Chapter 5: Learning Personalities

This chapter is about the different places learners come from – their varied backgrounds and attributes: material, corporeal and symbolic. These factors shape the learner’s personality. They also have an enormous impact on their engagement with learning and their educational and social outcomes.

Learner personalities can be negotiated in a number of different ways. When similarity is expected or differences are regarded as unnecessary and troublesome, societies or social institutions, such as schools, sometimes use the mechanisms of differential exclusion (allowing in certain kinds of people but not others) or assimilation (allowing different kinds of people in on condition that they fit in by becoming like the people who are already there). Both of these approaches are based on the idea that groups work better when all their members are more or less the same, and that the in-group’s way of doing things is the best.

Another way to deal with varied learner attributes is to grant differences some degree of formal recognition. This may include categorisation of groups for the purposes of creating special programs. These programs may be criticised for being limited or because they represent a laissez-faire or ‘live and let live’ approach that doesn’t necessarily deal with inequalities that accompany differences.

In today’s conditions of diversity in local communities and places of close human interaction, such as schools, and with increasing global interconnectedness, an inclusive approach to varied learner attributes is more effective. Inclusiveness works better as a form of engagement and as a way to improve learner performance. Learner differences are subtle, complex and deep. Every person is uniquely formed at the intersection of many lines of influence. We need to negotiate the uniqueness of every learner’s life history, and the fluidity of life change. Social groups, such as schools, work best when everything they do makes all members of the group feel that they can belong and achieve, in their difference.