Overview of VARK Learning Styles

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Learning styles are a popular concept in psychology and education and are intended to identify how people learn best. The VARK model of learning styles suggests that there are four main types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

The idea that students learn best when teaching methods and school activities match their learning styles, strengths, and preferences grew in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. However, most evidence suggests that personal learning preferences have little to no actual influence on learning outcomes.

While the existing research has found that matching teaching methods to learning styles has no influence on educational outcomes, the concept of learning styles remains extremely popular.

VARK Learning Styles

There are many different ways of categorizing learning styles, but Neil Fleming's VARK model is one of the most popular. Fleming introduced an inventory in 1987 that was designed to help students and others learn more about their individual learning preferences.

According to the VARK model, learners are identified by whether they have a preference for:

  • Visual learning (pictures, movies, diagrams)
  • Auditory learning (music, discussion, lectures)
  • Reading and writing (making lists, reading textbooks, taking notes)
  • Kinesthetic learning (movement, experiments, hands-on activities)

What Type of Learner Are You?

In order to identify which type of learner people are, Fleming developed a self-report inventory that posed a series of situations. Respondents select the answers that best match their preferred approach to learning.

Example

Imagine that you are learning how to perform a new physical skill such as riding a bike or dancing a certain style of dance. In which way would you learn this skill the best?

  1. Look at pictures of people performing the skill. (Visual)
  2. Listen to an expert explain how to do the task. (Auditory)
  3. Read about how to perform the task in a book. (Reading/Writing)
  4. Watch someone else perform the skill and then trying it yourself. (Kinesthetic)

Visual Learners

Visual learners learn best by seeing. Graphic displays such as charts, diagrams, illustrations, handouts, and videos are all helpful learning tools for visual learners.

Visual learners prefer this type of learning would rather see information presented in a visual rather than in written form.

Do you think you might be a visual learner? Then consider the following questions:

  • Are art, beauty, and aesthetics important to you?
  • Does visualizing information in your mind help you remember it better?
  • Do you have to see information in order to remember it?
  • Do you pay close attention to body language?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions, chances are good that you have a visual learning style. You may find it helpful to incorporate things like pictures and graphs when you are learning new information.

Aural Learners

Aural (or auditory) learners learn best by hearing information. They tend to get a great deal out of lectures and are good at remembering things they are told.

Are you an auditory learner? Consider the following questions:

  • Do you create songs to help remember information?
  • Does reading out loud help you remember information better?
  • Do you prefer to listen to class lectures rather than reading from the textbook?
  • Would you prefer to listen to a recording of your class lectures or a podcast rather than going over your class notes?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you are probably an auditory learner. You might find things like audiobooks and podcasts helpful for learning new things.

Reading and Writing Learners

Reading and writing learners prefer to take in information that is displayed as words and text. Could you be a reading and writing learner? Read through the following questions and think about whether they might apply to you.

  • Do you enjoy making lists, reading definitions, and creating presentations?
  • Do you find reading your textbook to be a great way to learn new information?
  • Do you take a lot of notes during class and while reading textbooks?
  • Do you prefer it when teachers make use of overheads and handouts?

If you answered yes to these questions, it is likely that you have a strong preference for the reading and writing style of learning. You might find it helpful to write down information in order to help you learn and remember it.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic (or tactile) learners learn best by touching and doing. Hands-on experience is important for kinesthetic learners.

Not sure if you're a kinesthetic learner? Answer these questions to find out:

  • Are you good at applied activities such as painting, cooking, mechanics, sports, and woodworking?
  • Do you enjoy performing tasks that involve directly manipulating objects and materials?
  • Do you have to actually practice doing something in order to learn it?
  • Is it difficult for you to sit still for long periods of time?

If you responded yes to these questions, then you are most likely a kinesthetic learner. Taking classes that give you practical, hands-on experience may be helpful when you want to acquire a new skill.

Criticisms

The validity of the VARK model as well as other learning style theories has been questioned and criticized extensively. Some critics have suggested that labeling students as having one specific learning style can actually be a hindrance to learning.

One large-scale look at learning style models suggested that the instruments designed to assess individual learning styles were questionable.

The VARK model remains fairly popular among both students and educators despite these criticisms. Students may feel drawn to a particular learning style. Others may find that their learning preferences lie somewhere in the middle, such as finding both visual and auditory learning equally appealing.

Why It Matters

People might find that understanding their own learning preferences can be helpful. If you know that visual learning appeals to you most, using visual study strategies in conjunction with other learning methods might help you remember and enjoy your studies more.

If no single learning preference calls out to you or you change preferences based on the situation or the type of information you are learning, you probably have what is known as a multimodal style.

For example, you might rely on your reading and writing preferences when you are dealing with a class that requires a great deal of book reading and note-taking, such as a history of psychology course. During an art class, you might depend more on your visual and kinesthetic preferences as you take in pictorial information and learn new techniques.

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  1. Pashler H, Mcdaniel M, Rohrer D, Bjork R. Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2008;9(3):105-19. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

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