VARK Learning Preferences
A popular approach to learning styles is called the VARK approach which focuses on learning through different senses (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic):
- Visual learners prefer images, charts, maps and diagrams.
- Aural learners learn better by listening.
- Reading/writing learners learn better through written language.
- Kinesthetic learners learn through doing, practising, and acting.
Once you discover the differences in learning styles and how they pertain to you, it may help you to shed light on your own learning habits and preferences, and give you ideas for incorporating other strategies.
You shouldn’t conclude that you are one type of learner or another and that you should just focus your learning on using your preferred learning style. It can be hard to break study habits which have formed over many years. However, by incorporating different modalities in your learning, you are more likely to remember and understand.
Think of it as having a toolbox of ways to think and learn, and for each task, ask yourself which tool is the best one for the job.
Knowing and Taking Advantage of Learning Styles in a Way That Works for You
It’s good to understand learning styles; however, just knowing your preference doesn’t automatically provide a solution for how to do your best in your courses. For example, although you may be a kinesthetic learner, you’ll likely still have textbook assignments (reading) as well as lecture classes (listening). All students need to adapt to other ways of learning.
The following sections look at the key ways in which learning occurs in college classes and offer some suggestions about how to adapt your strengths for success.
Visual Learning Preference
A “seeing” learner learns more effectively through seeing than through reading or listening. Some courses include demonstrations and physical processes that can be observed. If you are a visual learner, work on developing your reading and listening skills, too, because you will need to learn in these ways as well.
If you had a high V score, you may prefer to learn new things by reviewing visual images (graphs, charts, maps):
- Sit in class where you can see PowerPoint slides and other visual presentations most clearly.
- Pay special attention to your textbooks’ illustrations and diagrams which will further help you understand the written ideas and information.
- Use a visual approach in your class notes, as described in our chapter on Note Taking.
- If your instructor or textbook doesn’t have a lot of visuals to help you understand and recall information and ideas, try to imagine how you would present this information visually to others if you were giving a class presentation. In your notes, create sketches for a PowerPoint slideshow capturing the highlights of the material.
- Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening, and watch how they explain the material.
Auditory Learning Preference
If you had a high A score, you prefer to learn new things by listening. Since your professors are often providing information through lecture formats, whether live or recorded, you are able to process this information to produce accurate results in your work.
- Sit up front in lecture classes where you can see and hear the instructor better.
- Ask if you will have access to recorded lectures and listen to them while commuting or doing laundry.
- Study with other students and listen to what they say about the course material. Hearing them talk from their class notes may be more helpful than reviewing your own written notes.
- When studying, read your notes aloud or record your own summary of a lesson.
- Review previous tests by reading the questions aloud and speaking your answers. If a section in your textbook seems confusing, read it aloud.
Read/ Write Learning Preference
If you had a high R score, you may prefer to learn new things by reviewing reading (and writing).
Reading skills are critically important for students. Not only are you reading this book to get important information, you will need to read assignment instructions to know what is expected of you. Although many instructors may cover some of the textbook’s content in lectures or class discussions, students cannot skip the readings and instructions for assignments and expect to do well.
If your personal learning preference is Reading—that is, if you learn well by sitting reading the written word—then you will likely not have difficulty with your university reading. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning:
- Underline and highlight key ideas when reading.
- Take good notes on your reading, using your own words.
- Write descriptions that summarize information presented in nonverbal modes, such as through charts and graphs.
- Do all optional and supplemental readings.
- Take good notes in class, as you may remember more from your written words than from the instructor’s spoken words.
- If a class involves significant non-reading learning, such as learning hands-on physical processes, study with other students who are kinesthetic or “doing” learners.
Kinesthetic Learning Preference (learning by doing)
People who learn best by doing are often attracted to careers with a strong physical or hands-on component, which can vary from athletics to technologies and trades. But these students may need to use other learning skills as well. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning related to doing:
If you had a high K score, you may prefer to learn new things by jumping in a doing them (kinesthetic learner):
- Form a study group with other students and talk with others about the course topics.
- Do something with the information you are reading so that you connect the idea to how it is applied.
- Take advantage of your instructors’ office hours to help clarify your understanding after reading assignments.
- Try to engage all your senses when learning. Even when reading about something, try to imagine what it would feel like if you touched it, how it might smell, how you could physically manipulate it, and so forth.
- Think about how you yourself would teach the topic you are presently learning. What visuals could you make to demonstrate the idea or information? Imagine a class lecture as a train of boxcars and think about what things you would put in those cars to represent the lecture topics.
- When it becomes difficult to concentrate when reading while sitting in a quiet place, get up and move around while studying; make gestures as you read aloud.
- Use your hands to create a range of study aids rather than just taking notes: make charts, posters, flash cards, and so on.
- When taking notes, sketch familiar shapes around words and phrases to help you remember them. Try to associate abstract ideas with concrete examples.
- The act of writing—handwriting more than typing at a keyboard—may increase retention; write key things several times.
- Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening.
Feeling learners focus on the emotional side of information and learn through personal connections. Too often they may feel that a textbook or a class is “dry” or “boring” if it focuses exclusively on written information. In addition to improving their reading and listening skills, students with this style can enrich their learning by focusing on what they and others feel about the information and ideas being learned. Here are some tips to help maximize your learning related to feeling:
- Try to establish an emotional connection with the topic you are learning. In a history class, for example, imagine yourself as someone living in the period you are studying: what would you feel about the forces at work in your life? In a science class, think about what the implications of a particular scientific principle or discovery might mean for you as a person or how you yourself might have felt if you had been the scientist making that discovery.
- Talk with your instructor during office hours. Express your enthusiasm and share your feelings about the subject. Even instructors who may seem “dry” in a lecture class often share their feelings toward their subject in conversation.
- Do supplemental readings or look for documentaries you can watch about the people involved in a subject you’re studying. For example, reading an online biographical sketch of financial scam artist, may open your eyes to a side of the subject you hadn’t seen before and increase your learning.
- Study with other students who may learn better by reading or listening. Talk with them in a personal way about what the material means to them. Try teaching them about the topic while explaining your feelings about it.
- Also try the strategies listed for the “doing” learning style.
“2.1 Learning Preferences and Strengths” & “2.3 Examine Applicable Strategies” from Student Success by Mary Shier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.