If you’re a teacher, you probably already know that your students learn best in different ways. It might seem obvious; everyone is unique, so of course we don’t all learn in the same way!
There are many different theories around learning styles, but one of the most supported is VARK, made popular by Neil Fleming. (1) VARK is an acronym that stands for the four learning styles included in this theory: visual, auditory, read/write and kinaesthetic. According to the VARK theory, every person has a preference for one of these learning styles.
These students prefer taking in new information by looking at images, videos, maps, diagrams, and other graphic organizers. They might also learn well by drawing their own pictures or diagrams, and often benefit from making mind maps to explore their thought process. Assignments that include drawing, creating diagrams, or other visual information are ideal for these learners.
Auditory or aural learners
As the name suggests, listening is key for these learners. They generally prefer face-to-face discussions (either one-to-one or in a group), lectures, or podcasts. Even videos can be useful, as long as they’re narrated well. They often struggle with reading and writing tasks, and benefit from revising by saying things out loud. Presentations or discussions are preferred assignments for auditory learners.
Students with this learning style thrive in traditional learning environments. They prefer learning through reading articles, textbooks, manuals, and so on, and they benefit from taking notes and reading the notes back over again. When it comes to assignments, they will usually prefer essays and reports.
Some have argued that read/write learners could be considered visual learners, but neuroscience research has shown that visual learners who cope well with reading tasks do so because they convert words into images in their mind. (2) In other words, visual learners and read/write learners use different techniques to understand words on a page.
These students like hands-on, active learning. When faced with a new task or problem, they don’t just read or listen to instructions. Instead, they learn best by doing. The key thing for these learners is to get involved by participating in experiments, projects, and other interactive activities. Practical assignments suit these learners best – for example building a model!
How do you cater for everyone?
These descriptions are, of course, very generalized. Most students have a preference for one learning style, but many thrive through a combination of learning approaches. When teaching a whole class of thirty-odd students and just as many learning styles, the important thing is to make your lessons varied. Combine reading and writing tasks with documentaries, group discussions, and practical activities. Use instructional texts that also include images, and when you’re verbally explaining something, display some pictures or diagrams. There are endless opportunities!
- Leite, Walter L.; Svinicki, Marilla; Shi, Yuying (April 2010). “Attempted validation of the scores of the VARK: learning styles inventory with multitrait–multimethod confirmatory factor analysis models”. Educational and Psychological Measurement. 70 (2): 323–339.
- Kraemer, David J. M.; Rosenberg, Lauren M.; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L. (March 2009). “The neural correlates of visual and verbal cognitive styles”. The Journal of Neuroscience. 29 (12): 3792–3798