Learning Styles

The VARK model of learning styles was developed in 1987 by Dr. Neil Fleming. It identifies four learning styles and is one of the most widely known models (although there are many models, with some studies indicating as many as 70 different learning styles).

Dr. Fleming described the four learning styles as:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Reading/Writing
  • Kinesthetic

Fleming also created a list a questions to help people determine which learning style they preferred. He asked respondents to imagine themselves learning a new skill, like a sport, then asked: In which way would you learn this skill the best?

  1. Looking at pictures of people performing the skill
  2. Listening to an expert explain how to do the task
  3. Reading about how to perform the task in a book
  4. Watching someone else perform the skill and then trying it yourself

The answer selected gave an indication of preference of learning style. (For example, someone who imagined themselves learning the skill best by looking at pictures was more likely to be a visual learner).

The debate over learning styles

Some critics of learning styles point to a lack of evidence that learning styles exist. Others say we don’t know what makes up a learning style, whether it’s an attribute, preference, habit, or biological trait, so how can we define it? Still others cite the lack of evidence that accommodating specific learning styles in the classroom makes any difference at all in academic outcomes.

What we do know is that the learning styles model evolved in response to a legitimate dilemma. As Larry Spence, in his article “Getting Over Learning Styles,” explains: “Learning style ideas grew out of classroom wisdom. Given any pedagogical effort, some students learn and some do not.”

He explains further, “Every teacher encounters students who seem to learn in unexpected ways. Every student sometimes gets stumped by methods that work for everybody else…Neuroscientists agree that every brain is unique—more singular in structure than DNA or fingerprints.”

Spence concludes, “We haven’t figured out how to deal with this diversity in learning. We decide what to do in the classroom based on crude averages or on the techniques that we like or do best, leaving many students to flounder or figure out how to learn on their own.”

The role of cognitive skills in learning styles

Cognitive skills are the core skills the brain uses to think and learn, and may offer insights into the dilemma of some students learning well while other students do not, and even may explain learning style preferences.

Cognitive strengths and weaknesses vary from person to person, creating a huge range when it comes to learning abilities and struggles. For example, look at the differences in these cognitive profiles:

Cognitive Skills Profile and Pre and Post Brain Training Percentile Scores

These profiles show how three different children performed cognitively in memory, visual processing, logic & reasoning, processing speed, auditory processing and word-attack (two skills that are critical for reading success). It stands to reason, for example, that someone with strong auditory processing and word-attack skills might learn exceptionally well through reading, while someone with weak reading skills might learn better kinesthetically, visually, or audibly.

The influence of cognitive strengths and weaknesses on learning style preferences becomes especially interesting when you consider that weak cognitive skills don’t have to stay weak, they can be identified and strengthened through a process known as cognitive training, or brain training.

The following graph shows the cognitive performance of 17,998 children and adults before and after brain training, revealing dramatic gains in nine core areas of cognitive performance, including IQ.* The scores are represented in percentiles, which show where someone ranks compared to 100 of their peers. Here are the results:

Graph of Pre and Post Percentiles of clients before and after cognitive training

*These are the results of past clients. To learn more about brain training results, visit www.learningrx.com/results and download the full report.

If you or someone you love is struggling with learning, reading, attention, or memory, you can at least find out why. The first step is to take a Cognitive Skills Assessment to identify weak cognitive skills. If weak cognitive skills are at the root of struggles with learning or life, brain training may offer a life changing solution.