Teaching in Different Contexts

It is important to actively involve and engage learners in the process of learning – at all stages – from early development to adult education. The New Zealand Curriculum, for instance, refers to the process of “learning to learn” which incorporates the “skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values that, together with metacognition, enable people to take control of and improve their own learning.

Modern approaches to education suggest that students learn best when teachers:

  • create a supportive learning environment
  • encourage reflective thought and action
  • enhance the relevance of new learning
  • facilitate shared learning
  • make connections to prior learning and experience
  • provide sufficient opportunities to learn
  • inquire into the teaching–learning relationship

This article outlines the relevance of VARK when teaching in different contexts including Early Childhood and Elementary (or Primary) Levels (0-12 years), Secondary Level (12-18 years), Tertiary Level (18 years), and education in other contexts.

Early childhood and Elementary/Primary Levels (0-12 years)

Elementary children

Teachers at this level have long understood that there are differences in the way children learn, so their teaching strategies are necessarily “more encompassing, comprehensive and varied than teachers of older learners.”

While young children are still forming their preferences, it makes sense that they need to explore a range of learning experiences presented in a variety of modes, particularly when at the early stages of literacy skill development. Any attempt to cater to a wider group of learners will be rewarded with additional learning.

Note: It is not helpful to categorize or label young children as being dependent on any set of preferences when they are in earlier development stages. And they are not suited to responding to written questionnaires, so we don’t recommend they use the VARK Questionnaire with this age group!

Secondary Level (12-18 years)

Secondary level children

My own recollection of life as a secondary student (back in the early ‘80’s!) is more aligned with the traditional teacher-directed model. Educators spoke from the front of the classroom and accompanied their presentation with detailed notes on a black/whiteboard or overhead projector, which we were required to copy verbatim into our books. This documentation would supply us with material to memorize for assessment purposes (generally a written exam) later in the year. I always maintained that the most successful students were those with an excellent memory!

Today’s secondary students often reflect on their most memorable teachers being the ones who incorporate other strategies into their lessons. These activities, which are engaging and require active participation in the learning process, encourage interaction between students and teachers, but also between students and their peers.

At this level, students are often beginning to recognize their preferences for the way they receive information and convey their understanding, and they can be introduced to strategies that will help them improve their learning.

Here are some examples of the ways that content can be presented at the secondary level, using each of the four VARK® modalities:

Table showing VARK strategies that can be used in secondary education.

When introducing secondary-level students to VARK, use the VARK Questionnaire for Younger People.

Tertiary Level (12-18 years)

Tertiary students

For students in higher education, the focus for teachers will be on encouraging students to identify their learning preferences and actively involve students in their learning by:

  • directing them to complete the VARK® questionnaire
  • asking them to consider whether their results reflect their views on how they prefer to learn (metacognition)
  • suggesting they use the relevant VARK® helpsheets to help them understand the four VARK® modalities
  • assisting them in finding strategies to improve their learning (active learning).

Education in other contexts

In life, we are always learning, and there are many situations beyond traditional schooling, where effective teaching strategies can be employed to actively engage learners in the learning process. Some examples are included below.

Adult Education

Adult learners

Adult Education provides opportunities for adults to gain new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, at any stage in life. Such opportunities may cover the acquisition of basic literacy skills, vocational or professional training, or may focus on personal growth and fulfillment.

No matter how programs are structured or presented, effective teachers need to incorporate learning activities into their teaching, requiring students to actively engage with the course content. The provision of a variety of activities that cover a range of VARK® modalities will enable students in any context to learn how to learn.

ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages)

ESOL is another example of alternative education, referring specifically to those learning English as a new resident in an English-speaking country. In a future article, we will look more closely at effective teaching strategies to address the needs of learners in this context.

Patient Education

Helping patients understand their health conditions and how to manage them is a vital part of medical practice, and VARK® has recently been a focus in this area, with research underway into how the VARK modalities can be used to enhance patient learning. We look forward to seeing how this area develops.

Our Guide for Teachers includes more information on introducing students to VARK.

Understanding the VARK® modalities and ourselves as learners is the key to successful teaching and learning at all levels and contexts, and requires active involvement and engagement in the learning process by all parties.

We are all life long learners.

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