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An Introduction to VAK Learning Styles

The VAK learning styles model and related VAK learning styles tests offer a relatively simple methodology. Therefore it is important to remember that these concepts and tools are aids to understanding overall personality, preferences and strengths - which is always a mixture in each individual person.

  • As with any methodology or tool, use VAK and other learning styles ideas with care and interpretation according to the needs of the situation. They are guide as to the mixture of preferences, strengths and learning styles in an individual, not a basis for deciding on one exclusive preference or approach to the exclusion of everything else.

On this point, the Kolb Learning Styles page offers additional notes on the use of Learning Styles in young people's education.

In addition to the VAK materials and tests below, further VAK (and VARK and VACT) explanation is on the page dealing with Multiple Intelligences and VAK .

What are VAK Learning Styles?

The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic learning styles model or 'inventory', usually abbreviated to VAK, provides a simple way to explain and understand your own learning style (and learning styles of others).

'Learning style' should be interpreted to mean an individual mixture of styles. Everyone has a mixture of strengths and preferences. No-one has exclusively one single style or preference. Please bear this in mind when using these ideas.

The original VAK concepts were first developed by psychologists and teaching (of children) specialists such as Fernald, Keller, Orton, Gillingham, Stillman and Montessori, starting in the 1920's.

  • VAK theory is now a favourite of the accelerated learning community because its principles and benefits extend to all types of learning and development, far beyond its early applications. 
See also Kolb's learning styles model , and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences model in which section you'll find more information about VAK, VARK and VACT learning styles theories. Katherine Benziger's methodology is also useful and relevant, as is the various material on the Personality Styles section. 

  • These models provide additional perspectives of the way we each think and relate to the world, and where are natural strengths lie. The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic learning styles model does not overlay Gardner's multiple intelligences  or Kolb's theory, rather the VAK model provides a different perspective for understanding and explaining a person's preferred or dominant thinking and learning style, and strengths. 
  • Gardner's theory is one way of looking at thinking styles; Kolb is another way; VAK is another. The more perspectives you have, the better you see and understand your own personality and learning styles, and the learning styles of employees, colleagues and staff.

Learning style Description
Visual seeing and reading
Auditory listening and speaking
Kinesthetic touching and doing

N.B. Kinesthetic style is also referred to as 'Physical', or 'Tactile', or 'Touchy-Feely'.

According to the VAK model, most people possess a dominant or preferred learning style, however some people have a mixed and evenly balanced blend of the three styles.

VAK Models

The VAK learning styles model provides a very easy and quick reference inventory by which to assess people's preferred learning styles, and then most importantly, to design learning methods and experiences that match people's preferences:

  1. Visual learning style involves the use of seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc.
  2. Auditory learning style involves the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises.
  3. Kinesthetic learning involves physical experience - touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences.

The word 'kinesthetic' describes the sense of using muscular movement - the physical sense in other words. Kinesthesia and kinesthesis are root words, derived from the Greek Kineo, meaning move , and aisthesis, meaning sensation. Kinesthetic therefore describes a learning style which involves the stimulation of nerves in the body's muscles, joints and tendons. This relates to the colloquial expression ' touchy-feely ' ('kineo-aisthesis' = 'move-sensation').

The VAK Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic model and the free test below provides a free quick easy way to assess your own or other people's preferred learning styles. Please note the test below is a simple indicator of preferred learning styles - it is a good version to use given that it is free, but it's not meant for rigorous scientific research. This VAK assessment tool is a good basic guide to personal learning styles, but it's is not a scientifically validated instrument.

VAK Indicators and Self-Test

Here is a free VAK learning style indicator, which can be used as a questionnaire or 'test' to assess your own preferred learning style or styles, or the VAK learning styles of your people. 

Score each statement and then add the totals for each column to indicate learning style dominance and mix. Your learning style is also a reflection of the type of person you are - how you perceive things and the way that you relate to the world. This questionnaire helps you to improve your understanding of yourself and your strengths. There are no right or wrong answers  

You can use various scoring systems to suit your purposes:

Method 1 - Simplest and quickest - select one from each line and add the total selections for each column. The totals will indicate your relative learning style preference and mix.

Method 2 - More subtle measurement - takes longer, but probably worth it - score each option either 1, 2 or 3 points. Clearer indication will be produced if no options in a single line are scored the same, but it's up to you. You get out what you put in. Decide whether to allow equal scores or not and most importantly then apply the rule for the whole of the questionnaire.

