October 4, 2014

VARK – Know Your Style

By Vicky Shah, Pharm.D., PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Suburban Hospital

Developing good study habits as a student is extremely important in order to obtain the knowledge required in school as well as life. To be an effective student, it is imperative that students understand how they learn. The VARK questionnaire is a sixteen-question survey that can assist students do exactly that.1 Whether the questionnaire truly assesses a student’s best method for learning or simply reflects what method he/she currently uses is controversial.2

VARK is an acronym that represents the different categories of preferred sensory methods for learning: V (Visual), A (Auditory), R (Read/Write) and K (Kinesthetic). In completing the VARK questionnaire and identifying how one best learns, a student could then identify how to get the most out of studying. No one particular style is better than another.2 In fact, very rarely do individuals learn by one method alone. There are a few lucky individuals who learn equally through ALL sensory methods; they fall into a category called “multimodal” learners.1,2

Students who are visual learners need to make a few adjustments while they are in class to understand the material. Visual learners, perhaps more than other students, need to attend lecture or procure a copy of the handout.  It can be helpful for visual learners to imagine the words on a slide or highlight and underline key words on the handout for added emphasis. Visual learners experience things with their eyes, such as watching the teacher’s body language and facial expressions to fully understand what’s being presented. They prefer to sit near the front of the class and prefer to see pictures and graphs rather than wordy explanations. Diagrams, illustrations and interactive whiteboards further assist the visual learners.3, 4

As a teacher, we can do plenty of things to ensure that our visual learners have everything they need. We can provide visuals aides, such as graphs or pictures, coupled with words on slides. There is nothing wrong with repeating the same information if you are presenting it differently, such as pictures and words. If the teacher’s preferred method of teaching is through paragraphs on the slides or handouts, try to highlight or underline key words or color code items of importance to help visual learners. 3, 4

Auditory students prefer learning through discussions, talking through topics, and listening to others explain the material. These individuals use the tone and pitch of a person’s speech to interpret emotion. Students who learn through auditory methods usually listen during lecture rather than diligently take notes. If they try to multitask, they may miss an important message.3, 4

In order to help students who learn through auditory means, teachers need to understand that they cannot just show a slide and say “know this slide.” For students who learn best through hearing, they need to explain their slides so the students can fully understand the information. Teachers can encourage group learning and should allow students to tape record the lecture for further review.3, 4 The act of merely reading an abbreviated version of the material presented can be quite effective for an auditory learner.

Individuals who learn through reading and writing benefit from taking notes, sometimes multiple times.  This can be done by simply rewriting the same thing over and over, or by rewording the material in a different way. Rewriting the notes using different words can help a student understand the concept rather than just memorizing a series of words. Students are encouraged to review their notes every day to ensure continuous absorption of the information. They can also organize graphs into statements rather than trying to be too visual.3, 4 Most read/write learners are also have visual or kinesthetic learning tendencies.

Teachers can assist students who learn by read/write by providing additional resources for students to consult for further explanation regarding the topic.  Teachers may need to slow down a bit to ensure that students who learn through reading/writing have sufficient time to write notes during class.3, 4

Students who are kinesthetic learners prefer a more hands-on approach. They tend to learn by learning by “doing” something. They like to physically experience the topic, rather than just reading about it, hearing about it, or watching someone else. Many of these students tend to thrive during clinical rotations as they have the opportunity to put their knowledge to use. Hands on experiences are the best method for these students, but they can become distracted by their need for movement and must learn to control this urge or use it for their benefit.3, 4

Teachers can assist by providing opportunities outside the classroom that benefit these students. Lab practicals and clinical experiences allow these students to “do” what they’ve told about in the classroom.  This helps them to understand better than a traditional written exam. Teachers can try to include brief group exercises interspersed throughout their lectures where students can practice counseling or medication preparation in the classroom.3, 4

The VARK questionnaire benefits students by providing them with information on their learning style and preferences. This tool benefits teachers by reminding them that each student is an individual and learns in a different way. By understanding the different ways through which learning occurs, teachers can reach more students and help foster stronger teacher-student relationships.5

  1. Fleming N. VARK -- A Guide to Learning Styles. VARK-LEARN Limited, 1987. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.
  2. Fleming N and Baume D. Learning Styles Again: VARKING up the Right Tree!" Educational Developments 2006; 7: 4-7.
  3. Cherry K. What Are the 4 VARK Learning Styles? About. About Education, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.
  4. VARK: Learning Styles: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic. Southwestern Community College. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.
  5. Fleming N. I'm Different; Not Dumb. Modes of Presentation (VARK) in the Tertiary Classroom. Research and Development in Higher Education, Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Conference of the Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA). HERDSA, 1995; 308-13. Web. 10 Sept. 2014.

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