What is VARK?
VARK is a questionnaire that provides users with information about their learning preferences. These preferences are about the ways that they want to take-in and give-out information.
What do we know about VARK and its accuracy?
After each person completes the questionnaire they are asked to provide information about themselves. About one-third do. One question asks whether their VARK Profile matches their own perception of their preferences for learning. The options are “Match”, “Don’t Know” and “No Match”. The most recent percentages for those aged 19 and older are:
Match = 74%
Don’t Know = 23%
No match = 3%
Although self perceptions are not always reliable these figures support the value of the VARK questionnaire. We would be concerned if the “Match” figure dropped below 50% and if the “No Match” figure climbed above 5%.
Why only 16 questions?
Experience suggests that if there are too many questions (25+) some people take the questionnaire less seriously and some may become bored with it or provide spurious answers because of survey fatigue.
Are my modality preferences fixed and unchanging?
We won’t know until somebody does some longitudinal research on a group but you will not switch from a Read/write preference to a Visual preference overnight! Typically, scores on a particular mode may rise or fall by 1 or 2 if you do the questionnaire again after some time.
There are, however, some differences between age groups in our current data, with older people being more likely to have a Read/write preference and less likely to have a Kinesthetic preference than younger people. The most recent database shows that for those under 18 years of age, 3% have a single Read/write preference and 21% have a single Kinesthetic preference; for those aged 55 and over, 8% have a single Read/write preference and 16% have a single Kinesthetic preference. Some have suggested that this merely reflects the way that the older age group were taught!
Will life experience change my preferences?
Probably! Some people report that when they were younger their VARK profile would have been different and that it is their exposure to different life experiences (travel, recreation, work, and relationships) that would have made a change in how they prefer to learn. Sufficient longitudinal studies have not been done to be sure about that.
Is it good to be multimodal?
Yes and No. Yes! Those who are multimodal in their preferences can be more flexible about how they take in and give out information than those with a single preference. They tend to be able to match their preferences with whatever mode(s) are being used. That is the “Yes” answer.
But some who are multimodal need to have at least two, three or four modes involved in learning before they are satisfied; that can be a disadvantage. For example, someone with a bimodal Aural/Read/write profile may want to read about it and talk about it with others before they would “trust” the incoming information. A person with a single preference would “get it” from just their preferred mode – presuming it was available in that mode.
If VARK says my preference is Visual (or Aural or Read/write or Kinesthetic) can I do anything about that?
Yes! The strength of the VARK questionnaire is that it provides strategies that can lead to success in any learning environment. It treats people as different, not dumb and suggests that some strategies may be helpful and some harmful. The answer is to use the modes you prefer and avoid those that you do not like.
Do we ultimately have to deliver in Read/Write because of our Westernized systems of education?
Yes! There are a great variety of learning preferences and hundreds of different VARK profiles. High schools, colleges and universities still insist that their students present evidence of their learning in written form and they also emphasize reading. Business use is also firmly based on reading and writing. VARK provides you with strategies to help your learning, and suggests that you use your strengths even though they may not be Read/Write ones. In school, your learning may still have to be presented in written form (as in tests, assignments, examinations or business reports) but your learning for these events should suit your preference(s).
Are there differences in the VARK preferences of men and women?
Yes! Our database now shows significant differences (Chi square analysis) between males and females. Men are more likely than women to have Visual or Aural included in their preference; women are more likely than men to have Read/write and Kinesthetic included.
Are there differences in the VARK preferences of teachers and students?
Yes. Our database shows significant differences (Chi-square analysis) between the learning preferences of teachers and students.
Teachers are more likely to have a single learning preference than are students – 37% of teachers have a single preference, compared with 33% of students.
Students are more likely than teachers to include Visual, Aural and/or Kinesthetic in their set of preferences, but there is no significant difference between teachers and students in terms of having Read/write included in their preferences.
Are there differences in the VARK preferences across different disciplines?
Yes. When we use VARK with small groups from a particular discipline there are differences. For example, law students and faculty usually have larger proportions of Read/write than, say, nursing, where students are more likely to have Kinesthetic preferences. Graphic designers, performing arts and computer-systems students have a greater proportion of Visual preferences.
Are there differences in the VARK preferences of different cultures?
We expect that there would be differences but have little research evidence. Polynesian cultures had no written language but had a strong set of traditions based on storytelling and genealogy handed down from elders to novices. This may indicate a stronger Aural preference. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Australian) and Native Americans had strong symbolic representations and drawings to depict their views on reality and history that might indicate a stronger set of preferences for the Visual mode. A recent Middle Eastern research paper found more students with a Visual preference.
