by Gary Whitfield - Instructional Designer.

VAK learning styles

Shakespeare penned in Hamlet (1602) “Though this be madness yet there is method in it”. Certainly there is a foundation of learning methodology behind every piece of madness called instructional design.  One of the most commonly accepted methodology which some instructional designers base their work on is the Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles model.

Humour me as I describe them briefly:

VAK learning styles
Multiple intelligence theory


Preferred learning styles

According to the VAK model, most people have a dominant or preferred learning style and there are plenty of online tests which will ask you a sample of questions to gauge your preferred style. Some people also have a mixed and evenly balanced blend of the three styles. But, exactly what is the validity of the VAK model? Certainly Howard Garner’s multiple intelligences picks up on the fact VAK does not cover everything in terms of how people think, behave and learn.

Musical? I can only imagine David Brent from The Office hijacking a training session:


Or, why not Jack Black teaching math through singing?


I am teasing a bit as I know there is plenty of evidence of retaining knowledge through song. Even for people suffering Alzheimer’s, the last memory they will lose is the lyrics to songs (which is why I am creating a song for all my loved ones… just in case).

Application of learning styles

Either way, most people are aware of applying any learning styles with care and interpretation according to the needs of the situation.  Do you want the honest truth?  Learning styles are more content centric than learner centric. When you are designing a course, you need to look at the content and decide which of the styles would be the best mechanism to deliver the content. For example, if the content wanted to teach you where Gabon is... there is no point having a voice over say "Gabon is a Central African nation that shares borders with Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and the Atlantic Ocean." I don't really care if you have an Aural/linguistic preference ... getting a map out for you to visually see where it exists is going to work better for any learner.

Look for yourself:


You see?…learning style is actually content style.  It is about selecting the correct media to match the content and method.

Think this is not empirically backed up? Check out a recent article one of our directors posted titled “The concept of different learning styles is one of the greatest neuroscience myths”.

Within the article, Olivia Goldhill quotes from a 2008 study by Harold Pashler, psychology professor at UC San Diego, he wrote:

Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice.

So please, instructional designers, find another rock to build your design methodology on because this one is a bit shaky!