Do you know how you learn?
VARK tells you something about yourself that you may or may not know. It can be used to understand your boss, your colleagues, your parents, your workmates, your partner, your customers, your teacher, your relatives, your clients and yourself. It is a short, simple inventory that has been well-received because its dimensions are intuitively understood and its applications are practical. It has helped people understand each other and assists them to learn more effectively in many situations.
Although we have known for centuries about the different modes, this inventory, initially developed in 1987 by Neil Fleming, Christchurch, New Zealand, was the first to systematically present a series of questions with helpsheets for students, teachers, employees, customers, suppliers and others to use in their own way.
VARK is part of a learning style. The words learning style are loosely used to describe almost any attribute or characteristic about learning. Technically the term refers to all the components that might affect a person’s preferences for learning. Some inventories report on 20+ components in a learning style (such as motivation, surface-deep approaches to learning, as well as social, physical and environmental elements) and some personality inventories have learning characteristics as a part of their wider descriptions.
VARK deals with only one preference among the complex amalgam of preferences that make up a person’s learning style. The VARK questions and their results focus on the ways in which people like information to come to them and the way(s) in which they prefer to deliver what they have learned. The questions are based on situations where there are choices and decisions about how those might happen.
It is important to say what VARK is not, so that other aspects relevant to learning are not perceived as being a part of VARK. VARK has little to say about personality, motivation, social preferences, physical environments, or intraversion-extraversion. The choice to limit VARK to modal preferences was made because that is where Fleming had most success in assisting learners. Of course, changing the other dimensions affects learning, but it was the modal preferences that had the most direct application for more effective learning and from which learners gained most help.
How does VARK help learning?
Many inventories label people who then want to ask “So what?” VARK goes on to provide strategies that help people understand and move on from any label they might be given. Once you know about VARK, its power to explain things will be a revelation.
VARK says nothing about trying to match teaching strategies to the learner’s study strategies in any class or group because it is what the learner does, not what the teacher does which is the VARK objective. And, knowing one’s VARK preference for learning is not enough to change study behaviours. Each learner has to make their own changes and that requires effort, recognition and metacognition. If those are not present the learner will remain with his/her strategies unchanged and that may mean no change in academic success or the same levels of success as previously.