You know those lessons you learn in school that stick with you for years afterwards? The ones that make a profound impact on your daily life? The VARK model is all about teaching you what kind of learner you are, which could be one of those a-ha moments that gives you a deeper understanding of yourself, and even changes your life profoundly.
One of many models identifying learning styles, the VARK model identifies four main types: visual, auditory, reading and writing and kinesthetic. Visual learners are better able to retain information they can see outlined — like charts and diagrams. Auditory learners prefer to hear information. Reading and writing learners are fans of worksheets and presentations. And kinesthetic learners like engaging all their senses.
The idea is that knowing what learning style you lean towards can help you adapt teachings so you better absorb them. For instance, as is the case for me, if you know you’re a reading and writing learner, take more notes. Or if you’re an auditory learner, ask the teacher to explain a reading you might not understand.
While mostly used in context of a straight-forward learning situation, like school or an online course, the VARK model can also be applied to how you are at work, helping you to be a better worker.
“Understanding how you learn information means you are able to work more efficiently, work to your strengths and communicate to others how you best work,” says Mary Spillane, clinical psychologist and mental health expert at Headspace app.
“It also helps you to identify areas of weakness or development, meaning you can seek extra support when needed or look at developing other areas.”
Jodi Paton, Head of People and Culture at Hoyts Group, notes that the VARK model should be interpreted loosely.
“How we learn also depends largely on what we are learning,” she says. “It’s also important to remember that no single solution applies to every situation, so be open to adopting different learning styles, as the most effective learning for you might utilise a combination of styles.”
Ahead, Spillane and Paton weigh in on how best to work, depending on your learning style.
“Visual learning is often referred to as spatial learning, meaning that this type of learner usually has a good sense of direction and awareness of the space around them,” says Spillane.
Visual learners might benefit from using flash cards, making mind maps and watching Ted Talks, explains Paton. “If you are on a Teams or Zoom meeting, make sure your video is on and encourage others to do the same,” she says. “Seeing those who are speaking will be more effective for you than just listening. If you are in a physical meeting room, make sure you can see the person who is speaking.”
If you’re predominantly a visual learner, she also suggests using different coloured highlights in your notes to ensure you have a visual representation of your priorities or key actions from a meeting.
In addition to listening and speaking, auditory learners will benefit from group discussions and brainstorms, verbal repetition and mnemonic devices, which are essentially memory shortcuts.
“Summarise your understanding from a meeting or discussion by repeating back the key points to a colleague,” says Paton. “Sometimes, hearing your own voice repeating something back can be helpful.”
Paton also suggests recording a Teams or Zoom meeting so you can refer back to it, using Audible, if the material is available on it, and creating an example or story you can associate with what you are learning.
Reading and Writing Learner
“This type of learner is quite adept at expressing themselves using spoken language,” says Spillane. “They often have a large vocabulary and like to use different, new words.”
Spillane suggests they, of course, use reading and writing to work, but also acronyms, puns or rhymes, which can help them remember information. Paton adds that they should take detailed notes and re-write them if the information still isn’t retained.
“At the end of each meeting, summarise and write down the key points in your words,” she says.
Lastly, kinesthetic learners learn by doing. These types of learners learn best by experiencing and practicing, physical interactions and hands-on approaches.
“Get involved in projects that let you test out new skills in a real-world scenario, but in a safe space, where you have the support of your project team,” says Paton.
She also suggests trying walking meetings, which let you move while you are talking through a new concept, which would let you absorb your learning more effectively.
You can find out which style learner you are with the VARK questionnaire here.