Considering VARK Modalities to Support Personalized Learning
By David L. Reese, Ed.D.
Personalized learning is an educational approach that aims to customize learning for each student’s strengths, needs, skills, and interests. Personalized learning can be an important and valuable part in promoting student success in school. According to the Handbook on Innovations in Learning, “Personalized learning is instruction that is tailored to each student, and that the student, not the teacher, is the person leading the learning”. Further extending this idea, The United States National Education Technology Plan (2017) described it as “instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner.”
A growing body of research has concluded that learning styles do not positively impact student learning in terms of classroom instruction. So why are learning styles so popular and can they be used to help support teaching and learning? Learning styles are often an important part of creating a differentiated learning plan for a student and for a class of students. Perhaps, it is worth considering these ideas as teaching modalities when planning instruction to support student learning in the face-to-face and online environments. Utilizing the VARK modalities (Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic) will help educators plan and support personalized learning, and also help students optimize their learning strategies and study habits.
The acronym VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities. These modalities can be used for learning and reinforcing information. Drawing connections to personalized learning applications, this process can have value for students and their learning of information through a more independent means. Encouraging learning experiences that use one or more learning styles may help course developers and instructors provide multiple opportunities to learn content and transfer their knowledge to different situations.
Visual learners have a preference for seeing and research has suggested that visual learners convert words into images in the brain and vice versa. The Visual modality of VARK encourages the use of charts, tables, maps, diagrams, illustrations, and graphs can all be helpful in meeting the needs of visual learners. The Auditory (A) mode is for people who best learn information that is “heard or spoken.” These teaching and learning activities include lectures, group discussion, speaking, web-chat and talking things through. The Read/Write (R)modality focuses on information displayed as words. This preference emphasizes text-based input and output – reading and writing in all its forms but especially manuals, reports, essays and assignments. And finally the Kinesthetic (K) learners prefer to learn via experience—moving, touching, and doing (active exploration of the world, science projects, experiments, etc.).
In life, modalities are used at different times and for different purposes. Rarely does an individual use simply one modality all the time. In many instances the learner may change preference based on the situation and as such they would be known as multimodal.
All students learn differently which may impact their performance and retention of knowledge. Using the VARK modalities can be helpful in planning instruction and learning experiences that help create a multimodal classroom encouraging personalized learning. Course developers should consider these ideas and connect the modalities to the content being taught. Certain content areas are naturally better connected to certain learning styles. Providing content in many different forms and presented multiple times can help learners make sense of the material through the activation of different parts of the brain.
The main advantage of focusing on the VARK modalities is that both students and teachers can adjust their behaviors to best personalize learning and teaching.The VARK model can be used by teachers to help with strategies of how best to plan and promote student learning based on their type of learning style. Teachers can also help students understand their preferred learning style and maximize their learning by focusing on the mode that benefits them the most. Students can use the strategies to help develop study skills that will help them in school and with the rest of their lives.