Article - Intermediate to Advanced

The Enneagram in Learning and Development

By Megan Biffi | 11 April 2019 |

Learning and development has recently become an important focus in organisations – and, in a time of rapid change, the highly diversified, knowledge-intensive jobs of today demand more personalised learning paths tailored to the individual as well as to the role or task.

In addition, the costs of traditional approaches to learning have been climbing steadily. More and more staff do not work in the same office or even in the same time zone, creating renewed interest in distributed online learning. Many companies are rethinking their approach to learning and talent, prioritising the individual and crafting a flexible, tailored, and focused learning journey for them.

"If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn." -Ignacio Estrada

Learning and development professionals often find that individual self-awareness and diverse learning preferences or learning styles are common challenges in change, leadership and learning programmes. Theorists and researchers have identified a number of ‘learning styles’ that highlight that individuals have different strengths, preferences, and challenges in the ways they learn and the Enneagram can help us understand these needs and tailor interventions accordingly.


The Enneagram and Learning

The Enneagram has the potential to significantly accelerate and maximise investment in learning, leadership development, and coaching by connecting participants to the deepest levels of self-awareness. With this in mind, let’s explore how the Enneagram might shed light on the ideal learning and development environments for each Enneagram Type, and what might support them best.

STRICT PERFECTIONIST | Enneagram Type 1

Enneagram Ones can be described as attentive, meticulous, and highly detail-orientated and tend to take their learning seriously. They will spend a lot of time double-checking (if not triple-checking) their work to ensure that nothing has been missed; many Ennea 1s find learning difficult and tiring as a result. Enneagram 1s are likely to be motivated by achieving perfection or at least a high standard of quality, and should be acknowledged for their principled approach and attention to detail as part of their learning achievements.

  • Offer them a learning and development environment which is well organised, where work is well planned, rules are reasonable, fair, and consistently imposed and where others are conscientious, responsible, and self-disciplined.
  • Remind them that perfection is often the enemy of learning. When striving towards perfection, they can be highly critical of themselves should they get anything wrong, which may derail their learning.

CONSIDERATE HELPER | Enneagram Type 2

As someone who is focused on relationships and serving others, Type 2s desire an emotional connection to the learning experience and, preferably, to their fellow learners. Many Ennea 2s enjoy close interpersonal learning situations such as coaching or mentoring, but they may compromise their learning success in their efforts to preserve their relationships or their image as a helpful person. They would benefit from setting appropriate limits and personal boundaries. They value emotional connection and thoughtfulness and, in turn, their ideal learning and development environment would include group work and discussion.

  • Twos may feel more engaged in learning if they are able to help and are likely to offer to assist the facilitator or act in service of the group.
  • Encourage them by highlighting their contribution to the group, but also encourage them to focus on their own learning and fully engage as a participant.

COMPETITIVE ACHIEVER | Enneagram Type 3

As an energetic go-getter, Enneagram 3s tend to be competitive and often have high expectations of themselves in all contexts. To this end, they are constantly challenging themselves and striving to improve their abilities and skills, pushing themselves to be better. Not only do they need to achieve and be successful, but they also need others to see and show appreciation for their hard work. This plays out strongly in a learning environment, where Type 3s can see how they stack up against others and may feel that they need to ‘perform’.

They are eager to jump into action during the learning process and, consequently, they appreciate theoretical sessions that are concise and reduced to key concepts and offer pragmatic advice that leads to results.

  • Enneagram 3s are likely to be motivated by clear, pragmatic goals and expectations and clearly defined learning objectives. Support them in learning and development by encouraging them to set realistic goals for their competency and self-improvement and offer tangible feedback and grading.
  • Encourage Threes to benchmark their learning and development against their own personal performance, rather than allowing their competitiveness to focus them on others. Remind them that improvement is the goal, not winning.

INTENSE CREATIVE | Enneagram Type 4

Often feeling unusual or out-of-place in some way, Enneagram Type 4s are described as having a creative or artistic flair and are not afraid to express themselves, especially emotionally. They often feel somewhat self-conscious in learning processes, as they become aware of how differently they engage compared to others.

During the learning processes, Type 4s are likely to look for an emotional, personal connection to the content and processes used during the sessions, and to relate learning to their own experiences. Known to pour their soul into what they do, Ennea 4s can be hypersensitive to criticism, especially if they see it as personal rejection, and could withdraw from the learning process as a result of tough feedback.

  • Offer Fours a learning and development environment where their self-expression and emotional authenticity are welcomed, making time to check in on a personal level and reflect on their learning.
  • They may also appreciate a unique and creative setting or learning approach, and may benefit from opportunities for them to personalise their learning process to best suit their personal needs.

QUIET SPECIALIST | Enneagram Type 5

The Ennea 5 loves opportunities to learn, but in their quest for knowledge they may also find themselves judging the expertise or depth of the learning or the so-called experts who deliver it. Type 5s enjoy highly analytical work and discovering new things and often thrive in self-sufficient or distance learning processes that give them time to process information alone, but also challenge them to connect to their learning peers. Type 5s particularly dislike being made to look or feel foolish or ignorant or asked to think and respond on the spot, and so calling on them to participate should be done respectfully. Ennea 5s learn best through observation and analysis, sometimes over-analysing information and getting stuck in analysis paralysis. They like to find patterns, and speculate and test their ideas before sharing them, and so they prefer to fully understand new information before participating in learning with others. Type 5s may only be satisfied with full comprehension of a topic, always feeling the need to learn more.

