VAK Learning Styles

Understanding How Team Members Learn

VAK Learning Styles - Understanding How Team Members Learn

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Explore these three learning styles to deliver training more effectively.

The fact that you're reading this article shows that you have an appetite for learning and improving your skills. But even if you're happy to scroll through words on a screen, is that the best learning style for you?

Would you get more out of it if we were to present this information visually or aurally, perhaps through an infographic or flow chart, or with a podcast or vlog?

In this article we'll look at the VAK Learning Styles model and explore the importance to you and your team of understanding people's different styles of learning.

What Is the VAK Learning Styles Model?

The VAK Learning Styles Model was developed by psychologists in the 1920s to classify the most common ways that people learn. According to the model, most of us prefer to learn in one of three ways: visual, auditory or kinesthetic (although, in practice, we generally "mix and match" these three styles).

  • Visual: a visually-dominant learner absorbs and retains information better when it is presented in, for example, pictures, diagrams and charts.
  • Auditory: an auditory-dominant learner prefers listening to what is being presented. He or she responds best to voices, for example, in a lecture or group discussion. Hearing his own voice repeating something back to a tutor or trainer is also helpful.
  • Kinesthetic: a kinesthetic-dominant learner prefers a physical experience. She likes a "hands-on" approach and responds well to being able to touch or feel an object or learning prop.

A variation on the acronym, developed by New Zealand-based teacher Neil D. Fleming, is VARK®, or visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic:

  • Reading/Writing: a reading- or writing-dominant learner uses repetition of words and writing. Clearly, there is an overlap with visual and auditory styles, as words and writing can be both, but, commonly, a person who prefers to learn this way remembers or organizes things best in his mind by taking down notes.

Understanding Learning Preferences

You'll probably already have a good sense of what your learning preference is, as this will have been present from your earliest days at school. For example, is your default response to a problem or challenge to sketch something out on a piece of paper (visual), talk about it (auditory), or build a model or tangible representation of the problem (kinesthetic)?

If you are still unsure of your learning style, you may be able to identify it by considering these scenarios:

  • Think about how you complain. When you complain about something, chances are your emotions are running high and you'll revert to the communication style you feel most comfortable with. Do you want to see the whites of someone's eyes (visual), harangue someone over the phone (auditory), hammer your fists on the table (kinesthetic), or fire off a curt email (reading/writing)?
  • Imagine yourself in an uncomfortable situation. If you were lost in a strange city at night, how would you find your way to your destination? Would you use a map (visual), ask someone for directions (auditory), or just keep walking until you worked out where you were (kinesthetic)?
  • What style of presentation do you prefer? Think back to the last presentation you attended. What was it that most stuck in your mind? Was it the charts or visual aids (visual), the words the presenter used (auditory), or any audience participation (kinesthetic)?

Strategies for Improving Learning

Formal training for your team is likely the responsibility of your organization's L&D department. But, as a manager, there may also be occasions when you have to deliver basic training or coaching sessions, brief your people, or do team-building exercises. Understanding the three VAK learning styles will help you do all these things more effectively.

Tip:

This article describes just one approach to learning styles. See our article, 4MAT, to explore other models and approaches, and see our other tools and resources here.

The simplicity and intuitive usefulness of the VAK model has contributed to its enduring popularity with teachers and trainers, but it's important to remember that your people will have a different mix of strengths and preferences. So, when you have to deliver training or a presentation, ensure that you include a mixture of aids and methods that will engage your team members, whatever their preferred learning style.

One criticism of the model is that, while it is pretty self-evident that we all learn and retain information in different ways, there is little hard evidence to show that, in general, you learn better if your training is tailored to one particular learning preference. As this Mind Tools post demonstrates, other factors also play their part, such as natural learning ability, technical skill level, interest in the subject, and the learning environment. Training needs to be flexible and responsive to circumstance and context, as well as to learning preference.

The table below offers some strategies you can employ to appeal to people's different learning styles:

Visual Auditory Kinesthetic

These learners will respond to and use phrases such as:

  • I see what you mean.
  • I get the picture.
  • What's your view?

These learners will respond to and use phrases such as:

  • That rings a bell.
  • I hear what you're saying.
  • That sounds OK to me.

These learners will respond to and use phrases such as:

  • That feels right.
  • How does that grab you?
  • Let me try.
Engage visual learners by using diagrams, charts and pictures. Engage auditory learners by stressing key words, and telling stories and anecdotes. Engage kinesthetic learners by including physical activities and "hands-on" tasks.

We have numerous tools and resources to help you provide training sessions or prepare briefs for your team, which take into account the VAK learning styles.

Visual (and reading/writing) learners, as we have seen, respond to visual stimulus. They may find it easier to take notes if they use Mind Maps®. Mind Mapping breaks down complex subjects into manageable chunks, making it easier to digest and remember information. And they can be made even more effective with color and additional images.

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The adage "a picture paints a thousand words" is especially true for visual learners, so find out how to use images effectively and creatively with our article, Creating Effective Presentation Visuals.

Auditory learners enjoy the back-and-forth of group discussion and verbal explanation, so it can be useful to include brainstorming, debates and storytelling in your training sessions.

Kinesthetic learners thrive on activity, so a good technique is to incorporate group work or role play into your learning. Getting team members out of the training room and into an environment where they can try things out, such as team-building exercises, can be helpful too.

Key Points

Understanding your own learning preferences, and those of your team, can help you develop more effective strategies for delivering learning and training at work, and embedding knowledge.

You can use the VAK Learning Styles model to classify some of the most common ways people learn. VAK stands for visual, auditory and kinesthetic:

  • Visual: learners respond to images and graphics.
  • Auditory: learners prefer verbal presentations.
  • Kinesthetic: learners prefer a physical, hands-on approach.

A variation on this is VARK®, or visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

While understanding these preferences can give you a valuable insight into how to plan and deliver training and learning, people employ all three learning styles to some degree, so it is sensible to present material in a variety of formats.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Thanks for sharing with us Rainbow77. We hope you can put this article to good use.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Rainbow77 wrote
    Hello, my name is Indonesia and I am a visual learner. I love being able to see what the right thing to do in a situation is. I love being challenged. THANKS AVID!!!!