Online Learning

The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly increased the uptake of online learning, with many who might otherwise prefer to be in a classroom setting now having to learn or teach online. There is considerable concern about how the same level of educational quality can be delivered with this dramatic change.

Online learning can present challenges for those who prefer to use some particular VARK modalities. It is relatively simple for written learning materials (VARK’s Read/Write mode) to be distributed to students, either in a printed form, or online, and these materials can easily contain the same graphs, charts, diagrams, and maps (VARK’s Visual mode) that would be used in a classroom setting.  Traditionally, it has been more difficult, in distance learning, to provide materials using VARK’s Aural or Kinesthetic modes, but to some extent, technology advances have facilitated a range of alternatives to the ways these modalities are typically used in the classroom.  

Of course, face-to-face communication uses the Aural modality, so students who have an Aural learning preference can be significantly impacted by a lack of face-to-face communication in online learning. When learning online, students cannot attend lectures or participate in class discussions, or ask their teacher questions in person; however, they may instead be able to watch or listen to recorded lectures, attend live lectures online via video conferencing technologies, discuss their learning online with other students, and talk with their teacher on the phone or using Skype or Zoom.

Similarly, for VARK’s Kinesthetic modality, laboratory sessions, in-person demonstrations, and field trips might not be possible when learning online, but increased Internet speed and the wealth of content that has been published on the Internet mean that videos are now available for many subjects, providing an alternative to hands-on experiments and in-person demonstrations for those with a Kinesthetic preference.

These Internet-mediated possibilities are not, of course, the same as, or necessarily as good as in-person experiences, but when used well, they are definitely an improvement on having to learn from a thick folder of printed material. Learners (and teachers) can adapt their preferred modes for learning to replace those methodologies that are missing with minimal loss of impact and “reality”.

It is worth noting that there has long been an interest in using VARK with online or distance learning, because of the possibility of customizing the learning for each individual student, to a greater extent than might be feasible in a classroom setting.  However, given that there is currently no valid or definitive research backing up the suggested benefits of matching teaching materials to the learning preferences of students, it is not recommended that teachers focus on matching learning materials to the specific learning preferences of each student. Having access to learning materials in their preferred modality is not sufficient to ensure that students learn – there is a multitude of other factors that can also contribute to, or detract from, a successful learning outcome. Having access to content in my preferred modality will not help me learn if I don’t actually use those materials, don’t have time to study, or if I am not motivated to learn the material, for example.

We do, however, recommend that a range of materials covering each of VARK’s four modalities are used in content delivery. Having a variety of learning materials to use, with at least some of them using the student’s preferred learning modes, adds interest to the course, and so can help with motivation. One of the main differences between classroom and online learning is the source of motivation for the students. Some students have highly-developed motivational and time-management skills that keep them alert and on task; others will need extra support and encouragement if they are to transition successfully to online learning. Keeping the learning varied, interesting, and relevant can help, as can a concerted effort, by both teachers and students, to provide the missing component from classroom teaching – face-to-face communication – not only between teacher and student but also between learners.

Advice for Students

When learning online, you are likely to need to take in information that is presented in different ways than you may be used to with classroom learning, and you should also expect some differences in the ways you need to output what you have learned, as there may be some differences in assessment methods used in your course. The degree to which these differences will affect you will depend on the subject you are learning, the variety of learning materials provided by your teacher(s), and your own learning preferences. You can find out your learning preferences now by filling in the VARK Questionnaire.

The VARK Modalities and Online Learning

Read/write: Online learning is likely to involve a lot of written material, so if you prefer to use the VARK Read/Write modality, this is likely to suit you well.

Visual: Visual materials (diagrams, maps, charts…) are just as easy to provide online as they are in the classroom, so if you prefer to use Visual learning materials, your needs are likely to be met just as well online as they would be in the classroom.

Aural: If you tend to rely on getting your information directly from the teacher in the classroom, and learn from discussions with other students and with your teacher, the degree to which the change to online learning will affect you will depend on the extent to which you can use substitutes and adaptations for those things. Make the most of any opportunities to talk and listen by watching videos of lectures, and attending video conferencing sessions (e.g. Zoom). Ask your teacher to put you in touch with other students who have an Aural learning preference, so that you can arrange to discuss your learning with them online. And be sure to ask for help when you need it.

