Many learners across the educational spectrum perceive of learning as not only a strenuous and laborious process, but also an obligation that is inflicted upon them by the system. Negative conceptions of learning can lead to poor performances in educational contexts, as well as lack of confidence in one’s academic abilities. There is an abundance of articles that give generic advice on basic study skills (usually addressed to learners) and/or tips for making the acquisition of knowledge a more enjoyable process (usually addressed to educators and parents). Some of these articles offer useful advice, indeed, but they are based on the assumption that everyone learns in exactly the same way. I would disagree with this assumption by suggesting that everyone learns differently. In order to support this opinion, I will discuss the VARK method of distinguishing between learning styles.
VARK is an acronym that stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinaesthetic. The VARK method is based on the idea that each one of us develops dominant modalities with the help of which we interact with the world. Some of us respond better to visual rather than aural cues; others prefer listening to reading. Many would rather ‘do’ instead of ‘talk’. In order to understand these differences, imagine that you are a tourist abroad. You are lost, while looking for a museum: would you rather look at a map, ask a local for directions or try finding your own way by walking around the city?
While this might seem like a trivial question, it is a useful enquiry with regards to the topic of learning. Theories that support the VARK differentiation suggest that the ways in which we interact with the world, shape the ways in which we acquire knowledge. Visual learners learn more effectively by seeing (pictures, photographs, diagrams, etc.) and visualising information. Aural learners acquire knowledge by listening and verbalising information. Read/write learners respond better to written information, bullet points and note-keeping, while kinaesthetic learners utilise their senses and prefer a more hands-on approach (literally and figuratively speaking) to learning.
Of course, the aforementioned categories are neither fixed, nor exhaustive. More frequently than not, a learner will be utilising two learning styles (for example, 60% visual and 40% aural), while a lower percentage of learners can be described as multimodal (utilising simultaneously two or more learning styles). Furthermore, while a learner can instinctively gravitate towards one or two learning styles, she can also develop her skills in the other modalities of learning. At this point, some of you might be wondering: why bother with theoretical classifications?
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VARK classifications are fascinating, because they can provide us with useful tips that are tailored to the style(s) of each learner. We have all been unable to grasp something at some point in our lives (be it a theory, principle or even a poem). Far from being a matter of academic weakness, I am confident that this is due to the fact that we approached the topic from an angle that didn’t suit us. So, how can one find the right angle for them? In other words how can one tell which is their personal learning style? Experienced educators can read the cues that each learner gives, in order to identify their dominant learning styles. For the benefit of rhetoric, however, I encourage you to try a ‘quick-fix’ by answering the VARK questionnaire (http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=questionnaire).
So, are you a visual, aural, read/write or kinaesthetic learner? Now that you know your personal learning style(s), I feel that I can give you some tips that might turn learning into an easier and more rewarding process for you.
To visual learners:
- Try to find as much visual material as you can on a topic (photographs, pictures, diagrams, flow charts etc).
- When reading, highlight the crucial parts of the text.
- Turn words and phrases into images and then images back into words (this will help you memorise information).
- Keep notes in the form of diagrams and flow charts.
To aural learners:
- Listen carefully to your teachers and fellow learners during class discussions.
- Talk about your own ideas with your fellow learners, teachers, or even family and friends.
- Try to remember anecdotes, short stories and examples that are related to a topic.
- When writing, try to listen to your own voice and record it on paper.
To read/write learners:
- When reading, make lists and keep notes that are organised with headings and sub-headings.
- Re-write information, using your own words.
- Turn visual material into words (for example, write a short paragraph about your understanding of a diagram).
- When receiving aural information, keep notes.
- Re-visit your notes at frequent intervals, until you feel that you have learnt a topic.
To kinaesthetic leaners:
- Try to utilise as many senses as possible when learning a topic.
- Read case studies and examples which illustrate a topic by drawing from real life experiences.
- Think about your own examples that relate to a topic; draw your examples from your personal experiences.
- Use role play (and your imagination!) when studying a topic.
Of course, the tips above are not exhaustive for developing a complete strategy that is appropriate for each leaner’s learning style. Nonetheless, they are suggestions that point towards the right direction for turning learning into an engaging and rewarding practice for each one of us. I suggest that you re-visit a topic that you have struggled with in the past, while giving the VARK questionnaire and the tips above a try: you will be surprised at how easy and comprehensible the hitherto inaccessible will appear to you…
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