5 common mistakes that people make with VARK

VARK Model

The VARK Model is a popular model of learning preferences that might be familiar to you. The acronym stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinaesthetic. It suggests that students tend to prefer, out of these four modalities of learning, one or two of the factors.

In this article, we will describe in detail the four modalities of learning, or student learning preferences that the VARK model describe, as well as useful information on how we can use knowledge of our learning preferences to shape our studying strategies.

We will also discuss some of the criticisms of the VARK model, and some of the mistakes that educators may make while using the VARK model.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

Background

The VARK model was intuited by teachers who observed that by varying the way in which they taught different topics to different students, they could get differing degrees of effectiveness.

For instance, some students responded a lot better to visual material as compared to learning material that was presented primarily in written form. When some teachers switched from giving out readings to presenting content orally, students became more likely to absorb and retain the material taught. Other students experienced difficulties with concepts presented only pictorially without any corresponding real life experience.

The VARK model was a rejection of the idea that students could be placed into a certain mold with the use of inventories of learning styles. Rather, the goal was to come up with something intuitive and easily understood that would correspond with students’ learning preferences. In essence, the VARK model attempts to get students to become more self-aware of the way in which they learn and use that understanding to come up with strategies to 1) take in information, 2) create notes that they can use effectively, and 3) perform better in exams and tests.

This approach can be observed in the way questions are asked in the VARK questionnaire, where the focus is on concrete experiences that students can relate to.

Therefore, the VARK questionnaire
(which you can take here)
should be understood less as a learning styles test than as a description of a person’s learning preferences, and it should be used more as a starting point for students to talk about how they can better learn with their peers and teachers.

The four modalities

Visual (V):

Learners with this preference would be very comfortable with the presentation of knowledge in the form of charts, graphs, maps, or diagrams.

via http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/will-your-holiday-flight-be-on-time/
via http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/will-your-holiday-flight-be-on-time/

It’s a common misconception that it includes photographs, movies, or even PowerPoint. It doesn’t. What is important for visual media to be helpful is that the graphics themselves must demonstrate the logical, symbolic or relational connections between concepts. Therefore, simply putting words over images does not make it better for those with a visual preference.

This would appeal to Visual learners
This would appeal to Visual learners

Aural / Auditory (A):

The preference for this form of sensory perception in learning is characterised by a stronger facility with information that is heard or spoken. Students with this prefernce would learn best through lectures, discussions, podcasts.

Email and sms chat is also included, since although it is text based, it is frequently written in a non-formal way with colloqiallisms. If you have this preference, you may find that you prefer to think through issues by talking out loud through your ideas.

I frequently listen to Radiolab (an amazing
podcast
you should listen to), and I find that I can easily absorb the stories, science, history, art, and technology in their episodes. In addition, I find that when I share the stories with others, I get to retain what I’ve heard even more.

Read/write (R):

Students with a Read/Write preference would rather learn via material presented as words. In Singapore’s education system, it comes as no surprise that there is an emphasis on this mode because the bulk of the transmission of knowledge in modern society is through the written word, such as the law, books, manuals, reports, and the newspapers. It is difficult to do well in the educational system if students are unable to learn effectively through this mode.

However, with the advent of fast internet speeds, many educators have started to experiment with
online learning videos
, which are beginning to show the promise of imparting knowledge effectively apart from using the written word.

Kinaesthetic (K):

This preference refers to an awareness of the physical connection between different objects by means of one’s sensory organs. The kinaesthetic can be arrived at via physical contact, concrete experiences, demonstrations, as well as case studies and applications of concepts to problems. Learning has to take place by students carrying out the activities themselves. Musicians tend to prefer this modality of learning as musical activities involve both
the body
(piano playing or singing) as well as the aural.

Using the VARK preferences

The VARK is student centric, and it helps students to better understand themselves and how they can, based on their learning preferences, strategise in order to become more effective learners.

In what follows, we assume that you are a “single-modal” student, with only one most preferred mode of learning. However, there exists a small percentage of learners who are multimodal; such learners would need to incorporate more than one single strategy in order to most effectively learn.

This section is adapted from http://vark-learn.com/strategies/.

