Exploring the VARK

Nov 24 2010 Published by under Learning

Yesterday's email queue brought the table of contents for Advances in Physiology Education. One article caught my eye- A comparison between learning style preferences and sex, status, and course performance- by John L. Dobson of the University of Florida. The abstract follows:

A comparison between learning style preferences and
sex, status, and course performance. Adv Physiol Educ 34: 197–204,
2010; doi:10.1152/advan.00078.2010.—Students have learning style
preferences that are often classified according to their visual (V), aural
(A), read-write (R), and/or kinesthetic (K) sensory modality preferences
(SMP). The purposes of this investigation were to compare
student perceived and assessed SMPs and examine the associations
between those SMPs and status (i.e., undergraduates vs. graduates),
sex, and course performance. Students from the fall 2009 APK 3110
and APK 6116 Exercise Physiology courses were asked to indicate
their perceived SMPs and complete the standard VARK SMP assessment.
There were 64 student respondents: 50 undergraduates and 14
graduates (40 women and 24 men). According to the perceived SMP
results, the largest number of respondents chose V (36%), followed by
R (28%), K (19%), and A (17%). In terms of assessed SMPs, the
largest number of respondents were classified as VARK (37%),
followed by R (14%), AK (11%), K (8%), VK (6%), ARK (6%), A
(5%), VAK (3%), RK (3%), V (2%), AR (2%), and VRK (2%).
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents correctly matched their perceived
and dominant assessed SMP. There was no statistical association
between SMP and status. There was a very nearly significant
relationship between sex and both perceived (2  7.18, P  0.06)
and assessed (2  17.36, P  0.09) SMP. Finally, there was a
significant relationship between perceived SMP and course scores
(P  0.01 by ANOVA). Post hoc tests revealed that the K group
scored significantly lower than the other three modality groups.

Sex differences pulled me into the article; other questions kept me digging. The VARK site gives a bit more detail about the instrument used to classify learning preferences. As noted in the abstract and article, there are four preferences: V (visual), A (aural), R (read-write), and K (kinesthetic). While many of us know that one of these is our most important learning style, most of us have multimodal preferences; we like to learn through more than one modality. The online VARK instrument has been statistically validated, but longitudinal studies have not been performed to see if VARK remains stable over time (like MBTI or Strengthsfinder). Younger participants generally show more K preference than older people, so VARK may change as we grow up, perhaps in response to an educational system dominated by R. Alternatively, there may be generational differences in VARK. Could it be that GenXers and Millennials, raised with television and multimedia, are permanently skewed toward K? Only time will tell. There is even a book about using VARK preferences to improve performance via athletic coaching!

Courtesy of PhotoXpress

The Dobson study presented few real differences in its small sample of physiology students; most impressively it demonstrated an association between K preference and worse academic performance. This association is not surprising; higher education clearly rewards those who learn and express their learning by reading, writing, and listening.  Would any of us in academia be successful if we didn't have tolerable R levels? I seriously doubt it.

What I wanted to know is whether VARK predicts vocational choices. I know bright kids who opted out of college; I wonder how many of these children have strong K preferences that our higher learning systems do not reward? I remember a couple of young adults who started college and performed adequately, but dropped out because they could not stand the idea of ending up in an office all day. Sounds like an ongoing K preference to me!

I am not in a position to perform this study; anyone out there who is can have the idea (just let me know the results when you publish)!

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