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31 Jul

4 Different Learning Styles You Should Know: The VARK Model


If you have spent any time at all in an educational role, you almost certainly have firsthand experience with a fundamental truth about teaching: Every student is different. It is readily observable that different students have different learning styles, that some students retain information easily when it is presented to them via a format or method that may confound one of their classmates.

To help educators develop strategies for reaching every student in their classroom effectively, educational scholars have devised various typologies of different styles of learning. Below, read about VARK, a commonly cited schema for assessing students’ learning preferences, and the four different learning styles that comprise it, and discover some strategies for engaging with each type of learner.

VARK Learning Styles

The acronym “VARK” is used to describe four modalities of student learning that were described in a 1992 study by Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mills.1 These different learning styles—visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic—were identified after thousands of hours of classroom observation. The authors also created an accompanying questionnaire for educators to give to students to help them identify and understand their own learning preferences.

Visual Learners

Students who best internalize and synthesize information when it is presented to them in a graphic depiction of meaningful symbols are described as visual learners. They may respond to arrows, charts, diagrams and other visualizations of information hierarchy, but not necessarily to photographs or videos.2

Because visual learners tend to be holistic learners who process information best when it is presented to them as a robust whole rather than piecemeal, they tend to see positive educational outcomes when they are presented with summarizing charts and diagrams rather than sequential slides of information.3

Auditory Learners

Auditory (or aural) learners are most successful when they are given the opportunity to hear information presented to them vocally. Because students with this learning style may sometimes opt not to take notes during class in order to maintain their unbroken auditory attention, educators can erroneously conclude that they are less engaged than their classmates. However, these students may simply have decided that note-taking is a distraction and that their unbroken attention is a more valuable way for them to learn.4

Auditory learning is a two-way street: Students who fall into this modality often find success in group activities where they are asked to discuss course materials vocally with their classmates, and they may benefit from reading their written work aloud to themselves to help them think it through.2

Reading/Writing Learners

Students who work best in the reading/writing modality demonstrate a strong learning preference for the written word. This includes both written information presented in class in the form of handouts and PowerPoint slide presentations as well as the opportunity to synthesize course content in the completion of written assignments.5 This modality also lends itself to conducting research online, as many information-rich sources on the internet are relatively text-heavy.2

Reading/writing-oriented students should be encouraged to take copious notes during classroom lectures to help them both process information and have an easier time recalling it later.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are hands-on, participatory learners who need to take a physically active role in the learning process in order to achieve their best educational outcomes. They are sometimes referred to as “tactile learners,” but this can be a bit of a misnomer; rather than simply utilizing touch, kinesthetic learners tend to engage all of their senses equally in the process of learning.6

Because of their active nature, kinesthetic learners often have the most difficult time succeeding in conventional classroom settings. Some educators have found success encouraging kinesthetic learners to utilize flashcards for subjects like math and English to make rote memorization into an interactive experience. These students also often thrive in scientific subjects with lab components, as the skills-based, instructional training that occurs in these settings engages them in productive ways.6

Can One Student Have Several Different Learning Styles?

Few things in life fall into easily delineated schema, and learning preferences are no exception. In fact, studies estimate that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the population have affinities to several different styles of learning.7 These people are called “multimodal learners” and tend to succeed in classroom settings that engage them with multiple learning styles alternately or in concert with one another.

Just because students can succeed with different learning styles does not necessarily mean that they should be engaged with more than one on most occasions, however. While today’s media-rich environment has made multimodal learning easier than ever before, recent studies recommend some caution and care when introducing multimedia instructional design into the classroom. Generally speaking, multimedia should be treated thoughtfully as a means to a specific educational goal rather than an end itself, and multimodal, interactive instruction should be reserved for more complex topics than for basic memorization and skill-building.8

Learn to Engage Different Learning Styles at KU

The University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences offers online master’s degrees, graduate certificates and licensure endorsement programs to prepare well-rounded educators for successful careers. Learn to engage different learning styles in the classroom from our Department of Curriculum and Teaching, adapt your instruction for students with disabilities from our Department of Special Education, or oversee successful instructional teams from an administrative role from our Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

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