What is VARK?
VARK is a short questionnaire used to identify the modalities that a learner prefers to use when taking in, processing, and outputting information. It has associated Helpsheets that suggest study strategies appropriate for each of the four VARK modalities: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. You can find the VARK Questionnaire here: https://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire/
How does VARK work?
VARK introduces a variety of study strategies to students.
Some students just read over notes/chapters, mistaking recognition for learning, and are surprised when their efforts don’t lead to the results that they hope for. They may not understand that there is more to studying than what they are doing. The VARK Questionnaire introduces them to the concept that there may be better ways for them to study, and VARK’s Helpsheets introduce them to other strategies they can try.
VARK encourages meta-cognition
Metacognition – thinking critically about one’s learning – has been shown to improve academic performance (Biggs, J.B. (1988). The Role of Metacognition in Enhancing Learning. Australian Journal of Education, 32, 127 – 138.) VARK is useful in introducing the idea of metacognition – so that students can begin to select appropriate study strategies to meet their goals and evaluate and improve their learning performance.
VARK does this by:
- Introducing the idea that not everyone learns in the same way i.e. to improve learning, we can tailor our strategies, rather than just trying harder, studying more, and so on.
- Providing a list of study strategies, introducing many possibilities for learning that go beyond the student’s current practices.
- Prompting students to select and try various study strategies.
Meta-cognition can be further encouraged by coming back to VARK later to evaluate how any changes made have affected learning.
VARK reframes failures as being due to differences.
Research has found dramatic improvements in academic performance (measured by GPA over time and drop-out rates) following the reframing of initial academic difficulties as unstable and temporary. Studies have found that “college students who attribute academic setbacks to factors they can personally control (such as lack of effort) are more likely to perform better in their first year than students who attribute the same failures to factors they can’t control, such as bad luck or not having enough natural ability” (https://spsp.org/news-center/character-context-blog/how-stem-students-explain-their-academic-setbacks-affects-their).
An early article about VARK was titled “I’m different, not dumb”. The significance of this, in relation to reframing, is two-fold:
- VARK is focused on those who have a need to improve their learning i.e. those who might be mislabelled as “dumb”.
- By suggesting that students can improve their learning by choosing appropriate study strategies, VARK implies that current academic difficulties are temporary and can be improved through simple measures.
The introduction of VARK to students who are worried about their academic performance can prompt them to reframe their thoughts about their failures, motivating them to continue and improve in their studies.
Should I design my learning materials with VARK in mind?
Yes, and No.
The idea that matching teaching methods to students’ learning preferences will improve learning is a common misconception. We do not advise that teachers should find out each student’s learning preference and then produce learning materials using each student’s preferred modalities. Besides being an impractical exercise, there is no evidence that doing so would help students. It is what students do that matters most, not what the teacher does and not how the learning materials are presented.
What you can take from VARK is that students do learn in different ways, and even though it is impractical to tailor your teaching materials to individual preferences, there are benefits to incorporating a variety of modalities into your teaching. Benefits include:
- Being able to provide more varied and interesting content.
- Being able to explain some concepts more clearly using a particular modality.
- For difficult concepts, repeating your explanations in a couple of different modalities may help you reach more students, without boring others with verbatim repetition.
- By using different modalities in your teaching content, you will be introducing students to the possibility of using different techniques in their own study.
Does VARK Work?
Although there has not yet been any research objectively measuring the effect of using VARK in the classroom on students’ learning, VARK has been widely used over many years, with very positive feedback from both students and teachers.
When students fill in the VARK Questionnaire on our website, they generally agree that their VARK result describes them accurately. 73% of students say that their VARK result matches their perception, with 23% being unsure, and less than 2% reporting that their result does not reflect how they learn.
When we ask students whether they expect VARK to be helpful for their learning, immediately after they have filled in the VARK Questionnaire, 83% of students say they do expect it to be helpful, with 56% saying they expect it to be very helpful, and 27% expecting it to be slightly helpful. When we ask them again three months later, 81% of the students say that they found VARK to be helpful for their learning (roughly equally divided between “very helpful” and “slightly helpful”). Interestingly 91% of the students say that they have found VARK to be helpful overall, indicating that there are students who find VARK helpful in ways that they do not label as “improved learning” – for example, in increasing their confidence, or motivation.
Looking at what students say about VARK, here are a few of the many comments we have received:
I wish somebody had introduced this to me before I had gone through fourteen years of frustrated learning. Thanks for this wonderful site and its wonderful tools!
This is quite a revelation for me.