Learning strategies for those with a V preference

Learning

Visual Strategies: Seek out materials that have the following

  • Flow charts
  • Graphs
  • White space
  • Highlighting notes
  • Diagrams

Studying

To prepare revision materials that would help you,

  • Draw out your notes
  • Create mindmaps
  • Replace words with images or symbols
  • Look at your pages

Performing

To do well in exams:

  • Write exam answers
  • Draw diagrams
  • Practice converting mindmaps into written explanations

Learning strategies for those with a A preference

Learning

Aural Strategies: To better take in new information and concepts:

  • Participate in class discussions
  • Ask questions to your teacher / lecturer
  • Talk through concepts with your peers
  • Explain what you have learnt at home
  • Use podcasts

Studying

To prepare revision materials that would help you,

  • Rely not only on what you listen to in class, but take notes or compile handwritten notes from your friends
  • Read your notes out aloud
  • Explain what you need to know to someone else

Performing

To do well in exams:

  • Imagine that you are talking to your exam marker and explaining what you know
  • Speak out your answers in your head
  • Write out answers to old exam questions

Learning strategies for those with a R preference

Learning

Read/Write Strategies: To better take in new information and concepts:

  • Notes
  • Lists
  • Books
  • Essays

Studying

To prepare revision materials that would help you,

  • Write out a summary of your notes in list/outline form (you can do this in Outline mode in Microsoft Word)
  • Convert diagrams into words (for example: this diagram shows that a change in X would lead to Y…)

Performing

To do well in exams:

  • Write out exam answers
  • Practice MCQs
  • Write out paragraphs, introductions, conclusions

Learning strategies for those with a K preference

Learning

Kinaesthetic Strategies: To better take in new information and concepts:

  • Engage all your senses (touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste)
  • Laboratory work
  • Field trips
  • Real life examples
  • Photographs, exhibits

Studying

To prepare revision materials that would help you, you would need to come up with real world applications of what you have learnt:

  • Put examples into your notes
  • Make abstract concepts more concrete by applications and case studies
  • Recall real life experiments, field trips, and experiences

Performing

To do well in exams:

  • Practice old exam papers
  • Simulate exam conditions (no reference materials, time limits, etc)

Mistakes in using the VARK

VARK should not be used prescriptively

As discussed above, VARK is not a learning styles model, but rather a descriptive indication of a person’s learning preferences. Armed with this knowledge, students can metacognitively strategize their learning habits in order to best leverage on their preferences. Hence, it would be wrong to use the VARK model prescriptively, and segregate students based on their “type”.

At Basecamp Learning Centre, our tuition classes do not segregate our students based on our Index of Learning Styles test, as we believe that in order for students to succeed, they need to be equipped with the skills associated with every learning style category. Put into the VARK framework, this means that our lessons are structured in such a way to not only focus on Reading and Writing modalities, but also on Visual, Aural, and Kinaesthetic learning.

VARK should not be used diagnostically

With only 16 questions in the VARK, the purpose is not to conclusively diagnose a person into a certain type. It would be a mistake to use the VARK as a way of segregating students into different categories.

Preference for a learning modality does not imply skill

Even though I would prefer to be like Adele and sing for a living, I unfortunately do not have enough skill to become a full time music star.

However, VARK can help learners go in the right direction and pick up skills that enable them to learn more effectively. When, for example, visual students understand their learning preference, they can use that knowledge to pick up skills such as mind mapping, drawing graphs in their revision, and use more diagrams in answering exam questions.

Wrongly assuming that pictures appeal to Visual learners

Photographs and documentaries, while they seem to be more of a visually appealing media because they are shown on a screen, are actually more likely to be attractive to a learner with Kinaesthetic preferences. This is because such images are based on concrete reality. The confusion lies in the fact that VARK is primarily not about medium, but about the message. A screen can appeal to a Visual learner if what is shown are schematics and graphics, while a documentary would appeal more to a Kinaesthetic learning.

VARK cannot tell teachers how to teach

VARK approaches learning preferences from the viewpoint of primarily the learner, as seen in the learner focused questionnaire. When teachers take the VARK they are learning more about how they learn, not how they teach.

At Basecamp Learning Centre, our teachers take a broad-based approach to tuition lessons and incorporate different elements into our lesson plans. Our primary approach to crafting our lesson plans is that of the Felder-Solomon Index of Learning Styles: we allocate time for active as well as reflective learning, we sequence our lessons thematically and also put thought into linking all the themes together for global learning. Read more about our approach here.

Conclusion

The VARK model is a useful starting point for learners and educators. For learners, it can be used as a strategic way to come up with strategies to become more effective and efficient. For educators, it helps us to understand our students better. This article is an introduction to the VARK model, to find out more about mixtures (multimodalities of learning) and other answers to frequently asked question, a good place to start would be
vark-learn.com
.

Take the test on vark-learn.com
Take the test on vark-learn.com

This article is part of our series on Learning Style Models. The first article on the MBTI can be found her. Do look out for the upcoming article on the Felder-Solomon Index of Learning Styles.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

This article is part of our series on Models of Learning Styles. For the first article on the MBTI, go to http://www.basecamp.sg/blog/myer-briggs-test-mbti.

What do you think? Leave a comment