Today it is widely understood that not everyone learns the same way. Many schools have special programs for people with dyslexia; standardized tests are being questioned; and alternative schools are gaining popularity. It was Neil Fleming who began research in the early ‘90s to determine why some teachers were more effective than others. He then developed the VARK questionnaire that today poses just 16 questions to determine one’s learning style.
Neil Fleming and the VARK Questionnaire
Neil Fleming was born in New Zealand and, as an adult, developed a passion for teaching. He spent almost 40 years teaching and also spent time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. After watching over 9,000 different classes, he noticed that not every teacher was able to reach every student. Fleming ended up figuring out that it was all about how people like to be presented with information. This led to him developing the VARK model in 1987.
VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read-write, and Kinesthetic. Since it had been established, this model has been continually researched and analyzed. It is closely related to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Both theories hold that each person can learn but may do so differently despite the level of his or her ability. It is also believed that when a student’s learning preference is accommodated, the student’s level of motivation will increase. A simple 16-question assessment tool can reveal the best way to present new material to a specific type of learner.
Visual (Spatial) Learners
Most people in the world happen to be visual or spatial learners. Almost 65% of the population learns best by using pictures, images, and spatial understanding. Visual learners have trouble taking in information just by listening. They need to take notes and visualize information as a picture to help with memorization. They also benefit from illustrations that use color. People who learn visually often close their eyes to remember or visualize something. They often need to find something to watch if they are bored.
Being a visual learner is more than just a personal preference. Research shows that each learning style uses a different part of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies have been used to find out the key areas of the brain responsible for each learning style. For visual learners this happens to be the back of the brain, or the occipital lobes that manage the visual sense.
Tips for visual learners include sitting at the front of the class, the boardroom, or wherever they are trying to learn. The key is to see what they are learning and to take notes. Even if one received handouts or worksheets, writing out the notes will be the key in learning and remembering. Basically, it is vital to look at, and not just listen to, all study materials and directions. This includes writing everything down for frequent and quick visual reference. Creating and using one’s own charts, maps, notes, and flashcards as well as practicing visualization will significantly help a visual learner.
Aural (Auditory-Musical) Learners
The second most popular learning style is aural, or auditory-musical. This means that the individual learns best by using sound and music. Almost 30% of the population learns by listening, which makes them the ideal students in a lecture-style classroom. While most people are encouraged to take notes during a lecture, aural learners learn better just by listening. They can then take notes afterwards based on what they remember. Written information means little to aural learners until it has been heard.
Aural learners rely on their temporal lobes, which are responsible for handling aural content. The right temporal lobe is especially important for music. These types of learners benefit from reading written information out loud. Some tips for these types of learners include recording lectures so that one can listen to them again while studying. It is also important to sit where the individual can hear well, although seeing the board is not as important for aural learners.
These types of learners will often participate in class discussions and debates. They find story-telling useful to get their point across to others. Aural learners will find themselves humming or talking to others when they are bored. To memorize things, they may create musical jingles. A great way to further an aural learner’s understanding of a topic is to discuss their ideas with others.
Verbal (Linguistic) Learners
Verbal learning is similar to aural learning, but it is not the same. While both learn through sound, aural learners need to hear information while verbal learners need to speak it out loud. These learners favor using words and linguistic skills that include reading, writing, listening and speaking. Verbal or linguistic learners like word games, puns and rhymes. They are often strong public speakers.
The temporal and frontal lobes are responsible for verbal learning. Similarly to aural learners, verbal learners benefit from discussing and presenting new ideas. Reading aloud and especially in a varied way rather than in monotone, can help a verbal learner process information. They also benefit from verbal teaching and writing activities as well as the use of acronyms or mnemonic devices.
Tips for engaging verbal learners include role-playing, which can include interactions between employees and clients as well as practicing elevator pitches. Studying for verbal learners should include rereading and rewriting notes, particularly creating summaries. Lists of keywords, incorporating quizzes and asking them to participate in teaching can also help.
Physical (Kinesthetic) Learners
Physical or kinesthetic learners are rare and only make up about 5% of the population. These learners prefer to use the cerebellum and the motor cortex (at the back of the frontal lobe) for learning. This part of the brain handles much of one’s physical movement. Such people learn through hands-on learning that requires touch and movement. They learn skills by imitation and practice. People who are physical learners tend to be active and need to take frequent breaks. They also like to communicate with their hands and use gestures. Seeing or saying something helps them to remember.
Learning can be tough for these types of learners because they always find a reason to move around when they are bored. To avoid distraction, they listen to music or chew gum while studying. They strongly rely on what they can directly experience or perform. This is why they are drawn towards cooking, construction, engineering, and art. These people are uncomfortable in regular, lecture-style classrooms and thrive on field trips and tasks that require manipulating materials.
Other Types of Learners
While these four types of learners are the most common, there are a few other learning styles. These include logical, social, and solitary. Logical learners think in a mathematical way. They prefer to use logic, reasoning, and systems. Social learners are interpersonal and prefer to learn in groups or with other people. On the other hand, solitary or intrapersonal learners prefer to work alone and use self-study.
Everyone learns differently, and there is no shame in favoring one learning style over another. We are born with unique abilities, and our preferred styles are literally hardwired in our brains. Teachers who understand their students’ needs will get better results. However, understanding one’s personal learning style can be life-changing. Even as adults, there is always a situation where one needs to learn something new. So understanding your individual learning style can help you to be more efficient and learn smarter instead of harder. Take the VARK test today to find out what works best for you.
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