The concept that I have misunderstood the way I learn my whole life is just mind-blowing. As a Kinesthetic and Auditory Learner, I have always assumed my inattentiveness in class was ADD. Now I know that its mostly because power point is not my learning style. Thank heavens! This will change my life!
I am happy that something like VARK exists because I feel that it could help others who are similar to me. I wish I had known about it before today because I’m sure it would have saved me a lot of time when trying to understand how to adapt.
I believe that the VARK questionnaire has my learning style completely correct. I am excited to learn how to implement these suggestions in my day-to-day learning.
It is worth noting that VARK is likely to be most helpful for those who feel they need to improve their learning. Some students make no changes to their study practices after using VARK because they have already found study strategies that are working well for them. That is to be expected. You should only expect it to be helpful for a portion of your class, but within that portion, there are likely to be some who will find it life-changing!
Best practices when introducing VARK to students
Introduce VARK early in the course.
Students understandably find it too risky to try new study techniques just before an exam!
If possible, use the VARK Questionnaire online.
When administering the questionnaire, it is best to use the online version on our website, or the online version on a VARK Subscription site. Online versions work best because students find out immediately what their learning preference is.
If you use paper copies of the questionnaire, students will be able to work out their scores for V, A, R, and K, but won’t know their overall result. (Does someone with the scores V=5, A=8, R=2, K=3 have a “single Aural” preference or a “VA” preference?). Make sure students understand that most people have a multimodal preference, so it is not appropriate to just look at their highest score. Suggest that they fill in the questionnaire online later to find out what their preference is. Or collect all their scores together to send to us for analysis.
Explain the important VARK concepts.
Spend some time discussing VARK to ensure students understand what it is and how it works. Important points to cover include:
- Understanding each of the VARK modalities – you can find descriptions of each of them on our website: https://vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/the-vark-modalities/
Focus on Visual (=Graphic) and Kinesthetic (=related to the experience of the real world) as these are often misunderstood.
- What a multimodal preference means.
- The difference between strengths and preferences. VARK results indicate preferences, not strengths. A low score for Read/write does not mean you cannot read! Students should focus on their preferences. We do not recommend trying to “improve” your use of your lowest-scoring modalities – going against your preferences is not likely to be motivating.
- How VARK can help them – introduce these concepts:
- Some study strategies are likely to work better for them than others,
- Different people learn differently – what works best for their friend may not work best for them, and
- Being aware of what is working and what is not enables them to improve their study skills continually.
- What students can do when content is not provided in their preferred mode. Emphasize that they can translate content into their preferred modalities – they do not need everything to be presented to them according to their preferences. Provide examples.
Encourage students to put VARK into practice.
Emphasize that just filling in the VARK Questionnaire, without making any changes to their study practices, is not likely to improve their grades. Encourage students to think further about how they learn best and what they can do to improve their learning.
To support students in trying different strategies, incorporate a variety of learning activities into your course so that students are guided to try different techniques.
Discussion groups or worksheets can be helpful to encourage further reflection. People tend to find VARK more helpful if they know more about it and take the time to think more about how to apply their learning preferences in their day-to-day life.
Worksheets and group discussions are good ways to prompt your group to think about how their learning preference manifests in their day-to-day life and think about what strategies they could try in order to improve their learning.
To further encourage your group to think more about how VARK learning preferences play out in day-to-day situations, you may like to set up a role-play situation such as the one outlined here: Learning Styles Role Play.
Those wanting to use our copyright materials for enhancing their business or adding value to their performance need to visit the Copyright page and expect to budget for the inexpensive cost. VARK is usually free for use by teachers and students at high schools, colleges, and universities for staff and student development. If in doubt, please apply for copyright permission, and we will let you know whether a fee is applicable.
This provides an online version of the VARK Questionnaire for your students to use without the advertising that is on our public version. Students will find out their VARK learning preference, have access to the Helpsheets, and be able to fill in a Worksheet that guides them through thinking more about how they can apply VARK. Their results are automatically saved for you to access.
For more information, or to sign up for a free trial: https://vark-learn.com/product/vark-subscription/
VARK Strategies – the definitive guide to VARK
This eBook describes VARK’s origins, definitions, applications, and research backing. Packed with helpful examples it is written for all who are using or intending to use VARK.
For more information: https://vark-learn.com/product/teaching-and-learning-styles/
Neil Fleming, the founder of VARK, ran workshops introducing students around the world to VARK. This training kit contains the resources he used and forms an excellent basis for your own presentation of VARK. It contains an annotated PowerPoint, workshop plans, and follow-up exercises.
For more information: https://vark-learn.com/product/trainers-package/