VAK learning styles: what are they and what do they mean?

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VAK learning styles: what are they?

VAK learning styles form a model of learning designed by Walter Burke Barbe and later developed by Neil Fleming.

The VAK learning model divides people into three categories of learner:

  1. Visual learners – absorb information by sight
  2. Auditory learners – absorb information by sound
  3. Kinaesthetic learners – absorb information by moving

People predominantly learn using one style – whether visual, auditory or kinaesthetic. Though every learner often incorporates elements of the other two styles, they are likely to achieve maximum benefit from learning by focusing on their primary style.

VAK learning styles: visual

Visual learners absorb information primarily by seeing it, or by visualising it mentally. They:

  • Are imaginative and can easily picture complex scenarios, images or ideas without reference
  • Enjoy art, aesthetics and the written word
  • Are excellent at spelling
  • Take frequent notes
  • Revise well using colour coordination, mind maps and flashcards
  • Love graphs, maps, diagrams, flowcharts and written instructions
  • May struggle with verbal instructions
  • Find themselves easily distracted by visual stimuli such as sitting beside a window or being bombarded with pop-ups on a computer

VAK learning styles: auditory

Auditory learners absorb information primarily by hearing it. They:

  • Love verbal instructions and follow them easily
  • Are sensitive to tone of voice, pitch and rhythm
  • Understand and process information by talking it through
  • Would rather record a lesson or lecture than take notes
  • Are good at oral presentations
  • Learn better with music on, provided that it is not distracting
  • Thrive in group and panel discussions
  • Are easily distracted by auditory stimuli such as background noise or being spoken to

VAK learning styles: kinaesthetic

Kinaesthetic learners absorb information primarily through movement in a physical way. They:

  • Are good at hands-on problem solving
  • Are physically coordinated and good at sport
  • Enjoy expressing themselves physically and may engage in performing arts or dance
  • Struggle with overly abstract or conceptual topics
  • Have a good sense of direction
  • May learn by drawing and doodling
  • Excel at practical subjects such as construction, cooking and engineering
  • May be restless or fidgety in the classroom

VAK learning styles: developments on the original model

An expanded version of the VAK learning model, VARK, is based on Neil Fleming’s work and includes four learning styles.

In VARK, the fourth learning style (R) is based on the impact of the representational systems, i.e. the impact of social factors such as solitary versus group work.

Other learning styles based on the VAK/VARK learning models have also been postulated. A model commonly used in education features eight learning styles and distinguishes between two categories of sight-based learning (linguistic and spatial) as well as incorporating inter and intrapersonal learning styles reflective of Fleming’s focus on social learning.

VAK learning styles: their role in education

Make use of these learning styles to streamline your pupils’ learning processes with neuroscience. The VAK learning model was received with special interest in schools, where it has been employed as a means of helping pupils to learn more effectively and with greater enjoyment.

According to the VAK model the best way of lesson planning for a successful class should ideally incorporate activities that facilitate all three learning styles to cater to the needs of all pupils.

For instance, reading textbooks and writing notes to satisfy visual learners, explaining a topic aloud to the class for auditory learners and practical activities for the kinaesthetic learners. If possible combine all three styles into activities.

As every pupil learns by using all three styles not just their dominant one, providing for all three in your lessons will create a rich educational environment for your pupils.

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