VAK Learning Styles Model

The VAK learning styles model is a simple way to explain and understand various learning styles.

Understanding the VAK learning styles model

The VAK learning styles model was developed by child psychologists such as Fernald, Keller, Orton, Gillingham, and Montessori beginning in the 1920s.

The model suggests every person’s learning style is a combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (tactile) stimuli. No single style is the better than the rest, with each individual incorporating multiple stimuli depending on their strengths, learning preferences, and the situation at hand. However, the model does acknowledge that in general, learners gravitate toward a single and dominant style over time.

Classical thinking also suggests predominant learning styles change as the individual grows older. During pre-school and early primary school, learning occurs via kinesthetic stimuli. In middle school, the style is more visual. In high school, university, and adulthood, information is presented using auditory means.

The VAK learning styles model provides a simple framework for assessing someone’s preferred learning style. Using this information, learning methods and experiences can be designed and tailored to the particular needs of the individual.

The three stimuli of the VAK learning styles model

Here is a look at the three learning styles and how they assist in learning:

  1. Auditory – these learners are the sort of people who talk to themselves by moving their lips and reading out loud. With a preference for sound, they may have difficulty learning by reading or writing. Instructors can cater to this learner by following the old adage of “tell them what they are going to learn, teach them, and then tell them what they have learned.” Auditory activities such as brainstorming, buzz groups, and quizzes can also be used.
  2. Visual – for visual learners there exists two sub-categories – linguistic and spatial. Visual-linguistic learners prefer reading and writing tasks and can memorise written information readily. Visual-spatial learners have difficulty with written words, instead preferring videos, charts, live demonstrations, and other visual cues. Learning for these types is facilitated by the individual visualising faces and places and concocting stories with their vivid imaginations.
  3. Kinesthetic – these learners perform best when touching and moving. Here, there are also two sub-categories: kinesthetic (movement) and tactile (touch). Kinesthetic learning is a little more difficult to describe and cater for. When attending lectures, these individuals may take notes simply to get their hands moving. Similar activities that encourage movement are picture drawing, doodling, and the highlighting of important passages. While reading, they also like to scan the information first before delving into the finer details. Given their preference for movement, kinesthetic learners also appreciate regular exercise breaks and intermissions. Younger, more tactile learners can also be helped by offering them props such as coloured pens, play-dough, and soft or brightly-coloured rubber balls.

Key takeaways:

  • The VAK learning styles model is a simple way to explain and understand various learning styles. It was developed by several child psychologists in the 1920s.
  • The VAK learning styles model provides a simple framework for assessing someone’s preferred way of learning. Using these insights, tailored learning experiences can be designed to maximise information retention.
  • The VAK learning styles model is based on three categories of stimuli: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. One individual can exhibit a preference for any style depending on the context. However, most people tend to gravitate to one dominant style over time.
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