To VAK or Not to VAK?
A lot of people have heard about VAK (Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic) learning strategies. So, I get a lot of questions about how to use different study strategies for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.
My short answer is: Don’t. There are a lot of VAK-oriented study tips around, but they focus on inefficient, “low-gear” methods of learning. We must be careful about applying the VAK model to studying.
Focusing on learning styles confuse students. A student may find out that he or she learns best visually, but the student can’t change the way teachers present information or the type of work they are required to do. It’s certainly not helpful for a student to think, “I’m a kinesthetic learner, so there’s no point in listening to lectures.”
Our goal is to help students take charge of their own learning. VAK does not offer them any power.
A Common Element in What Works
You can find study strategies geared towards ”visual, auditory, and kinesthetic” learning styles, they are not efficient. Many are not even effective. VAK-based study tips promote memorization, not long-term learning. For example, one strategy suggested for auditory learners is to record class lectures and listen to them again later while going over their notes. Kinesthetic learners can re-write their class notes. Visual learners can highlight their notes in different colors or translate them into diagrams.
You may have noticed a common thread in all these tips: take notes during class and review them later. “Reviewing” does nothing to help students process information. Reviewing does not help students make new connections or engage with the material on a deeper level. Reviewing is a very “low-gear” learning strategy.
High -Gear vs Low-Gear Learning
High-gear learning is about using our brain’s natural ability strategically. It is about *processing* information for faster and more effective learning. The bonus is that high-gear learning is far more enjoyable than “low-gear”.
As you can probably imagine, “low-gear” learning is a slog! It’s tedious, slow, boring, and tremendously ineffective. Unfortunately, it’s our standard default. Read. Listen. Review. Memorize. Repeat. Students quickly forget what they’re supposed to learn because learning has no deeper meaning to them.
It’s easy for students to forget what they memorized in low gear because it doesn’t have any deeper meaning to them.
Students can shift into high-gear by asking questions strategically. Instead of just memorizing what they’ve written down, they should ask themselves questions: “Why is it this way and not another way?” “How did it happen?” “What do I think about it?” or “What does this remind me of?” Students can shift into high-gear by making connections between what they’re learning and things they already understand.
So Who Is the VAK Model Useful For?
The VAK model is still a useful tool for teachers. Teachers should use various “VAK” modalities when teaching and planning lessons. For example, a lesson could include diagrams for the visual learners, lectures and videos for the auditory learners, and activities for the kinesthetic learners. This model allows teachers to give students more options for how they learn.
What to Do
Don’t limit students by focusing too much on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning strategies. These strategies are more useful for teachers planning lessons for diverse classrooms than they are for individual students. Instead, use high-gear learning strategies to access the information on a deeper level, faster! Often, you’ll find that the tedious work of memorizing facts ends up taking care of itself.
Instead, we need to coach students on asking questions and making connections. This process aligns to the biology of the brain and catapults learners – regardless of their VAK preferences – up to high gear learning!