Kinesthetic: Depending on the subject you are studying, you may usually rely heavily on the Kinesthetic mode for your learning in a classroom. If you are used to going on field trips, participating in labs, or watching your teacher or tutor demonstrate things, you will instead need to make the most of videos and simulations and try to relate what you are learning to your own experiences.


Even if you don’t have an Aural learning preference, talking with others in your course is still important so that you feel part of a learning community. Research has shown that students often learn as much from each other as they do from the teacher, and students who are actively engaged with their teachers and other learners tend to have more success in their studies. Get to know the other students in your class, and join in any online discussions. And of course, don’t hesitate to speak up if you need help from your teacher.

Motivation and Time Management

Successful online learning relies on being motivated to learn and having good time management skills. Some helpful tips for managing your time and staying motivated include:

  • Make a study plan and let it rule your life. Hold yourself accountable.
  • Have a space that is for learning.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Take study breaks and look after yourself.
  • Build connections with others in your course.
  • Build change and variety into your study schedule so that you don’t get bored by the sameness of a single task for too long.
  • Seek opportunities to contact your teachers and get your questions answered.

The OU Strategy

This strategy has helped many learners and it may help you to succeed in your course. 
What is OU?  The initials are for The OTHER YOU and it refers to the negative vibes and voices that invade your head when you are learning. It is the “little voices” that are determined to distract you into time-wasting – otherwise known as PROCRASTINATION.    Here are some examples that students have told us about OU tactics.  

Jane: “When I am preparing for some study time, OU (she is a person in my head) suggests that we should, first of all, rearrange my study space or shift the resources I am using to another area.”

Dao: OU convinced me to write home rather than finish the assignment.“

Chad: “My OU told me that I was way too hungry to do any study and that I should go out and buy some food.”

Ryan: “I had a whole morning set aside on my schedule for an essay due in two days and Mr. OU said that that was much too long and we could do it easily the next day as the deadline was still a week away. So, I went driving with my friends.  I was late sending it in.”

Michelle: “My OU upsets my routines by wanting to shift from one assignment to another. I need to stay longer on each task so I keep moving and get things finished in time.”

Meaghen: “The OU strategy is simple but effective. It can be used to minimize procrastination. During my online study, sometimes I could not stop OU from winning so it is good to have a strategy in clear words so you can say “No! You need to do it NOW!”

What can you do to combat OU? 

You have to deal with OU by bargaining. That is the only way to close him/her down. 
When OU makes a time-wasting suggestion, start your bargaining by arguing back.
Say “Yes. I will rearrange the room (or eat some food, or text a message home or go driving with friends) – BUT, ONLY AFTER DOING THE WORK I HAVE SCHEDULED FOR NOW!!!
During your study week work with people in your course and get ideas and help from them. That keeps OU away.

For more help:

For personalized guidance about making the most of your learning preference in online learning, you can fill out the VARK Questionnaire and purchase an Academic Profile.
If you have purchased an Academic Profile in the last three months, use the link in the “Downloads” email you were sent to get an updated copy of your VARK Profile (including the new section about online learning).

Advice for Teachers

  1. Incorporate a mixture of modalities into your teaching materials – not everything has to be presented in each of the four modalities, but aim for a mixture of the four over the course as a whole.
    If you choose to provide the same material in multiple modalities to cater to different learning preferences, be wary of overwhelming students with too much choice, even though those with a VARK Type Two preference, in particular, may feel the need to use all of the materials provided.
  2. Keep your course well organized, so that the key points to learn are clear and students don’t become overloaded.
  3. Find out about your learners. Look out for those who have Aural and Kinesthetic learning preferences – those students may need extra support to adjust to online learning.
  4. Recognize that many students who are new to online learning will need to develop new self-study, time-management, and technology skills, and that they may need help to do so.
  5. Recognize that you will need to introduce additional techniques to keep your students engaged and motivated to learn, beyond what would be necessary in a classroom.
  6. Find alternatives to face-to-face communication, both between you and your students and between learners.

