VARK Techniques and associated myths

Adesh Kumar Mishra
5 min readJan 22, 2022

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.

  • Aristotle

Education is a fascinating sector; every individual goes through different levels of the educational curriculum in life. Even though education is as old as history and human civilization, it is often most neglected in every part of the world. What about your country?

Two hundred years before, humans rode horses and fought with trivial armaments like a spear, spike, sword, etc. At that time, no concept of electric supply, automobile, telecommunication, and other things; we are familiar with presently. When motion pictures had invented: Edison thought it would revolutionize education for good and solve the problem of equity and accessibility. Later, the same concept had reiterated for radio technology, not to mention the current ed-tech industry.

“The motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system, and in a few years, it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”

  • Thomas Edison

But one thing is sure that nothing is working effectively and efficiently to the promise they offer. Why is it so? Let us try to find out.

In 1987, educational theorist Neil Fleming set out to help students and teachers adapt their practices to help them retain new information. Therefore, he created the VARK learning styles.

VARK learning styles refer to different learning techniques for better understanding and learning outcomes.

According to the VARK model, learners are identified their preference for:

  • Visual learning (pictures, movies, diagrams)
  • Auditory learning (music, discussion, lectures)
  • Reading and writing (making lists, reading textbooks, taking notes)
  • Kinesthetic learning (movement, experiments, hands-on activities)

Neil Fleming believed that anyone could improve their learning and outcomes if they learn through their preferred way of learning. Neil Fleming did believe that everyone has a bias towards a particular mode of learning: and identifying it will help them reap the benefits.

The traditional education curriculum focuses on reading and writing aspects heavily. As new technology has evolved, we are witnessing a rising share of visual and auditory learning styles promising to make learning effective and accessible.

To identify which type of learner people are? Neil Fleming developed a self-report inventory that offers a series of situations. Respondents select the answers that best match their preferred approach to learning.

For example, if you want to prepare a dance performance for an occasion, how would you like to learn it from the given options -

  1. See the videos for the subject matter and prepare accordingly
  2. Try listening to the subject matter through a podcast, radio, or other auditory techniques
  3. Reading the subject matter through books or writings
  4. Trying do it in front of other people and learn accordingly

Although studies reflect that learning outcomes are not a direct outcome of learning choices, efforts are on the rise to suit the interest and convenience of the learner. In my LinkedIn survey, results were something like this -

Visual/Animated — 30%

Auditory/Listening — 0%

Reading/ Writing — 30%

Kinesthetics — 40%

However, the number of people who voted was ten only. So, I cannot comment on the result. One of the commentators pointed out that it depends on the type of content which decides the mode of learning, and I quote -

“Depends on the kind of content. Video has helped gather information about generic or information-dense topics, and it is also entertaining. Listening has helped in understanding deeper topics: especially podcasts and audiobooks. Reading has had the most impact in developing a deep understanding of core concepts like physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Although, I feel understanding is like a puzzle. We keep finding little puzzle pieces to add to the picture from several different sources. Reading + listening + watching + doing — we need to try all possible ways until we see the picture.”

Now, you might ask why learning outcomes are not improving despite having the latest technologies and stuff. Allow me to share my experience with you, from two decades of learning and a decade of teaching experience have taught me that learning is a result of thinking, and thinking is uncomfortable; it takes effort.

What we are offering is learning solutions that are based on convenience rather than rightness. When the learner is provided with information conveniently, it stops him from thinking and doing painful mental labor. Learners get delusional and spend long hours just sitting and consuming content mindlessly and passively. Consuming content is not a bad habit, but passive learning is the one.

From experience, I can say that peer-to-peer learning and engagement with fellow learners and teachers are helpful. When we engage with others, our brains have to think, analyze, and speak in a synchronized manner; thereby improving our learning outcomes. When it comes to studying material, we have abundance, and presently gamified learning, animated learning is offering promise to revolutionize learning outcomes.

In the context of India, I can say that the teaching profession is more related to jobs or employment than the education itself. Students want jobs or marks rather than knowledge or learning through the critical thinking process: it promotes quick learning techniques or tricks, heavily prevalent in the education sector.

However, they can not be blamed as India is facing a very high unemployment rate in present times. Education in India is seen as a ladder to social mobility and as a tool to increase the status of an individual in society. When, as a society, we are spending billions, there is a need to think about it rationally.

Increased spending or adopting high-tech technology will not cure the sick education sector.

First, we must find the true purpose of education: and this should not be related to the status, employment, marks, and societal validation. It is curiosity that drives the learning, and improvement keeps it going. We must instill it in young minds; make them free from fear of their future. Freeing them in the truest sense can only bring revolution in this sector.

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