VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles

The VARK is a questionnaire that provides users with a profile of their learning preferences.

VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities (or methods) that are used for learning and processing information. There are also learners who may be Multimodal, meaning that they need a combination of strategies in order to best take in, study, and put out information. 

Visual (V):

This preference includes the depiction of information in maps, spider diagrams, charts, graphs, flow charts, labeled diagrams, and all the symbolic arrows, circles, hierarchies and other devices, that people use to represent what could have been presented in words. It does NOT include still pictures or photographs of reality, movies, videos or PowerPoint. It does include designs, whitespace, patterns, shapes and the different formats that are used to highlight and convey information.

Learning Strategies: different formats, space, graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, plans, pictures

  • Intake of information:
    • Lecturers who use gestures and descriptive language
    • Pictures, videos, posters, slides
    • Flowcharts
    • Underlining, highlighting, using different colors for different topics/categories
    • Textbooks with charts, diagrams, pictures, graphs
  • Studying:
    • Reconstruct images, charts, figures in different ways
    • Redraw pages, diagrams, notes from memory
    • Replace words with symbols, initials, acronyms
  • Output (on exams, assignments):
    • Draw!
    • Use diagrams
    • Recall pictures
    • Turn your visuals back into words

Aural/Auditory (A):

This perceptual mode describes a preference for information that is “heard or spoken.” These learners learn best from lectures, group discussion, radio, email, using mobile phones, speaking, web-chat and talking things through. Often people with this preference want to sort things out by speaking first, rather than sorting out their ideas and then speaking. They have a need to say it themselves and they learn through saying it – their way.

Learning Strategies: listening, discussing, talking, questioning, recalling, explaining

  • Intake of information:
    • Attend classes, discussions, help sessions, tutorials
    • Explain new ideas and concepts to others
    • Use a tape/voice recorders
    • Describe visuals used in class to others
  • Studying:
    • Expand notes by talking with others and collecting notes from the textbook
    • Put your summarized notes onto a recording to listen to
    • Ask others to listen to your understanding of a topic
    • Read summarized notes OUT LOUD
  • Output:
    • Listen to your voices and write them down
    • Spend time in quiet places recalling ideas
    • Speak your answers aloud when studying/answering practice test questions

Read/write (R):

This preference is for information displayed as words and emphasizes text-based input and output – reading and writing in all its forms but especially manuals, reports, essays and assignments. People who prefer this modality are often addicted to PowerPoint, the Internet, lists, diaries, dictionaries, thesauri, quotations and words, words, words….

Learning Strategies: lists, notes, texts in all formats, print and online

  • Intake of information:
    • Lists, headings, definitions
    • Handouts, textbooks, readings
    • Notes, essays, manuals
  • Studying:
    • Write and rewrite your notes again and again
    • Rewrite ideas and principles in other words
    • Turn diagrams, graphs, charts, etc. into words
  • Output:
    • Write practice answers and essays
    • Practice questions with multiple choice
    • Arrange lists/words into hierarchies

Kinesthetic (K):

People that are kinesthetic prefer demonstrations, simulations, videos and movies of “real” things as well as case studies, practice, and applications. The key is the reality or concrete nature of the example. If it can be grasped, held, tasted, or felt it will probably be included. People with this as a strong preference learn from the experience of doing something and they value their own background of experiences and less so, the experiences of others.

Learning Strategies: senses, practical exercises, examples, cases, trial and error

  • Intake of information:
    • Use all your senses
    • Field trips, field tours, collect physical examples
    • Applications, hands-on problem solving, trial and error
    • Labs, exhibits, samples, pictures
  • Studying:
    • You will remember the “real” things that happened
    • Put plenty of examples in your notes and summaries
    • Use case studies
    • Recall experiments, field trips, labs, etc.
  • Output:
    • Write practice answers
    • Role play the exam situation

What about Mixtures? Multimodality (MM):

The VARK questionnaire provides four scores and mixtures of the four modes. Those who do not have a standout mode with one preference score well above other scores are defined as multimodal.

VARK Type One

There are those who are flexible in their communication preferences and who switch from mode to mode depending on what they are working with. They are context specific. They choose a single mode to suit the occasion or situation. If they have to deal with legalities they will apply their Read/write preference. If they are to watch the demonstration of a technique they will be expressing their Kinesthetic preference.

VARK Type Two

There are others who are not satisfied until they have had input (or output) in all of their preferred modes. They take longer to gather information from each mode and, as a result, they often have a deeper and broader understanding. They may be seen as procrastinators or slow-deliverers but some may be merely gathering all the information before acting – and their decision-making and learning may be better because of that breadth of understanding.