researchers and information gatherers. Ne types, exceptionally creative, have a keen sense of curiosity and excel at seeing pluralities, or multiple possibilities. They tend to be excited by new possibilities, new theories, and new ideas and for this reason may find themselves trying all sorts of different classes and areas of study in school. Once they feel like they’ve gotten the gist of a certain philosopher or idea, they’ll often prefer to add new resources to their catalogue rather than spend a great deal of time investing in any one author. For Ne dominants in particular, because they are so adept at quickly grasping new ideas, they are easily bored and can become restless when an idea is belabored to long. Ne dominants are, as a result, more likely than others to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and other focally-challenged diagnoses like hyperactivity. Extraverted Intuition learns best when it’s given room to bounce ideas and theories off of others in group discussions, debates, or any dialogical forum.
For those with the Sensing preference, “learning”, when not in the grip, centers on observation, performance, and practice. Sensors generally learn best from experience, after which they are more apt to theorize about those experiences and teach or counsel others. Sensors also tend to do better with learning that relates to certain practical or “hard” skills – like filling out tax returns, changing car tires, or baking a cake. In other words, in situations where knowledge has a direct application Sensors are very quick to learn and usually feel fairly comfortable. The more that theoretical material gets abstracted, however, the harder it is for Sensing types to follow along without becoming lost, bored and/or irritated. In elementary education this isn’t generally problematic, but as Sensing types move into secondary education it can be challenging and unappealing to take classes that are theory-heavy. As such, they may be attracted to trade and/or business schools where they can see putting knowledge to practical use. Indeed, they may roll their eyes at Intuitive types who wish they could live in the “bubble” of academic life forever, philosophizing about and researching issues that are unlikely to have any use in the real world.
As with Ni vs. Ne, there are notable differences in the Si vs. Se functions. Si types are energy conservationists. They lack the dare-devilish, try anything and everything streak of more adventurous Se types. They are less apt to get distracted and are generally very diligent students, taking time and patience to study consistently. Thanks to inferior Ne, they many times manage to pick up a wide smattering of factoids and trivia through subconscious absorption. Many Si types also tend to be history buffs, and have a formidable knowledge base in whatever area piques their interest (e.g. World War II history, genealogy, classic films or antique sewing machines). Si types tend to learn best when they study alone and have an opportunity to apply the knowledge or techniques they’ve learned through repeated practice. They also tend to dislike working under pressure, preferring instead to give themselves ample time to study, write papers, etc. As a “convergent” function, Si tends to be more intensive in its area of practice; as a result, Si (unless in the grip of Ne) doesn’t generally hop between professions or areas of study. Si types will usually prefer to devote themselves to their particular line of work and apply themselves diligently in that field.
Se types are, by nature, performers. Their talents and skills are often broad. If an Se type is into athletics, he or she is likely to play a variety of sports, not just one. Experience is the catalyst for intellectual growth; the broader the experience, the deeper the understanding. Se types are usually very successful at performing well at job interviews, internships, residencies and apprenticeships. As they gain experience, they become more confident in what they know. They do best academically when they involve themselves in a number of activities and experiences: studying abroad, joining clubs and organizations they are interested in, trying out for sports teams and school plays. Understanding how everything comes together in the larger theoretical sense (while often a major source of attraction to Se types as a result of inferior Ni), may not actually develop until later in life after Se types have gained enough life experience to see a common thread.
I’d like to conclude this article by making a personal commentary to Robin regarding what you described as your “natural” process which is very much creative, but as you say can “distract” from the learning process. I would discourage you from viewing that creative process as a hindrance or block to learning. It would seem, and I may be wrong, that you are assuming that in order to “learn” better you ought to mimic the style of Perceivers which is to be open to information absorption and then analysis (i.e., going from P -> J). Realistically, I think it’s just not possible, nor is it authentic for you, as a J dominant to approach learning in this fashion. The creative process IS a learning process – it just has a more “roundabout” appearance. Ne explores all the options before wrapping it’s mind around the one answer (if such a thing exists). The frustration for INP types, I think, is the sense of urgency they feel from inferior EJ demanding that they put some sort of convergent closure on things. Therefore, taking the “scenic route” is sometimes seen as a negative thing. Instead, I would encourage you to embrace the journey (i.e., that part which is creative) as a fundamental and, frankly, unavoidable part of that search and quest for knowledge – and all the better if your Ne can commune with other interested souls that you can bounce ideas around with.
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