  • These quiet, reserved observers prefer to work alone and like their need for privacy and boundaries to be respected. Offer them plenty of quiet time and space for reflection and sense-making as they learn.
  • Fives learn best in an environment that values curiosity and original knowledge, where there is space for intellectual discussion and topics are explored in depth.

LOYAL SCEPTIC | Enneagram Type 6

During the learning and development process, an Enneagram 6 is likely to test the material, the facilitator and their peers, bombarding them with questions. To this end, most Type 6s would appreciate an open, equal learning and development environment where questions are welcomed and answered. Type 6s also test solutions and theories in reality, analysing the various scenarios and bringing a sceptical eye to information. This learning style should not necessarily be misinterpreted as defensiveness or resistance. Their need for security and safety should also be respected by creating a sense of predictability, introducing change gradually and methodically, as well as providing a structure, framework, specific instructions, routines, and guidelines.

  • To alleviate their anxiety levels, Ennea 6s may require constant reassurance and support in building their belief and trust in themselves and their ability to learn and master the new skills.
  • Enneagram 6s sense of loyalty and duty make them team players who often enjoy learning in collective settings, with a learning buddy or group.

ENTHUSIASTIC VISIONARY | Enneagram Type 7

Motivated by an abundance of opportunities, stimulation, adventure, action, and fun, Enneagram 7s love to experiment, are curious and full of energy but also become bored rather quickly. As a result, they are likely to be enthusiastic about learning opportunities, but may find it difficult to engage deeply or to stick with learning processes. To encourage productivity and accomplishment, help the Ennea 7 set worthwhile learning goals and ensure that they look back and celebrate their progress instead of focusing on the next thing. Type 7s are fast learners who summarise well, pick up on patterns, and make connections easily, learning by association. They may, however, avoid tedious detailed work and feel like they know it all when they have, in fact, only skimmed the surface.

  • During the learning process, leverage their enthusiasm for experimentation and mental exploration, and encourage them to take action on their many ideas.
  • Type 7s value openness, spontaneity, and enthusiasm and thrive in a learning environment that offers them stimulation, positive energy and dynamic interactions that are relatively free from rules and constraints.

ACTIVE CONTROLLER | Enneagram Type 8

Confident, impatient Enneagram 8s tend to engage in learning only when they feel the need to learn, potentially resisting development processes that are forced on them. Outspoken and energetic, their presence is felt in learning groups through a strong voice and bold questions. They enjoy discussions, especially debates, and are likely to expect that their voice will be heard and respected. This will open them up to deeper levels of learning about themselves as they go through the process. During the process, they are rather independent learners and often require minimal supervision. In fact, Enneagram 8s’ willingness to take a leadership role often leads them to become an active part of moving the learning process forward. Their ideal learning environment is a high engagement atmosphere of bold action, which encourages vigorous debate and applies consistent boundaries and fair rules.

  • While Ennea 8s prefer action learning and putting things into practice, they often need to slow down and fully reflect on what they are learning, not only what they are doing. Influence them to reflect before acting.
  • Type 8s may be over-confident in their own abilities and only truly learn once they try to put their new skills into practice. Support them with compassionate debriefing and reflection.

ADAPTIVE PEACEMAKER | Enneagram Type 9

Described as being quiet and immersive learners, Enneagram 9s may find it challenging to share their thoughts during the learning and development process. Type 9s are not motivated by personal recognition and would prefer to be allowed to do things at their own pace, in their own way. They learn best in an environment that is stress-free, comfortable in both pace and physical environment and that respects their learning styles. Physical movement, experiential exercises, and repetition can also be highly beneficial to Enneagram 9s’ learning style, helping them engage more of their whole self in the learning. Type 9s appreciate structure, predictability and routine, and find their learning may be derailed by disruptions or sudden changes in the approach. Type 9s may also pay more attention to the needs of others around them in the learning process than they do to their own personal needs or questions.

  • We can support Ennea 9s in their learning by creating learning priorities and helping them focus on important tasks through clear agreements and deadlines.
  • Nines prefer to have clear expectations and have all the necessary information available to them before they are asked to begin learning. Offer them the opportunity to truly connect, while also challenging them to stretch out of their comfort zone.

A Pathway to Unlocking Learning Potential

By using the Enneagram to focus on an individual’s preferred learning styles and ideal environment, learning and development can become more personalised. With this deeper understanding and ability to personalise learning strategies and paths, organisations and facilitators can become better equipped to teach, inspire, and motivate each individual. This, in turn, can ensure a greater impact on the individual, thereby improving the organisation’s return on investment.

"Personalised learning is not what is done to the learner or about tailoring the learning. It is about helping each learner to identify and develop the skills they need to support and enhance their own learning so that agency and self-advocacy can be realised." -Kathleen McClaskey

Greater self-awareness can be achieved through knowledge of the Enneagram which will also accelerate the learning journey. The journey towards mastery requires more than surface-level insights and quick fixes. The iEQ9 accelerates breakthroughs and creates deep levels of self-awareness. Individuals are empowered with an understanding of their own style, barriers and strengths which can be applied to virtually any development or learning challenge.

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