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Improve Teaching and Testing Outcomes by Applying the VARK Concept

As an educator, you may sometimes need to lift the academic performance of an entire class. Or you may need to find better ways to support your under-performers. You may want to know if you are providing a fair opportunity for all students to succeed, or if you are unwittingly favoring certain types of learners. You may also want to ensure better long-term retention of your material, especially if it is foundational to further learning and career success.

Having students complete the VARK Questionnaire can make achieving these objectives significantly easier. The VARK Questionnaire is a simple 16-question, multiple-choice assessment that identifies preferred learning styles: Visual (V), Auditory (A), Reading/Writing (R), and Kinesthetic (K). The acronym “VARK” refers to the four sensory modalities of student learning that were described in a 1992 study by Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mills after thousands of hours of classroom observation. Their research showed:

  • Students’ preferred learning modes have a significant influence on their behavior and learning.
  • Students’ preferred learning modes should be matched with appropriate learning strategies.
  • Information that is accessed through students’ use of their modality preferences shows an increase in their levels of comprehension, motivation, and metacognition.

Some students may prefer one learning style over the others, but 50 to 70% of students are multimodal learners. While it may be easier than ever to incorporate multimedia presentations to support multimodal learning, studies show that students benefit from learning and testing via their optimum learning styles whenever the content is conducive to those styles.     

Understanding the VARK Learning Styles

Visual learners learn best through observation, using tools like charts, tables, maps, diagrams, graphs, flash cards, and illustrations. Auditory learners do best when information is spoken and heard. They benefit from lectures, group discussions, and conversations. Those in the read/write learning style excel when information inputs and outputs are presented as text and by actively reading and re-writing content. They perform best with reading and writing assignments that allow students to outline their understanding through prose. Finally, the kinesthetic learner does best by doing, practicing, and experiencing. This can involve multisensory learning, exploration, practice, projects, and hands-on experiences.

Support Students by VARK Sensory Modalities

Once you’ve grouped your students according to their preferred learning modes, you can accomplish any of the following objectives with this information:

  1. Plan and support customized teaching and testing for each group’s strengths.
  2. Ensure fairness and equal opportunities to succeed by creating a multi-modal experience that does not favor any one particular learning style, but incorporates a balance of each modality.
  3. Better connect course content to optimum modalities and instructors to students.
  4. Help students optimize their learning strategies and study habits for better comprehension and retention of information. 

How ExamSoft Supports Programs That Use VARK

Kevin Stringfellow, Associate Director of Client Solutions at ExamSoft, says, “We can deliver exams in different ways to support each type of learning style. With a kinesthetic assessment, for example, we can support the learner by allowing an assignment to be uploaded. This could be a presentation or video of the student showing how they understand the presented materials. The same could be done with an essay for read/write learners, an oral presentation for auditory learners, or an infographic for visual learners.”

For example, in a medical program in which the students are being taught to use a blood pressure monitor, the instructor could show how to use it in a way that works for visual and kinesthetic learners. At the same time, reading and auditory materials can make the experience just as valuable for the other learning styles. The possibilities are endless and ExamSoft works with educators to explore them. You can deploy traditional exams through Examplify, audience engagement exams through ExamNow, or instruct students to create an assignment and upload it into the ExamSoft portal to be scored with an ExamSCORE rubric.

“Regardless of student learning styles, appropriate assessments can be deployed to determine how well students understand the content and apply the knowledge. ExamSoft is flexible and can support assessment for all modalities, including hybrid or hyflex models,” says Stringfellow.

“As to using ExamSoft to foster customized learning tailored to each modality,” Stringfellow adds, “ExamNow is the audience response tool that allows you to deliver assessments over any internet-enabled device. You can administer quizzes from a question bank during a lecture to support the auditory and read/write styles. You could have a presentation or remote conference as a live learning experience to support the visual and kinesthetic learners. Within that learning experience, the instructor could deploy a quiz through ExamNow and gauge knowledge in real time. This would provide instant insights on how effectively students are learning.” 

How Students Can Benefit from Understanding Their Learning Styles

ExamSoft also recommends engaging with students about what they learn from taking the VARK assessment. Stringfellow recalls, “During my time at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, the questionnaire was deployed to all incoming students. Students would take their results and write a reflection on them. They would look at the report and write about why it was helpful to understand their styles and how they could leverage tools to help them learn over the course of their curriculum.”

In any program, ExamSoft encourages instructors to identify the learning style of their students, and follow up with questions after the assessment:

  • Did you expect to be this type of learner or something else?
  • What were the most and least surprising findings for you?
  • Now that you know your preferred learning style, what are some tools you can leverage to make the most of it?

ExamSoft offers assessments to help students with specific learning styles. With these different types of assessments, it is possible to administer a specific test to cater to each of the four categories of learning modalities. Any of the learning styles can be incorporated in teaching and testing; imagination is really the only limitation. Over time, factoring in the VARK model enables instructors to develop best practices to equally engage each learning style and to create better learning outcomes.


Defined Learning: Considering VARK Modalities to Support Personalized Learning

KU: 4 Different Learning Styles You Should Know – The VARK Model

VARK: The VARK Modalities

VARK: The VARK Questionnaire

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