The Science of Smart: How People Learn

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The concept of learning is simple, right?

Here’s the learning process in a nutshell. It’s the process of moving information from out there, from external stimuli, to in here, inside our heads, and making that knowledge our own. But it turns out that learning is not so simple and obvious. We read and we memorize and we practice, and still the information doesn’t always stick.

Everyone can learn more effectively. Successful learning doesn’t require fancy schools, elaborate training sessions, or expensive technology. It just takes an understanding of how the brain – your brain- really works. People learn in a variety of ways. Identifying and understanding your learning style can help you maximize your educational experiences by finding ways to make learning more efficient.

What the Vark?

One of the most common and widely used categorizations of the various types of learning styles is Neil D. Fleming’s VARK model. The VARK model, which stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities, was developed by Fleming to help students learn more about their individual learning preferences. These preferences are about the ways that they want to take-in and give-out information.

In Fleming’s model, learners are identified by whether they have a preference for visual learning (pictures, movies, diagrams), auditory learning (music, discussion, lectures), reading and writing (making lists, reading textbooks, taking notes), or kinesthetic learning (movement, experiments, hands-on activities).

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Try asking a group of people how to spell a difficult word. Watch what they do…some close their eyes and whisper to themselves, some appear to be writing with an invisible pen, some hunt around for paper so they can write with a real pen or pencil. You see? Some people hear the spelling, some see it, and some feel it.

Despite the criticism and lack of empirical support, the VARK model remains fairly popular among both students and educators. Many students immediately recognize that they are drawn to a particular learning style. Others may find that their learning preferences lie somewhere in the middle. For example, a student might feel that both visual and auditory learning is the most appealing.

VARK research shows an increase in single preferences with age. Via VARK Learn Limited, the most recent analysis shows that for those under 18 years of age there were 36.2% with a single preference and 63.8% with some form of multimodality. For those aged 55+ there were 43.2% with a single preference and 56.8% who had multimodal preferences. Data also shows that with age the proportion with a Read/Write single preference increases as the proportion with a Kinesthetic single preference decreases.

The VARK model also shows significant differences between the learning styles of men and women. Men have more Kinesthetic responses and women more Read/write responses.

Life experiences will also change your learning preferences. Some people report that when they were younger their VARK profile would have been different and that it is their exposure to different life experiences (travel, recreation, work, and relationships) that would have made a change in how they prefer to learn.

At this point in our lives, after various years of schooling and degrees, most of us probably have a good sense of how we learn best. But the VARK model tells you something else about yourself that you may or may not know. Your learning style can be used to understand your boss, your colleagues, your parents, your partner, your customers, your teacher, your relatives, your clients and yourself. It has helped people understand each other and assists them to learn more effectively in many situations.

Learn more about VARK learning styles here.

Not sure what type of learner you are? Take the VARK Assessment online.

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