Teaching and learning styles
Humans’ capability for learning and expanding is remarkable. Since the ancient times and over the centuries since, the human species has evolved in ways which have shown astounding, cultural, societal and technological advances. The process of acquiring information and passing that information down to others is paramount to our existence, and helps us grow and thrive as a species. Learning and teaching to others is fundamental to our existence yet can be a complicated paradigm in our modern society. Technology has provided expanded options and platforms for learning that did not exist in prior generations. Human beings now have a multitude of visual, auditory, and three-dimensional formats such as You Tube video streaming, Twitter, online applications, and other multimedia that can enhance the traditional classroom lecture style of teaching. Along with the increased surge of multimedia and technological advances came a wide array of methods and options for sharing and providing information to others. Due to the expansive and available options available now one might be inclined to ask: How is information obtained and passed on? What is the best, or most appropriate way to get desired information across to a person in question? And conversely, how do we absorb information and learn at our highest and utmost capacity?
How does the learning process occur?
Being an efficient student or teacher, and working in one’s fullest capacity should mean excelling at what they do. What makes a good teacher, and student? One of the starting points for both the teacher and student are knowing how information is best gained, perceived, portrayed and then passed on. A teacher cannot successfully teach someone something without fully knowing the information themselves. It takes self-reflection on one’s knowledge base as a starting point. So, the next question then is how does someone learn? There are different strategies or “inventories” used to assess a person’s learning style. One of the most popular is called VARK. This stands for visual, aural, reading/writing and kinesthetic (Fleming & Baume 2006). The visual preference is associated with learning from graphs, charts and outlines. It is considered a “graphic” mode or style of absorbing information. The read & write preference is straightforward, and a more traditional didactic learning style in which the student learns through the process of writing, and reading lines from a book, or source containing written words. The auditory learner is someone who prefers listening to a sound and then repeating back verbally what they heard. The kinesthetic preferred learning style involves concrete examples, case studies and the students own life experience for optimal learning. This is the most sensual, tactile, and hands on learning preference. In addition to the four listed above there is the multimodal preferred leaning style. The multimodal preferred learning style incorporates all of the four VARK modalities. Multimodal came up after utilizing the online VARK quiz. According to the author, the multimodal learner appreciates all four learning styles that encompass the VARK. Visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic.
The VARK methods for learning and absorbing information have been called “preferences” (Fleming & Baume 2006). It makes sense that in a world full of options, and choices, that the learning process should come with choices too. Why not incorporate them if available? It should not be so cut and dry as providing a single method for learning and teaching. Knowing the type of learner someone is may be empowering, and therefore enable the teacher to create an individualized teaching plan based on the preferred learning preference. The preference can be closely matched with strategies for learning. Knowing one’s learning style can be beneficial if learners take the next step, and consider how and when they learn, as part of a reflective, metacognitive process, with action to follow (Fleming & Baume2006)
The multimodal learning preference is the varietal preference. It includes all four of the modalities in the path of learning to best accommodate the student. The multimodal student would benefit best through a variety of visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic styles of teaching. This diverse and mixed style of learning has been seen more commonly in first year medical students in several studies, (Khanal & Koirala 2014). This represents the fact that the use of several preferences is more effective for the multimodal learner. It was my experience in nursing school that instructors preferred the use of multimodalities in teaching a subject. The multimodal learner prefers a variety of methods for learning. VARK equals visual, auditory, read/write and kinesthetic preferences. Effective learning strategies for the multimodal preferred learner would include all four learning preferences. Verbal lecture in class, with question and answer or discussion time as well as readings from an assigned text book, or other written material that the student would then write about through essay style or a written exam assignment. Visual ques are also part of the multimodal style which includes the use of colorful graphs, charts, or symbolic representation of sorts. The last of the four preferences included in multimodal is kinesthetic. Kinesthetic learners prefer “concrete ideas” case studies, examples and information that pertain to the student themselves.
It would seem reasonable to believe that the method for information best perceived would in turn be the method for information relayed. The VARK is useful in identifying not only the learners preferred modality but also the teacher’s. The way we learn to communicate is embedded into the four existing models of the VARK (Fleming & Baume2006).
By a teacher being aware of his or her own learning preferences, they may be more adept at tailoring their teaching style to not just idle replication on their behalf, but instead tailor it to their “target audience”, or individual student. Assessed information using the VARK strategies will be better aligned and absorbed by the student’s preference and the teaching more effective overall. This is one of the reasons that VARK is so effective. It is useful for both the student and teacher. Knowing how to tailor a teaching plan based on the students learning style is highly beneficial and effective. In creating a teaching plan for the multimodal student, a good approach may involve all four preferences. Providing good reading material, text books, as well as an appropriate in length verbal lecture or video would be paramount. In addition, some graphic visual examples such as colorful charts, diagrams, videos, pictures, or outlines should be handed out.
In summary, the VARK is a highly effective tool in understanding how learning may best occur, and teaching may best be received. Learning and thought create energy and power. Knowledge is power. Why not come equipped and utilize the best resources for the age-old tradition of gaining and transferring information. We have the resources and the knowledge with such studies available as VARK. If given the proper tools and resources along with students who are ready and willing to learn, there should be nothing stopping the process. Teachers will be better equipped, and better received by the student. What an amazing opportunity and experience. By focusing on the preferred learning method, and strategies shown in the VARK study, reciprocally enhanced learning is likely to occur that may be profound and life changing. When people show the willingness and desire to learn, along with the use of identified preferred learning strategies, enhanced learning, and growth are likely to occur. It is through this amazing process that self-realization and optimization can be realized. Get out and teach!
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Fleming, N. (2011). The VARK questionnaire. Retrieved October, 3, 2013.
Urval, R. P., Kamath, A., Ullal, S., Shenoy, A. K., Shenoy, N., & Udupa, L. A. (2014). Assessment of learning styles of undergraduate medical students using the VARK questionnaire and the influence of sex and academic performance. Advances in physiology education, 38(3), 216-220.
Fleming, N., & Baume, D. (2006). Learning Styles Again: VARKing up the right tree!. Educational Developments, 7(4), 4.
Khanal, L., Shah, S., & Koirala, S. (2014). Exploration of preferred learning styles in medical education using VARK modal. Russian Open Medical Journal, 3(3), 305-305.