The VARK Learning Theory

VARK is an acronym that stands for visual, audial/aural, read/write, and kinesthetic (Fleming & Mills, 1992; Fleming & Baume (2007). The VARK Learning Style Inventory categorizes students’ into one of these four categories based on how they prefer to receive and deliver information (Lang, 2004). Students who are capable of using more than one learning style equally well are categorized as multi-modal learners (Fleming & Mills, 1992). The VARK Learning Style Questionnaire consists of 16 questions and the highest score received in each category determines a student’s learning style.
According to Nilson (2010) the VARK was developed by Fleming and Mills as a framework that reflects the preferred physical sense of learners during intake and putting out information. The VARK model is an expansion of the VAK model, however, VARK further differentiate the visual category into graphical and textual or visual and read/write learners (Murphy, Gray, Straja & Bogert , 2004). The VARK was the first model to systematically use a series of question with help sheets for students, teachers, and employers in order to classify individuals’ preferred way of taking in or giving out information (Fleming & Baume, 2006). The four categories of The VARK Learning Style Inventory are summarized in Table 2.
According to Fleming (2006) and Fleming and Baume (2007) and Drago and Wagner (2004) visual learners prefer to use materials such as charts, graphs, and other symbols to take in and give out information. For these learners, sight is very important especially when taking information in and when organizing ideas. They tend to use colors and highlighters when processing information and the use of diagrams, drawing, and/or recall through pictures to reinforce information and idea intake is recommended. The read and write learners prefer to learn from printed textual learning materials. They tend to use lists, headings, dictionaries, glossaries, definitions, handouts, textbooks, and lecture notes during taking in and giving out information or ideas (Fleming, 2006). Aural leaners on the other hand, prefer to learn through spoken words lessons, talking, debate, and discussions. They tend to understand more when information is explained to them. They learn best through lectures, tutorials, debates, and discussions (Fleming, 2006; Tennent, Becker & Keho, 2005). Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn through direct practice, hands-on activities, and learning by doing (Fleming, 2006). These learners are commonly referred to as “hands on learners”. They learn best through activities such as field trips, tours, field immersion experiences, apprenticeship and activities where they can engage all senses when taking in and giving out ideas or information (Ramayah, Sivanandan, Nasrijal, Letchumanan & Leog (2009). Finally, multimodal learners are students whole learning is based on more than one style. These learners take longer to gather and process information but tend to have a deeper and broader understanding of the information presented (Fleming, 2006). Multimodal learners can be further classified into bi model (VR, VK, AR, AK, AV, KR), tri model (VAK, VAR, VRK, and ARK) and quad model (VARK).
Literature Review of Studies that Used the VARK Questionnaire to Identify Learning Styles
French, Cosgriff, and Brown (2007) examined the learning styles of 120 occupational therapy students at La Trobe University using the VARK questionnaire. Of the 120 students, 33% were kinesthetic learners, 18.1% were quadmodal (where visual or aural learners were the majority, followed by bimodal, and tri-modal was the least learning style of preference for the occupational therapy students. Rathnakar et al. (2014) investigated learning styles of undergraduate medical students using the VARK questionnaire and the influence of sex and academic performance. Four hundred and fifteen second year medical students belonging to two batches participated in the study. Study results showed that 68.7% of participants were multi-modal. The predominant sensory modality was aural (45.5%), followed by kinesthetic with 33.1%. The study also found out that learning preference was not influenced by either sex or prior academic performance. A study by Meehan-Andrews (2009) examined the learning styles of first year health science students to find out the benefits that students received from each teaching strategy. The VARK questionnaire was used in this study to identify student learning style preference. The results indicated that the majority of students were unimodal (54%). Among the unimodal learners, 7% were visual learners, 3% were aural learners, 10% were Read/Write learners and 36% were kinesthetic. The other 46% were multi-modal learners, with 20% bimodal learners, 10% tri-modal, and 16% quadmodal. Finally, a study by Lincoln et al. (2006) investigated the learning styles of adult English as a second language (ESL) students in Northwest Arkansas using the VARK learning style questionnaire. A total of 69 students from 17 different countries participated in the study. The study found out that one third of participants preferred Read/Write learning style. The remaining participants, 17% were multi-modal learners, 4% visual learners, 25% kinesthetic learners, and 20% aural learners.

