Different people learn differently, and psychologists have attempted through the years to spell out the traits of different types of learners and categorize them into different “learning styles.”
Naturally, there are many models of different learning styles in education. The most widely used is the VAK learning styles model, developed in 1987 by Neil Fleming, a high school and university teacher from New Zealand. Its letters stand for the three learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Fleming later added a fourth, read/write, changing the acronym to VARK.
As a teacher, your best option is to use a variety of teaching techniques to give all students the best chance to succeed. Read these teaching tips for each of the four VARK learning styles.
Visual Learning Style
People with a visual learning style absorb information by seeing it in front of them and storing the images in their brains. They often enjoy reading, have good handwriting, are very detail-oriented, are organized, and have a keen awareness of colors and shapes.
They tend to struggle with verbal directions and are easily distracted by noise. They remember people’s faces better than their names, and they often need to maintain eye contact with a person to concentrate on a conversation.
Here are some tips for helping visual learners excel in the classroom:
- Write out directions.
- Use visuals when teaching lessons, such as pictures, charts, diagrams, maps, and outlines.
- Physically demonstrate tasks.
- Use visual aids such as flashcards and blocks.
- Show the visual patterns in language to teach spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation.
- Organize information using color codes.
- Talk with the child face-to-face and make eye contact whenever possible.
- When directions are given verbally, encourage the child to ask for clarification when she doesn’t understand fully.
- Encourage the child to write plenty of notes and organize information on paper and with objects.
- Provide a quiet, neat place to study, and minimize distractions as much as possible.
Auditory Learning Style
Verbal language is the prime form for exchanging information for those within the auditory learning style. They learn best by hearing and speaking. They often talk more than the average person, are very social, enjoy hearing stories and jokes, understand concepts by talking about them, and may excel in music or the performing arts.
Some auditory learners read slowly and have trouble writing, struggle to follow written directions, and have a tough time staying quiet for long stretches of time. They remember names and recognize tone of voice well, while not always remembering people’s faces. They often hum or sing, and they may whisper to themselves while reading.
Try these techniques when teaching auditory learners:
- Play word games and use rhymes to practice language.
- Have the child read aloud, even when alone, and follow the text with her finger.
- Allow the child to explain concepts verbally and give oral reports.
- Have the child memorize information by repeating it aloud.
- Assign projects and study times to be done in small and large groups.
- Read aloud often to young children.
- Provide a personal voice recorder the child can use to record notes or questions.
- Use beats, rhythms, and songs to reinforce educational information.
Kinesthetic Learning Style
People with the kinesthetic learning style learn best by doing: moving around and handling physical objects. They like to explore the outdoors, are often very coordinated, may excel in athletics and performing arts, and usually express their feelings physically, such as with hugging and hitting. They prefer trying new skills for themselves rather than being given directions or shown a demonstration.
They may find it hard to sit still for long periods of time and struggle with reading and spelling. They are often considered “difficult” and misdiagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). In recent years, more educators have accepted that they simply learn differently and have urged educators to consider more kinesthetic learning activities.
These teaching tips can help you get the most out of kinesthetic learners:
- Give breaks frequently.
- Let the child try something first before you give detailed instructions.
- Provide plenty of hands-on learning tools, such as crayons, blocks, puzzles, maps, modeling clay, science experiments, an abacus, and a geoboard (a square board with pegs used to teach shapes and geometric concepts).
- Don’t limit the study space to the usual desk. Allow the child to study while moving around, lying on the floor, or slouching in a couch.
- Use the outdoors for learning opportunities.
- Teach educational concepts through games and projects.
- Assign presentations in which children demonstrate concepts or skills.
- Encourage physical movement while studying. For example, quiz the child while taking a walk around the block.
- Find a school with mandatory physical education. Kinesthetic learners suffer most from the recent cutting of P.E. in many schools.
Read/Write Learning Style
The read/write learning style was added to Fleming’s model after the initial three. Read/write learners specifically learn best through the written word. They absorb information by reading books and handouts, taking lots of notes (sometimes word-for-word), and making lists. They prefer lectures, diagrams, pictures, charts, and scientific concepts to be explained using written language. They are often fast readers and skillful writers.
Similar to visual learners, read/write learners may struggle with verbal directions and are easily distracted by noise. Some may be quiet and struggle to detect body language and other social cues.
Here are some ways to help read/write learners succeed:
- Encourage the child to write plenty of notes, rewrite them in her own words, and study from them.
- Provide thorough, well-organized written material, and write key points in full sentences on the board during lectures.
- Assign plenty of writing exercises.
- Explain diagrams, graphs, or any mathematical data using language.
- Set up a quiet study area with as few distractions as possible.
- Provide a dictionary, thesaurus, and other resource material.
- Allow the child to answer multiple-choice questions.
The Complexities of Learning Styles
Many other models for learning styles exist, most notably David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model and Learning Style Inventory, which are used to categorize adults more so than children.
Whichever model of learning styles is used, psychologists agree that almost no one falls neatly into only one learning style. People may be categorized into one, but their various traits can apply to others—or they may have a secondary learning style that works for them significantly better than another. For example, a student may be primarily a visual learner, have some skills for auditory learning, and have no skill for learning kinesthetically.
Additionally, some psychologists have proposed that all children are primarily kinesthetic learners until second or third grade, only developing other learning styles when their education becomes more rigorous.