learning styles

Determine the right way to improve learning

Did you struggle with learning activities in school? At work? Maybe you had trouble absorbing new ideas or concepts? Who did you blame for that? Your teacher? Mentor? Book? Yourself? Perhaps the reason for that was a misplaced learning style.

Am I too stupid to understand it?

A few months ago, my fiancée shared with me a book about NVC (Nonviolent Communication). It was a whole new concept for me. I struggled for a while with the book, and then I just put it on a shelf and have forgotten about it. I have never used this method in real life – it was hard for me to put this idea in my head.

Then two months ago, I participated in the ICAgile Certificate Professional – Agile Coaching course. The NVC was one of the concepts there. I thought, “not again”. I didn’t want to learn this method once more as I already tried and failed. The trainer described the concept shortly and then asked all participants to use it in our communication in smaller groups. It clicked, and I was shocked! I started to understand it. After the course, I grabbed Marshall Rosenberg’s book and read it in one stand. Then I read one more publication and audiobook about Nonviolent Communication.

What changed?

I wondered why so suddenly I was able to absorb this knowledge. I noticed two factors:

  • When I started to read about NVC for the first time, it was very new to me. I didn’t have any anchor in my mind, where I could place this idea.
  • I usually learn new things by listening to and watching others. When I know a little, then I can develop that skill or knowledge by taking information from books or by experiencing it.

The real reason why I could not acquire this knowledge was a mismatch with my learning style.

VAK Learning Style Model

Each person is different and may require a different style of study. Therefore, I want to share the idea of the VAK Learning Styles Model with you. Thanks to this classification, you will understand the challenges around learning and teaching and how to surpass them.

What is it?

The VAK Learning Styles Model was developed by psychologists and teaching (of children) specialists such as Fernald, Keller, Orton, Gillingham, Stillman and Montessori, in the 1920s and used ever since. It suggests that most people can be divided into one of three preferred styles of learning. These three styles are as follows:

  • Visual: a visually-dominant learner better absorbs information and may use them successfully afterwards when presented as books, charts, pictures, diagrams, written instructions, etc. (this study style is preferred by around 65% of the population)
  • Auditory: an auditory-dominant learner prefers to listen about the subject. Such learner will like to use audio recordings (as audiobooks), oral presentations, speeches, lectures, interviews or records of his voice as repetitions. A person from that group will get the best results when learned with someone else – by being able to ask questions and get information from another person (this learning style is preferred by around 30% of the population).
  • Kinesthetic: a kinesthetic-dominant learner prefers experiments. He or she will love to try new skills in action – by own experience or role-plays (this study style is preferred by around 5% of the population).
the VAK Learning Styles Model

Visuals vs reading/writing learning styles

In 1987, Neil D. Fleming proposed to split the Visual style of learning into two separate groups – Visuals which contains all graphical data representations, mind maps, etc. and reading/writing as using more traditional ways of representing ideas – via books or notes. He created the VARK Learning Style Model (if we take this model into account, we will have around 30-35% of the population in each of these two groups – Visual learning style will have few more points, but it depends on the paper).

It does not mean that one person sticks into a single group. It just means that one type of learning style will be dominant in the learner. Therefore, you have to take more variables into account as the impact on the study styles may have:

  • level of expertise,
  • group activities,
  • motivation,
  • interest in the field of study,
  • etc.

Should I take into account different learning styles?

For most people, the visual learning style is dominant because it is deeply rooted in how our educational system works. It, however, may not mean that auditory and kinesthetic study activities should be skipped.

When preparing a workshop or lecture, it is excellent to use exercises from at least two different learning groups (think about that next time, when the audience will ask you about the availability of your presentation after the class).

Coloured papers, markers, posters with content
Flip charts
Opportunities for a verbal exchange on the group level
Panel discussions
Verbal explanations
Field Trips
Prepared mock-ups
Examples of tools that may be used for different learning styles

Test your learning style

You may be intuitively aware of your dominant learning style, but if not, then you can use this quick test to check you out. It contains sets of different learning opportunities.

The test was originally published on the businessballs.com website.

Let’s go back to my example

I tried to read the book about NVC when that field of interest was brand new for me. I know nothing regards it, and I did not have any anchors to start from. The auditory learning style is dominant for me when studying something new.

After the workshop, when I had some anchors from where I could develop my knowledge and skill, I moved to the Visual learning style – to be the book. It was an entirely smooth transition for me even before I struggled with this concept. Thanks to the NVC introduction done on the workshop, I connected my current knowledge with new ideas and expanded my understanding thanks to them.


So next time, when you will be learning something new, and you will have trouble to adsorb that knowledge, check different techniques for study – maybe you unintentionally used mismatched learning techniques.

Further readings

A natural born Scrum Master. Always mentally attached to Agile - initially a member of Development Team, eventually Scrum Master in the Scrum Team and Agile Coach in the organisation. The most important for me is to deliver value to end-users thanks to engagement of motivated team. For the past few years I have been gaining experience in project, product and team management. I prefer people-oriented managing style. I constantly repeat to everyone that good work environment can give huge benefit in to the project, its product quality and working environment. Because of that I became Scrum Master to fully support my teams as servant leader by using transparency, inspection and adaptation. I help other teams to be better specialists in their field of action. I see their success as my own even if I am working from shadows. I love to share my experience and knowledge on conferences and meetups - as a speaker and participant. Still trying to discover new ways of work and to improve my workshop.

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