The data used in our VARK research was collected from the online version of the Standard VARK Questionnaire, version 8.01, between May and August 2020. During that time, 237537 people filled in the Questionnaire, and 29082 (12%) of those people also filled in the research questions that follow the VARK Questionnaire.
Distribution of Learning Preferences
The table and pie chart below show the distribution of learning preferences for the 237537 people who filled in the Questionnaire. A VARK Single Preference is defined as a stand-out questionnaire score among the four preferences. Where there are small differences between the raw scores for a learner’s modalities, VARK defines those broadly as Multimodal preferences.
|VARK Type One||2.0%|
|VARK Type Two||25.5%|
Common and uncommon preferences
VARK Type Two is the most common preference, with 25.5% of participants having this four-part preference. Kinesthetic is the most common single preference (22.8% of participants). Visual is by far the least common single preference with only 1.9% of participants having a single Visual preference.
When looking at the prevalence of each of the four modalities, VARK simplifies the data by looking at the number of people who have each of the modalities included in their preferences, whether that preference is a single or multimodal preference, as shown in the following chart:
The chart above shows that most people (87.1%) have some Kinesthetic included as part of their preference, and less than half have some Visual (48.8%) or Read/write (46.9%) included in their preference.
While a significant proportion of those who include Kinesthetic have it as a single preference (over one-quarter of those who have Kinesthetic included in their preference have it as their single preference), the other modalities are more likely to be included as part of a multimodal preference; this trend is most pronounced with the Visual modality, where only 3.9% of those who have some sort of Visual preference have it as their single preference.
Version 8.01, compared with the previous version
The proportion of Kinesthetic options selected in version 8.01 of the Questionnaire has increased when compared with the previous version of the Questionnaire. As a result, the proportion of people with a single Kinesthetic preference has increased, as has the proportion of people with some of the multimodal combinations that include Kinesthetic.
Another significant change is that the proportion of people with a VARK Type One preference has decreased from 7.7% to 2.0%.
Are these changes justified – is VARK moving in the right direction?
There is no valid way to accurately measure the size of a preference (How much more do you like apples than pears? And do you like apples more than pears in all situations? …), and indeed, VARK is not attempting to diagnose learners into strict categories. Rather, the questionnaire is intended to point learners in the direction of strategies that might help with their learning and to encourage them to actively think about how they learn best (meta-cognition). With that in mind, we have three measures for evaluating new versions of the VARK Questionnaire:
- Are the choices made for each question consistent with the choices for the other questions?
- Do people tend to agree with the learning preference result that is assigned by the VARK algorithm?
- How helpful do people expect VARK to be, after finding out their results?
For the first measure, we compare overall preferences with the options selected for each question. For example, if people who choose many Kinesthetic options overall choose the “Visual” option for a particular question, we would look at that option to see whether or not it is actually a good indicator of a Visual preference. Using this measure, the questions in version 8.01 are performing better than in the previous questionnaire version. This explains some of the increase in Kinesthetic responses, as in the previous version, there were some “Visual” options that we have now replaced as they turned out to be more appropriate for the Kinesthetic preference i.e. previously, some of the responses that perhaps would have been better counted as Kinesthetic were being counted as Visual.
For the second measure, which we call the “match” statistic, the percentage of people who believe that their overall result matches their perception of how they learn has increased from 69% in the previous version to 74% for version 8.01.
The decrease in VARK Type One preferences with the latest version is an indirect result of the “match” statistic. After finding that a high number of people who chose only one option for each question didn’t think their result matched their perception, we added a note at the bottom of the questionnaire to alert people who have only chosen single options that they can indeed choose more than one for each question. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of people choosing single options for a total of 16, and as a result, the number of VARK Type One preferences (multimodal with a low total score) has decreased.
The third measure is new – we have added a question about the perceived helpfulness of the questionnaire and will be comparing results from that when evaluating future versions of the VARK Questionnaire.
Of the people who provided gender information, 63.6% were female, 35.5% were male, and 0.8% specified a non-binary option. The distribution of preferences within each group is similar, with over 80% of each group including Kinesthetic in their preferences. The most significant difference between the groups is that more females have Read/write included in their preference than have Visual included, but for males, that is reversed.
A majority (53.3%) of respondents are aged 25 or under, with 25.7% being aged 12-18 years, and 27.6% being aged 19-25 years.
For all age groups, between 80% and 90% of people have Kinesthetic included in their preferences. Younger people are more likely to have Aural included in their preferences and are less likely to have Read-write included. By the 35-44 age group, the difference in percentages of people with V, A, and R in their preferences is less distinct.
There is no significant difference in the proportion of people who have a multimodal learning preference when comparing the different age groups.
