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Can an appreciation of learning styles influence a student’s chances of success? Psychologist Robert Sternberg thinks so. In his 1999 piece, Thinking Styles, Sternberg argues that ignoring the differences between various learning styles could hinder a student’s academic progress.
There are over 70 recognised modes of learning – and more are being developed all the time. In this article we take a look at the VARK model (which is still widely used today).
The VARK system was developed by Neil Fleming, a teacher and education specialist, during his time at Lincoln University. It splits learning preferences into four categories: Visual; Aural; Reading/Writing; and Kinaesthetic.
However, Fleming is careful to point out that many learners will respond to more than one style, as life is ‘multimodal’. Such learners are roughly categorised as either: those who switch between the different types of learning depending on what they’re working on (known as VARK Type One); or those who are natural information gatherers (VARK Type Two).
Type Two learners tend to process information more slowly, and prefer to work across learning styles in order to increase the breadth of understanding. If a learner falls between those two categories, the term VARK Transition is utilised.
Here is an overview of the four main styles of learning, as per the VARK model:
Rather than denoting a preference to learn through pictures or video more widely, VARK visual learners respond best to flow diagrams or graphs: any aid that will allow them to visualise connections between strands of information and interpret data in a rational, linear manner. With this in mind, teachers should present information in a logical yet visual way, drawing clear connections between relationships and making use of charts and graphs.
These types of learners respond best to aural stimulus, understanding – and absorbing – information best when hearing it aloud. Class discussion, lectures, and audio guides work best in a classroom or tutorial setting; when working alone, students may prefer to read material aloud in order to gain a deeper understanding. Teachers should be prepared to involve question-and-answer sessions within their lessons, or record presentations so these can be listened to and played back. It’s also a good idea to encourage aural learners to read through and reword their notes in a way that makes the material easy for them to recite and understand when they’re alone.
The idea that reading and writing is an important part of learning might sound obvious – every student will have to demonstrate some capacity for reading and writing at some point, after all – but it’s actually a separate learning preference all by itself. Students who demonstrate a reading/writing preference engage with learning by writing materials out (sometimes multiple times) and re-reading these over and over.
The organisation of the material tends to be important: whether through using highlighters, dividers, subheadings or bullet points, each reading/writing learner will develop their own style for sifting through and absorbing information. To nurture these learners, teachers should prepare supplementary materials that encourage them to read along with the lesson (structured handouts, for instance) as well as stimulate their minds through written quizzes and games.
Kinaesthetic learners do best when they’re able to adopt a hands-on approach. Simply thinking of them as ‘tactile’ learners isn’t quite adequate, though: rather, kinaesthetic learners thrive when they can take a physically and mentally active role in education, using all their senses in order to achieve their academic goals.
This can be difficult to manage in practice, however, which means kinaesthetic learners sometimes struggle in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers should be prepared to think outside the box in order to engage kinaesthetic learners: role-playing, applying academic concepts to real-world scenarios, and problem-solving games are all great ways to ensure they understand and absorb lessons fully.
Whatever your style of learning, Mentor Education is here to help. We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to education: instead, we get to know our students, their families, and their needs fully, to ensure we devise a bespoke lesson plan that is best suited for their collective goals.
Find out how Mentor can help you support you and your child as you approach the 11+. Get in touch today.