Have you heard of VARK?

The VARK theory was first brought to us by Neil Fleming in 1987. Over time, his theory has been challenged and tested, but it still remains a good simple and accessible guide of how we as individuals prefer to take on knowledge and skills, and it is still widely used in every level of education.

And when I say ‘prefer’ that doesn’t mean that we choose which our dominant one (or ones) is because that can evolve over time depending on the way we were taught as children, or the way we were influenced by other people or other cultures.

There are alternative studies of learning styles, also devised in the 1980s, and I’ll cover a couple of them in future blogs.

For now, let’s concentrate on VARK.

To start with – what is this word VARK?

Well, it stands for:

V = visual
A = auditory or aural
R = read/write
K = kinaesthetic

Learners who have a strong Visual ‘preference’ will take on information more readily if it presented in a visual form (such as graphs, picture, diagrams, maps, charts, seeing demonstrations/or the finished article, and using colour) than, for example, by having a discussion.

Auditory learners, on the other hand, will learn more easily if they can have a discussion about the subject. They may like stories and parables that make the learning points, or to listen to a recording or a guest speaker about a subject.

Read/write learners prefer to take notes while learning, they will be the ones who read the handouts later to reinforce their learning and will generally be happy to do reading and research.

Kinaesthetic learners tend to learn better when they are actively involved. They will probably enjoy (the sometimes dreaded) role-play, they like to complete practical activities and use their senses to learn.

You may read that and think that you are, for example:

  • an auditory learner but that you ALSO like to make notes about what you’re hearing
  • or you may think you are a visual learner, but you ALSO need to have a go before the learning sticks
  • or any other combination of two, three or even all four (in which case you are multi-modal!) of the VARK Learning Styles

As teachers/trainers/instructors we need to be aware of the preferred learning styles of our learners to help them to have the best chance of learning.  We do this by mixing up our teaching methods so that we tap in all the learning styles during our lesson.

In a group situation, not every part of every subject needs to be explained and discussed, then demonstrated and practiced, and a handout given with written notes and diagrams. But in the course of your session, try to bring in at least a bit of each.

If you are teaching one-to-one it is easier to tailor your lesson to that individual.

And of course, some subjects don’t lend themselves to ‘just having a go’ – like learning to use a chainsaw. And other subjects don’t lend themselves to a classroom theory-based session to start off with – like learning to ride a bicycle. Appropriateness is probably the most important consideration of all.

Beware of your own learning style/preference

As teachers/trainers/instructors we need to be aware of our own preferred learning style. The danger is that if you are Read/Write learner and most of your group are Kinaesthetic learners you can easily ‘lose’ them if there is too much theory and writing.  Likewise, if you are the ‘just-have-a-go-you-can’t-break-it’ type of trainer, you may frighten off the learners who prefer some guidance as to what to do.

If you’re a bit nervous about being more adventurous (for you) in your teaching methods, see if you can arrange to observe someone who teaches in a different way to you, or better still, work alongside them for a while.

My own experience of this was MANY year ago, I reckon in the mid-80s.

My colleague, Debbie, and I had run a session on equal opportunities in the morning and planned to have a re-cap after lunch them move on to another topic. As we munched our sandwiches, she said, ‘Let’s get them into groups and ask them to draw a shield on flip-chart paper to illustrate what they learned this morning.’

Two problems for me:

      • I liked to plan things, and if possible, keep to the plan. This seemed to me way off plan.
      • I can’t draw – I hate drawing – therefore I didn’t want to subject our group to having to draw.

My learning from that (HUGELY SUCCESSFUL) recap session was:

      • It wasn’t really so far off plan – the objective was the same and was achieved.
      • Just because I can’t draw and hate trying to draw, doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same.
      • It also got everyone energised during the dreaded post-lunch slump.

So, do you know your own preferred learning style?

You can go to the VARK website and get lots of information about it, including being able to do the Learning Styles Questionnaire here https://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire/

You could suggest that your learners do the same and share their results with you.

There are also some short videos of Neil Fleming being interviewed about teaching and learning https://vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/

Then you can go back to your lesson plans and make sure they are not too heavily influenced by your own learning style – it might be time for a change around.

We cover this in detail and refer to it often in the online course Award in Education and Training.

For a free sample from the course please CLICK HERE

For more detail about the course and whether it is right for you, please contact me annie@ivitalearning.co.uk

I have a pdf with some suggested approaches for each of the VARK preferences. If you haven’t already got it, you are welcome to GET IT HERE