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Exploring Learning Styles For Your L&D Materials: The VARK Learning Model

The VARK learning model was co-developed by University educator Neil D. Fleming and instructional consultant Charles C. Bonwell in New Zealand in 1987. While the concept of learning styles was not new, Fleming and Bonwell were the first to develop a systematic survey to assess your ideal learning style. In his 2008 book Superteaching, author Eric Jensen found that in a typical learning group, you can expect 40% of your learners to be predominantly visual, 40% auditory, and 20% kinesthetic. Catering to various learning styles poses an interesting challenge to your HR teams, but also holds an opportunity to customize your programs to align with your audience.

As a best practice, many HR teams employ blended learning programs that combine face-to-face learning with digital content. Blended learning plans provide materials in various formats and allow users to learn using their preferred methods. Research at UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning attributed the success of blended learning to the fact that it “combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom with the self-directed and active learning opportunities that the online environment offers”.

How can your HR team integrate Neil Fleming’s VARK Model into your learning & development materials?

Visual Learners

The VARK guide identifies that visual learners prefer information shown in maps, charts or hierarchies etc. that are used to represent what could have been presented in words. Interestingly enough, the visual learning style does not include still pictures of reality or fictional scenes. Visual learners will use phrases like, “I see what you mean”, “I can picture that in my head” or “I don’t see where you’re going with this.” Including infographics or process charts will appeal to your team’s visual learners and help them retain the information.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners prefer the spoken word in their lesson plans, and this includes listening to a pre-recorded podcast as well as subjects listening to themselves read material aloud. The traditional classroom setting works well for auditory learners, unless there are any noisy disruptions. Auditory learners also pay close attention to the tone, energy and pitch of the speaker’s voice. Auditory learners will use phrases like “Sounds great”, “I like what I’m hearing” or “Sounds like a plan”. Scheduling guest speakers or recording important meetings will set your firm’s auditory learners up for success.

Reading & Writing Learners

Teammates that gravitate towards the reading & writing learning style are the researchers and list-makers. They value organization, transparency and logic. You will observe these team members writing and re-writing their meeting notes, or creating study guides and flash cards for memorization. These team members are more likely to complete their tasks in an orderly, linear fashion. Providing clear goals and objectives at the beginning of a training session will keep the reading & writing learners engaged and attentive.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners prefer hands-on interaction to foster learning, and movement and self-expression can also be helpful. Kinesthetic learners use feelings and emotions to connect with others, and often enjoy participating in group activities. Kinesthetic learners will use phrases like “I’m feeling good about this decision”, “This feels like a win” or “Let’s gut-check this choice”. Offering interactive training or informal coaching sessions will appeal to your team’s kinesthetic learners.

Identifying your team’s training preferences is a strong way to make sure the material sticks for the long-term. Technology has made it simple to develop blended learning plans that allow your team members to access materials in a variety of formats. The VARK learning model was a groundbreaking way to administer a survey to team members and gain immediate insights. Knowing which individuals respond to visual, auditory, written or kinesthetic stimulus provides valuable insights for building your firm’s HR learning & development plans.