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
- 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.
- Keep your course well organized, so that the key points to learn are clear and students don’t become overloaded.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Delonte Washington said:
Online learning has its up’s and its downs. All in all, I like the online learning environment. It makes me feel like I have more control over my learning. I can hold myself more accountable and push myself when I feel like things are slipping away from me.
Zenande Mayinkca said:
At first the online learning was very hard and confusing for me, but I made it my responsibility to learn and engage into this new way of learning. and soon I realised that it is actually the best way for me and those who feel stuffed and not comfortable into crowded spaces as lecture halls.
online studying is good yet its not enough for me because easily experiment things not just watching and listening.But it is also a privilege to learn how to study without engaging with people mask to mask
Nyah Jordan said:
I’ve always been a hands on, right in front of me learner. Doing our lessons without physically touching it has been new for me. Although, i’m really starting to understand visual learning. What helped me the most was categorizing notes by category, this really helped me remember!
Chwayita Norman said:
I think the online thing is a bit confusing and requires a lot for me. I prefer to see a person in front of me and actually pay that much attention to the lecture without anything disturbing me in background. Though I am slowly but surely adjusting to the situation and just maybe online is way better.
ALESIA A EHLERS said:
When I am learning, I like to have a book or paper in front of me to know what I am looking at. I do like the online classes, though. They work better with my schedule at work, and I can do my homework when it’s convenient for me.
Amira Salma Alharthy said:
I have found very interesting about VARK I was given before to test my self without knowing about it. By recomended by my tutor I have read and now undertood well.Thanks very much for VARK online producer
I’m not used to Online reading. I prefer being in a class with a facilitator. But hey, times have changed because Online learning makes things easier and I just have to adapt.
I wish my lecture may comment on my results to advise what I need to do better.
RITA AGHATOTIKOLO said:
I feel I can learn by using all of these learning styles. I am more of a Read/write and Visual learner primarily but it is best when it is backed up by Kinesthetic Learning methods. It’s hard to beat the hands-on learning in my own experience.
this testing is good. From this, I got to know about my other abilities.
Bibek Chauhan said:
Shamer Grant said:
This testing result was on point. I really wish some of these online classes comes with videos, role playing graphs and student discussion rather than reading most of the time. I have to read over and over to get simple things, show me and that’s it.
Leonard Pacheco said:
I have found out over the years that each student learns differently. So I have had to use all areas of VARK to teach each student.
Im a hands on learning kind of guy, i find it hard to remember a lot of things that some old persons monotone voice is telling me for hours, its very boring and painful to listen to so i like visuals or physical things i can watch/do that will keep me focused on what i am learning. I watch videos that not only teach history but describe it in a way that is not only true but interesting at the same time.
very nice wow so cool
Harjit kaur said:
I think the best of learning is to do the activities in a practical way rather than reading it and i find the that visual way of learning is good because we can easily understand the things by seeing them on our screen in the form of videos and diagrams and online learning provide us a better environment to enhance our knowledge in a particular field.
Keep in mind that videos usually suit those with a Kinesthetic preference, rather than a Visual preference. Visual is more “graphic” – charts, diagrams, layout, maps and so on.
Paris P said:
I find that online learning has been very beneficial to me because I am a visual learner. Online learning has helped me in finding relevant videos and diagrams to help me through my studies!
Justin Robert Coloma said:
I feel like the best way to learn something is to experience it, while reading has it’s benefits in instructing and directing us beforehand, a hands-on experience shows us the rights and wrongs up close, even more so if an expert is there to guide you. Same thing goes for online classes, while it’s pretty convenient to learn from the comfort of home, there are a lot more distractions such as pets or other family members. To me, the best environment to learn is within the school itself.
URVESH MODAN said:
Last year i had deferred my studies because i want to study in person, however my views were wrong instead i find online learning far more comfortable than in person and more interesting because of online activities and if someone ask me about continuing studies online i would say definetly yes