For more help:

You are welcome to use our downloadable Orientation Template for ideas, and as a basis for an orientation document to share with your students at the start of your online course.

We are in the process of updating our Subscription system to incorporate student worksheets – these will have the dual purpose of:

  • guiding students to reflect on learning preferences and how to make the most of each preference when learning online, and
  • giving you more information about each student and the challenges they may face when learning online.

We aim to have the student worksheets ready by the end of August 2020.

Your Experiences

How have you found VARK useful in your online courses?
What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
If you have tips that may help others, share your experiences in the comments below.

  1. Nkurunziza Francis said:

    Well I am a stranger to this point of Academic platform but finally, I have enjoyed this kind of learning system. Hope it will be more enjoyable especially in this covid age.
    Regards .

  2. Brandi Patterson said:

    Very informative.

  3. Karen SCHRADER said:

    It was interesting to see where I came out as. Close to what I thought. I will think about trying it. As a nursing student, it is good to know.
    Thank you

  4. Denise J. Dicks said:

    I truly appreciate this program. I have not used it yet. I will soon. As a retired teacher of 30 years, this method is very student centered and critical to teaching to the brain mode of an individual. I appreciated this program and wish it was presented to all students, first during orientation.

    Thank you,

  5. Yamina Elaheebocus said:

    I will definitely give it a try, being a kinesthetic learner. I was not aware that we could bargain with OU to keep him away. That OU keeps on making me procrastinating on all my work despite having a well-set daily task list. I always land up being overwhelmed with work.
    Definitely, I will give it a try

  6. Thobeka Mkhulise said:

    Very useful

  7. Marielle Villosis said:

    Very informative, all my life I thought I was a Visual or graphic learner, but after answering the VARK questionnaire i was surprised to find out that I have a multimodal style with high emphasis on Kinesthetic.

  8. Mzimasi Msomi said:

    From VARK Questionnaire I have learnt about online learning which made work easier for us as student to learn during times of Covid-19, even though it was a bit confusing at the beginning of the year.

  9. Snethemba Zungu said:

    Thank you i found a useful information but learning online sometimes its bit confusing.

  10. Micheal kanyesigye said:

    VARK help us in experience and practice, It also includes demonstrations, simulations, videos and movies of “real” things, as well as case studies, practice and applications.

  11. Ayabulela said:

    Firstly I didn’t like online learning but the time I found out about the videos on YouTube about I was interested and I will keep on watching the videos and Make time for my studies.

  12. Andrew Gaudioso said:

    Very useful information that I’m going to have to come back to and look at every once in a while to keep my head straight. Greatly looking forward to starting my online classes and putting all of this information to use!

  13. Alison Mc said:

    online learning is a challenge that I’m up for I do prefer to be in the classroom setting with the teacher where you can engage more in discussions.

  14. Nancy Rodriguez said:

    I believe read and write seems interesting for me but also I can be Aural also because I like to get help from teachers and from students sometimes I prefer to watch teacher and be able ask or shares discussions about class.

  15. Cortney Evans said:

    I am just now finishing up my reading on this. I look forward to putting some of these practices into motion with my online courses. Thank you for the content!

  16. Gouri Preethalaya Prince said:

    Reading seems to be more interesting for me. I love writing to. When I write or read something it will remain in my heart for ever. online learning can be more interesting by writing your own notes .

  17. ALEENA ANTONY said:

    I find myself a kinesthetic learner as watching video, getting more in to practical models, taking short notes in between the lectures boosted me up. It is actually a combination of visual and auditory study methods that actually involves direct involvement in learning by touch, feel, manipulate objects. And I find VARK to be a very helpful site as it gives relevant information on one’s specific mode of interest of learning.

  18. ALEENA ANTONY said:

    Reading is actually something I find so boring and it never appealed me. But through watching video, getting more in to practical models, taking short notes in between the lectures boosted me up instead. And I find VARK to be a very helpful site as it gives relevant information on one’s specific mode of interest of learning.

  19. Dionivie Craig said:

    It’s my first time I have this kind of thing and I don’t really know what is in here and reading too much hurts my eyes so too much work.

  20. Coleen Brissett said:

    This passage was very informative

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