79.5% of respondents are students, 5.6% are teachers, with the remaining being managers, employees, self-employed, or “other”. Students were more likely to have Aural included in their preferences than the other groups – but this is due to age-group differences rather than roles.
When asked whether they think their learning preference result matches their own perception of how they learn, 74% said that it did match, 23% said they weren’t sure, and 3% said that it did not match.
There was very little difference in the “match” response when comparing those who include each of the four modalities in their preference, nor when comparing those with single vs multimodal preferences. Those with Aural included in their preference were very slightly more likely to answer that they weren’t sure or that their preference did not match their perception, but that seems to be a result of age rather than learning preference – those in the 12-18 and 19-25 age groups (groups that include a higher proportion of people with Aural in their preferences) were more likely to choose “no match” or “not sure” than those aged 26-54.
Those who said that their preference did not match their perception were asked which preference they believe is more likely. By far the most common choice was “Single Visual” at 25%, followed by “I don’t know” at 16%. The choice of “Single Visual” was surprising, as that is a very uncommon preference. However, the reasons that people gave indicate a lack of understanding of the definitions for VARK modalities – particularly Visual and Kinesthetic. For example, a participant with a zero score for Visual wrote that their preference should include Visual because they “use a lot of YouTube videos”.
Participants were asked to select sources of information about VARK that they had received (or expected to receive) from the following list:
- I have already read through the helpsheets/study strategies for my learning preference.
- A teacher or trainer (or someone similar) has explained VARK to me in some detail.
- I have read about VARK and have a good understanding of it.
- I expect to receive further help from a teacher or trainer to put what I have learned about VARK into practice.
The system also records whether they have filled in the Current Strategies Questionnaire.
The more information they had received, the more likely they were to perceive their preference result as being correct, supporting the possibility that a proportion of those who think their VARK result is wrong might do so through a lack of understanding of what their result means. The most significant sources of information, in respect of a correlation between receiving the information and perceiving their VARK result as being correct, were having read about VARK, and having read the VARK Helpsheets.
Perceived helpfulness for learning
When respondents were asked how helpful they expected VARK to be for their learning, 79% said they expected it to be either very useful (41%) or slightly useful (38%). Only 2.6% said that they didn’t expect VARK to be useful at all.
Those who thought their preference result matched their perception of how they learn were more likely to expect VARK to be helpful (85.4%), but interestingly, a majority of those who thought that their preference “was not” or “might not be correct” still expected VARK to be useful, although they tended to think it might be “slightly” rather than “very” useful.
The more information about VARK that a person received, the more likely they were to expect VARK to be helpful, with 86.3% of people who had read something about VARK expecting it to be useful, and 84.4% of those who had read the VARK Helpsheets. Those who had not received any extra information about VARK were significantly less likely to expect it to be useful, with only 68% of them expecting it to be useful, compared with 81% of people who had had one source of information about VARK.
Interestingly, there was a decline in the percentage of people choosing “very helpful” among those having five sources of information, but at this stage the number of people in that group is low, so we cannot yet be sure that this is a reliable observation.
At the time of filling in the research questions, only 20% of respondents indicated they had already read the Helpsheets. This is not surprising as the research questions appear on the page where they get their results; we could hope that a significant number of people go on to read the Helpsheets after filling in the research questions. Unfortunately, website logs indicate that this is not necessarily the case – the number of people who visit each of the Helpsheet pages is between 8% (the Read/write Helpsheet) and 18% (the Kinesthetic Helpsheet) of the number of people who fill in the questionnaire, indicating that a majority of people fill in the VARK Questionnaire, see their results, and never go on to use the Helpsheets.
The fact that people who have not received any extra information about VARK are less likely to expect it to be helpful for their learning, and the fact that a majority of visitors to the VARK website fill in the questionnaire without going on to read the VARK Helpsheets relevant for their preference, suggests that filling in the VARK Questionnaire is not likely to be sufficient to improve learning. Learners also need to understand something more about VARK in order to see it as useful. In particular, an understanding of each of the VARK modalities seems to be important. With this in mind, we suggest that teachers, trainers and others wanting to introduce VARK to a group of learners ensure that they:
- Give the learners a succinct (and correct) definition of each of the VARK modalities, focusing in particular on Visual and Kinesthetic definitions, which are often confused. Providing this information before learners fill in the questionnaire may lead to more learners seeing value in reading the Helpsheets.
- Follow up the Questionnaire with an activity (such as a worksheet, or group discussion) to stimulate further thinking on how learners may implement any changes to their study strategies as a result of finding out their learning preferences. The VARK Helpsheets would be a vital resource for this.