How We Learn

Not all people learn in the same way.

The first question that is always asked when a new online education program is launched is “What is the most effective way to teach online?” Learning styles are as diverse as the learners themselves. It is important in developing online courses to maximize learning opportunities for all types of learning styles.

The most current research identifies learners by ‘strength of perception’ or ‘preferred learning style.’ Information is best understood when a learner sees it, hears it, and uses it according to the method of delivery that engages their unique learning style.

In 1987, Neil Fleming (a professor with 40 years of teaching experience) developed an inventory that is widely used in educational institutions around the western world and has received acclaim from students and professors for its powerful simplicity and its intuitive good sense.

What is VARK?

VARK is an acronym made from the initial letters of four sensory modal preferences: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and, Kinesthetic. Modal preferences are used by people when they are learning. In other words, some people prefer to ‘read about it,’ others require someone to ‘tell them about it.’ Many learners require multiple ‘modes’ in order to best remember information.

Good online learning engages the learner through their strongest learning preference. Excellent online learning engages learners by providing multiple ways to acquire information, then allows them an opportunity to practice what they have learned. O2 Digital Media LLC develops online courses that include all of the elements needed by learners regardless of their preferred learning style.

Learning by Visualizing

When the VISUAL style is preferred, the person is actually thinking in images or pictures

When the VISUAL learner wants to remember what he or she has learned, they recall an image with which they have associated the information. Providing high quality images and icons assists the learning process by illustrating concepts rather than simply describing them. This makes the memory process easier and guarantees that the learner has the correct image with which to associate concepts.

This definition does not include the use of television, videos and films. These media are primarily Aural (A) and Kinesthetic (K) because of their presentation of sound and motion. They rarely use static graphics.

Learning by Listening

The AURAL learner needs to hear information in order to process it correctly and accurately.

When the AURAL learner wants to remember information, he or she recalls what they were told about a subject or a conversation they had about it. The human voice is intrinsic to this learning style. Written words are not as valuable to them as those they hear. Including audio clips with information (particularly information that is technical or difficult) is vital for these learners to be successful.

Learning by Reading/Writing

The READ/WRITE learner places emphasis on words and lists.

Much of today’s e-Learning is really e-Reading, or page-turners. Learners who prefer this style can easily obtain information by reading either in a course or simply reading a book. READ/WRITE learners usually respond to multiple delivery modes so that they can utilize text as a primary learning method and supplement it as they choose with either VISUAL or AURAL modes when necessary. Most learners use this learning style to some extent.

Learning by Kinesthetics

The KINESTHETIC learner excels when engaged with learning by doing.

Simulation-based activities, case studies, action mazes, practice opportunities and applications are vital to help with principles and abstract concepts. This is where ALL learners can benefit — where it can all come together.

The most consistent finding in research is that learners are very diverse. We cannot assume that others learn as we do. No one preference will be dominant. Initial research data suggests that most students require multiple learning styles to succeed.


For more about VARK (including a questionaire to test your own learning style), click here.

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