Method 3 - Re-structure the matrix into a multiple choice-style questionnaire - takes longer, but is more likely to avoid 'leading' or influencing the person being assessed because the format is less transparent. Each of the 30 questions would be structured as per this example, and could either ask for a single selection or to score each option 1, 2, or 3:

Q1 When operating new equipment for the first time I prefer to..

a) read the instructions
b) listen or ask for an explanation
c) have a go and learn by 'trial and error'

(A scoring grid would need to be created so as to enable calculation of totals for all a's b's and c's.)

Method 4 - As method 3, but mix up the order of the options within each question, so as to reduce the transparency of the options and which style they relate to - this takes even longer and is a pain in the backside to score because 'a, b, c' would no longer correlate to 'V, A, K', so you'd need quite a clever scoring grid to achieve this, and a reasonably serious project to justify the effort.

Visual Auditory Kinesthetic /physical
1 when operating new equipment for the first time I prefer to read the instructions listen to or ask for an explanation have a go and learn by 'trial and error'
2 when seeking travel directions I.. look at a map ask for spoken directions follow my nose or maybe use a compass
3 when cooking a new dish I.. follow a recipe call a friend for an explanation follow my instinct, tasting as I cook
4 to teach someone something I.. write instructions explain verbally demonstrate and let them have a go
5 I tend to say.. "I see what you mean" "I hear what you are saying" "I know how you feel"
6 I tend to say.. "show me" "tell me" "let me try"
7 I tend to say.. "watch how I do it" "listen to me explain" "you have a go"
8 complaining about faulty goods I tend to.. write a letter phone go back to the store, or send the faulty item to the head office
9 I prefer these leisure activities museums or galleries music or conversation physical activities or making things
10 when shopping generally I tend to.. look and decide discuss with shop staff try on, handle or test
11 choosing a holiday I.. read the brochures listen to recommendations imagine the experience
12 choosing a new car I.. read the reviews discuss with friends test-drive what you fancy
13 learning a new skill I watch what the teacher is doing I talk through with the teacher exactly what I am supposed to do I like to give it a try and work it out as I go along by doing it
14 choosing from a restaurant menu.. I imagine what the food will look like I talk through the options in my head I imagine what the food will taste like
15 when listening to a band I sing along to the lyrics (in my head or out loud!) I listen to the lyrics and the beats I move in time with the music
16 when concentrating I.. focus on the words or pictures in front of me discuss the problem and possible solutions in my head move around a lot, fiddle with pens and pencils and touch unrelated things
17 I remember things best by.. writing notes or keeping printed details saying them aloud or repeating words and key points in my head doing and practising the activity, or imagining it being done
18 my first memory is of looking at something being spoken to doing something
19 when anxious, I.. visualise the worst-case scenarios talk over in my head what worries me most can't sit still, fiddle and move around constantly
20 I feel especially connected to others because of how they look what they say to me how they make me feel
21 when I revise for an exam, I.. write lots of revision notes (using lots of colours!) I talk over my notes, to myself or to other people imagine making the movement or creating the formula
22 when explaining something to someone, I tend to.. show them what I mean explain to them in different ways until they understand encourage them to try and talk them through the idea as they try
23 my main interests are photography or watching films or people-watching listening to music or listening to the radio or talking to friends physical /sports activities or fine wines, fine foods or dancing
24 most of my free time is spent.. watching television talking to friends doing physical activity or making things
25 when I first contact a new person.. I arrange a face to face meeting I talk to them on the telephone I try to get together to share an activity
26 I first notice how people.. look and dress sound and speak stand and move
27 if I am very angry.. I keep replaying in my mind what it is that has upset me I shout lots and tell people how I feel I stomp about, slam doors and throw things
28 I find it easiest to remember faces names things I have done
29 I think I can tell someone is lying because.. they avoid looking at you their voice changes the vibes I get from them
30 When I'm meeting with an old friend.. I say "it's great to see you!" I say "it's great to hear your voice!" I give them a hug or a handshake
Totals Visual Auditory Kinesthetic/physical

However, when you calculate the totals, ensure you use the chosen method consistently throughout the questionnaire. 

  • The total scores for each style indicate your relative preferred learning style or styles. 
  • There are no right or wrong answers. Some people have very strong preferences, even to the extent that they have little or no preference in one or two of the styles. 
  • Other people have more evenly balanced preferences, with no particularly strong style. The point is simply to try to understand as much as you can about yourself and your strengths (your preferred style or styles) and then make best use of learning methods which suit your strengths (your preferred style or styles).