Do different teaching methods favour some VARK preferences?
Yes. Asking some people to engage in a role-play will appeal to those who have a Kinesthetic preference while discussion in lectures will be more suited to those who have stronger scores for Aural in their VARK preferences. These are only two examples of many that exist. The VARK books help with other examples and distinctions.
Does VARK say anything about motivation?
No. Motivation is a separate and significant part of learning. However if learners are using modes that are a strong part of their preferences they are more likely to be motivated than if they have to use modes where their preference is weak. That makes common sense!
So video, photographs, television and computer-based learning are good for those with a strong visual preference?
No! This is a common error. It is not the media that determine the acceptability of content for learners but the ways in which the media depict that content. Television commercials often appeal to all modalities. Videos and real-life photographs appeal to Kinesthetic modalities because they usually show real situations. Most media do not use the diagrams, charts, maps, plans and symbolism that Visual learners prefer. Some media use a strong Auditory component and many computer-based learning programmes appeal only to those with a Read/write preference with words dominating the screen. Marketers understand and use these VARK principles cleverly!
Why is there a sports coaching book that uses VARK?
This book uses the VARK questionnaire to understand how coaches, athletes and players learn. Of course they are using their Kinesthetic preferences when they perform but they may not learn in that mode. That is why some athletes do well with some coaches and others do not? Buy the book and find out.
What about VARK and Myers-Briggs, Kolb and Multiple Intelligences?
VARK is about modal preferences which are a part of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator and VARK is structured specifically to improve learning and teaching. David Kolb’s Experiential Cycle is a model of cognitive processing – how we process learning in the brain whereas VARK is about our preferences for taking information into the brain and communicating them “outwards”. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory is another cognitive model and it includes some of the VARK modalities as “intelligences” and extends that list to at least five other dimensions. Sometimes the link between VARK and these theories appears to be quite strong but VARK has its own focus, rationale and strategies.
Could VARK preferences affect my relationships at work and home?
Yes! We have learned that many people have used VARK to untangle differences in “styles” of communication at work and at home. VARK can be a powerful tool to understand how to relate to others and any understanding of ourselves can be beneficial. We would expect that those working in the world of design will have strong Visual scores and those in text-editing and authoring will have relatively stronger preferences for Read/write. Similar differences will exist in other career choices. We have seen conflict in workplaces that is attributable to major mis-matches in VARK preferences. For example an employee with a very strong Aural preference had some difficulty working with an employer who had a zero VARK score for that mode. We have found very few elite athletes who have a low Kinesthetic score.
Some people report that their understanding of people in their lives is improved with knowledge of their own VARK preference and the VARK preference of “significant” others. In a study of technology and customer satisfaction there were some interesting links between VARK preferences and the categories in research-based early adopter theory.
Is there a difference in the learning preferences between younger and older people?
Yes. Chi-square analysis comparing the learning preferences of those aged 25 and under with and those over 25 show significant differences.
Those 25 and under are more likely to have a single preference, and are more likely to have Aural included in their preferences than are the older group.
Those over 25 are more likely to have Visual and/or Read/write included in their preferences than are those in the younger group. There is no significant difference between the two groups in terms of having Kinesthetic included in their preferences.
We do not know whether these differences are due to changes in preferences as people age, or whether they are a relic of how they were taught!!
How many people complete the questionnaire online each month and year?
In September 2020 over 282,000 people filled in the questionnaire on the vark-learn.com website, and over 1.4 million people completed the online questionnaire during 2020. Many more used the questionnaire in paper format elsewhere that we do not know about.
Do teachers teach, and trainers train, in the same way as they learn?
Probably not. The VARK questionnaire indicates how teachers and trainers learn so we don’t know how they teach or train. Many use their empathy to recognise that their learners are struggling, and they use VARK modes other than their own preferred ones to “reach” them. That is why it is important to complete the questionnaire by responding as a learner not as a teacher or a trainer!
What does VARK tell us about learning preferences in the general population?
Not much! Those who visit the VARK website have self-selected and skewed the results towards those who like completing questionnaires online. They may not be representative of the “general” population. Most are students and teachers and are “in education”. However, the data from the small sample of those “not in education” indicates similar patterns to the others – lower Visual and Aural and higher Read/write and Kinesthetic scores. Why not begin a research project to help our knowledge about this question.
Why doesn’t VARK prove that we live in a Visual world?