Validity and Reliability of the VARK learning style questionnaire.
Usability features of the VARK model were investigated by Wehrwein et al (2007). The researchers concluded that the VARK model encourages teachers to be aware of students’ differences before making decisions about what teaching strategies should be used to teach them, supports the idea of matching teaching methods and students preferences, encourages educators to use a variety of teaching strategies and assessment techniques, encourages educators to redesign resources and educational environments, and provides an opportunity for students to talk about their learning style with their teachers. However, the researchers noted that validity and reliability of VARK Questionnaire has not yet been fully verified. A study by Boatman,
Courtney, and Lee (2008) identified a few studies that have evaluated the quality of the VARK Questionnaire. Some of the limitation associated with the VARKs validity and reliability are discussed by Breckler, Joun and Ngo (2008) who proposed that the VARK questionnaire is not a complete inventory as it supplies the users with a simple profile of their sensory learning preferences. Another study by Leite, Svinicki, and Shi (2009) concluded that “researchers using the VARK should proceed with caution because the use and proposed interpretation of VARK scores have not yet received a comprehensive validation” (p. 15).

Boatman, K., Coatney, R., & Lee, W. (2008). See how they learn: the impact of faculty and student learning styles on student performance in introductory economics. The American Economist, 52(1), 39-48.
Breckler, J., Joun, D. & Ngo, H. (2008). Learning styles of physiology students interested in health professions, Advances in Physiology Education, 33(4), 30-36.
Drago, W., & Wagner, R. (2004). Vark preferred learning styles and online education.
Management Research News, 27(7), 1-13.
Fleming, N. (2005). I am different; not dumb. Modes of presentation (VARK) in the tertiary classroom. In A. Zelmer & L. Zelmer. (Eds). Research and development in the higher education, proceedings of the 1995 annual conference of the higher education and research development society of Australasia (HERDSA), HERDASA, 18 308-313.
Fleming, N. (2006). Teaching and Learning Styles VARK strategies. Christchurch, New Zealand: Neil D. Fleming.
Fleming, D., & Baume, D. (2007). Learning styles again: VARKing up the right tree! Educational Development, SEDA Ltd, 6(4), 4-7.
French, G., Cosgriff, T., & Brown, T. (2007). Learning style preferences of Australian occupation therapy students. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 54, 58-65.
Lang, C., Wong, L., & Fraser, J. (2005). Student perceptions of chemistry laboratory learning environments, student—teacher interactions and attitudes in secondary school gifted education in Singapore. Research in Science Education,35, 299-321.
Leite, W. L., Svinicki, M., & Shi, Y. (2010). Attempted validation of the scores of the VARK: Learning style inventory with multitrait-multimethod confirmatory factor analysis models. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 70, 323-339.
Meehan-Andrews, T. (2009). Teaching mode efficiency and learning preferences of first
year nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 29, 24-32.
Murphy, R., Gray, S., Straja, S., & Bogert, M. (2004). Student learning preferences and teaching implications. Journal of Dental Education, 68(8), 859-866.
Nilson, L. (2010). Teaching at its best: a research based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossy-Bass.
Ramayah, M., Sivanandan, L., Nasrijal, N. H., Letchumanan, T., Leong, L. C. (2009).
Preferred learning style: gender influences of preferred learning style among business students. Journal of US-China Public Administration, 6(4), 65-78.
Rathnakar, P., Ashwin, K., Sheetal, U., Ashok, K., Nandita, S., & Laxminarayana, A. (2014). Assessment of learning styles of undergraduate medical students using the VARK Questionnaire and Influence of sex and academic performance. Advances in Physiology Education, 38(3), 216-220.
Tennent, B., Becker, K., & Kehoe, J. (2005). Technology-enabled delivery and assessment
methods: are we addressing student expectations and learning preferences?.
Proceedings Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education
(ASCILITE) pp 649-659, Brisban, Australia.
Wehrwin, E., Lujan, H., & DiCarlo, S. (2007). Gender differences in learning preferences among undergraduate physiology students. Advances in Physiology Education, 31, 153-175.


2 thoughts on “The VARK Learning Theory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s