VARK Learning Styles Questioned

Photo of students in classroom

Most teachers are familiar with the traditional VARK learning styles made popular by New Zealand educator Neil Fleming and others. There is an interesting article in the January edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses possible problems with the interpretation of learning style research. Although the existence of learning styles is not disputed, the conclusion of the authors is that the delivery of content to learners is more complex than simply determining where on the VARK scale a student lands. They contest that a particular student may have a clear preference for one style over the others, but actual learning outcomes studies with good experimental design show that every student learns best when multiple methods of instruction delivery are used.  They believe that there is no clear evidence that professors should tailor their lectures to fit their class preferred learning style.  In fact they say that the research points to better outcomes when the instructional style is tailored to the content rather than the learner.  For example, all learners regardless of learning style preference might learn cellular mitosis better by viewing animated models of the process rather than reading about it.

The authors of the study noted in The Chronicle challenge some venerable concepts of learning theory.  If you would like to read the entire research paper written for the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest it can be found at the link below.

Feel free to discuss this article by clicking on the Comments link below this post.

Social Media in the Classroom

Recently an article came out about a professor at Penn State who encourages his students to Twitter during class. By having students actively share their thoughts and ideas on the lecture (the professor ideally wants a classroom with a separate screen dedicated to Twitter feeds), the professor believes students would open up more, share ideas, and become more involved in the lecture process.

Whether something like this would ultimately benefit students is not entirely clear, though it is hard to see downsides to encouraging greater participation and incorporating social technology in the classroom. On the concern that this would disrupt the classroom, the professor said:

He replied that his hope is that the second layer of conversation will disrupt the old classroom model and allow new kinds of teaching in which students play a greater role and information is pulled in from outside the classroom walls.

Sounds like a very interesting idea.


Another article from lists nine reasons to Twitter in schools. The list is a good one, and highlights the strengths of Twitter as a platform.

Making “Sense”

It is March, so the Callery Pear trees are in full blossom.  It is a gorgeous sight, but it has a somewhat sickly smell.  It is a feast to the eyes and not as much a feast when you smell it.   Listening to Lang Lang playing piano is a similar experience, in a slightly different way though.   His music is gorgeous, but many listeners dislike his exaggerated expressions and gestures that accompany his music.

God has given us beauty in its different formats.   When it comes to learning, it is a very similar experience.    Fleming describes four kinds of learners in his VARK model of learning:

  • Visual learners;
  • Auditory learners;
  • Reading/writing-preference learners;
  • Kinesthetic learners

These kinds of tendencies can sometimes be assessed by the way people talk.   Visual learners, for instance, are more likely to say things like “Picture this in your mind…” “It appears that…” “Look!” “See!”  Auditory learners are more tempted to say “Listen to this!” “It sounds like…” Kinesthetic learners?  “You act as if…”  I am a reading/writing-preference learner, hence this post.

I often hear of concerns of “losing personal touch” when things are moved online.  What they are really saying is that students are deprived of certain sensory access to learning.  This is why in many online course rubrics you find clauses like  “providing multiple paths to learning”.

For a long time, as information comes mainly through printed materials, and increasingly through web pages, there has been much talk about “competing for the eyeball” as a way to describe ways to grab attention.  Increasingly, there is going to be more and more effort to “compete for the ears”.   A quickly accelerating amount of content is now being produced in, or converted to audio formats.  Books are being published as audio books.  Columnists read or even produce their columns in pod casts.   Methods are also available to convert text to speech.  In addition, Microsoft is believed to be working hard at natural speech recognition technologies to allow users to have an auditory method to have communication between people and computers or other types of smart objects.

Educators may also want to consider presenting instructional content in auditory formats.  Here are a number of ways to do this:

1.    Record:
You can use either Garage Band on the Mac side or Audacity on the Windows side to record your voice.  Many other types of recording software are available, but the two mentioned here are free.    We have sought to make this even easier for you to record and share your audio by utilizing the Podcast Capture to help you record, upload and share in a few clicks.

2.    Convert:
You can use applications like TextAloud to convert text to speech to have an alternative format of your content.   This application is rather inexpensive.  If you use Mac OS, you will also find a text-to-speech utility, which can also produce audio content from text.

3.    Link:
Some users allow you to link to their audio content using creative commons methods to protect their copyright.   More and more people are also producing their own audio content through podcasts or personal radio stations (such as

Contact the North Institute if you need help producing any auditory content.

It does not sound right if we are simply WRITING about “auditory learning” .¬† Listen to this post instead.¬† This is produced with a text-to-speech software that may not be as good as listening to me speaking (complete with accent … etc), but it may work well if you have a lot of lecture content to transfer while you do not have the time to record. Click on the link below to listen (open it):