“Visual” is defined very specially for VARK and it excludes anything that is text or pictorial as in a book, movie or video, especially images that are real. Abstract paintings (Mondrian) may suit those who have a Visual preference whereas photographic images may suit those who have a Kinesthetic preference. Movies, videos, YouTube and photographs are appreciated most by those with a VARK Kinesthetic preference. According to VARK data, we do not live in a world dominated by maps, charts, graphs, symbols or diagrams so the world is not a Visual one!
Is there statistical data on VARK’s reliability and validity?
The VARK questionnaire is difficult to use with current statistical methods of validation because of its structure and the fact that it allows multiple answers to each question. VARK replicates how real decisions are made using many preferences so the multiple answers for each question make statistical analysis very difficult. There are no “right” answers! From Dr Leite’s research, the reliability estimates for the scores of the VARK sub-scales were 0.85, 0.82, 0.84 and 0.77 for the Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic sub-scales, respectively. These are considered adequate. Please check our Research page for the latest on VARK research.
We await somebody to test VARK’s reliability by following a group of users through several months or years. Any offers?
Why do some experts say that knowing your learning style does not contribute to improved learning?
The statement above is true, in the same way that knowing you have a disease does not cure the disease or weighing yourself does not fix obesity. It is the next step that is important – When people make changes to their learning, based on their VARK preferences, their learning will be enhanced. They do this by using strategies that align with their preferences. It is what you do after you learn your preferences that has the potential to make a difference. Your VARK Profile of preferences needs your efforts and actions – after you find out about your VARK preferences.
Why do some say that teaching to a student’s learning preferences does not contribute to improved learning?
Learning is a complex neurological experience and we cannot detect (yet) why and how learning occurs or to what it can be attributed. Is it the student’s own efforts or the coincidence of other factors such as motivation, a brilliant teacher, or time of day …? We still have difficulty designing effective ways to assess whether learning has occurred. For example, multichoice questions and essays are not very effective at measuring learning. So, many writers say, “There is no evidence to support the view that teaching to a student’s learning style improves his/her learning”. But that does not say or prove very much. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!
Maybe there is no evidence because we have not yet found answers to those questions about measuring learning. Maybe when we can measure learning using neurological tools we might find that it is assisted by one’s learning preferences. Double-blind, controlled experiments using humans would be difficult, -maybe impossible – to design. It is obvious that choosing to teach a student in ways that he or she does not prefer to learn would be rather strange. (Like forcing young children to eat broccoli!). And that is where VARK is helpful. It indicates the ways in which students prefer to learn. It does not say anything about how teachers teach. And, remember your learning preferences (VARK) are only a part of your learning style.
What does VARK tell us about children’s preferences?
Between birth and around 12 years of age children build their own set of preferences for learning. For example, after birth, they develop preferences for touch (K), voices (A), pictures (V), reading(R) and writing (R) in that development order.
It is not helpful to categorize young children as being dependent on any set of preferences when they are in those development stages. And they are definitely not suited to responding to written questionnaires. We offer an Observation Sheet that asks questions of people who know – grandparents, parents, caregivers, babysitters, siblings, relatives and others who know a child well. It is, intentionally descriptive, not prescriptive. Contact us for a copy but respect the cautions above. Labelling children who are in the early stages of development is not helpful.
At work, do we ultimately have to deliver in Read/Write because it is the language of business?
Yes! Although there are a great variety of communication preferences many businesses insist on some written ability demonstrated in their curriculum vitae (CV) and hiring practices. Business applications are also firmly based on reading and writing. VARK provides each individual with strategies and suggests that they use their strengths even though they may not be Read/Write ones. As one would expect, it is possible to use your strengths to work in other modes.
How is VARK used in marketing?
It is not the media that determine the suitability of content for learning but the ways in which the media depict that content. Television commercials often appeal to all modalities. Videos (YouTube) and photographs appeal to Kinesthetic modalities because they usually show real situations. Most media do not use the diagrams, charts and symbolism that define VARK’s Visual preference. Some media use a strong Auditory component and many internet sources (Wikipedia, Google…) appeal only to those with a Read/write preference because printed words dominate the screens. Marketers understand and use these VARK principles cleverly!
Do mentors, coaches and HR trainers train the same way as they learn?
Probably not. The VARK questionnaire indicates how trainers learn so that may not indicate how they train. Many trainers use their empathy to recognize that their trainees are struggling and they use VARK preferences other than their own to “reach” them. That is why it is important to complete the questionnaire by responding as a learner not as a trainer!