VAK Learning Styles

The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic learning styles model, usually abbreviated to VAK, provides a simple way to explain and understand your own learning style, and the learning styles of others. Most importantly, it helps you to design learning methods and experiences that match people's preferences.

This model uses the three main sensory receivers: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (movement) to determine the dominant learning style. It is based on modalities—channels by which human expression can take place and is composed of a combination of perception and memory.

Each of us has a natural preference for the way in which we prefer to receive, process and impart information. For example…

  • Some people like to “see” what you mean (Visual preference) 
  • Some people like to “hear” your ideas (Auditory preference)
  • Some people like to “experience” what you are talking about (Kinesthetic)

The VAK model provides additional perspectives of the way we each think and relate to the world, and where our natural strengths lie. It also provides a different perspective for understanding and explaining a person's preferred or dominant thinking and learning style.

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. 

The VAK learning styles model suggests that most people can be divided into one of three preferred styles of learning. These three styles are as follows:

  • Someone with a Visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc. These people will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
  • Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These people be best able to perform a new task after listening to instructions from an expert. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone, and can remember all the words to songs that they hear!
  • Someone with a Kinaesthetic learning style has a preference for physical experience - touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences. These people will be best able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. These are the people who like to experiment, hands-on, and never look at the instructions first!

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. Everyone has a mixture of strengths and preferences. No-one has exclusively one single style or preference. It is also important to remember that this tools is just one of many aids to help us understand the overall personality, preferences and strengths of a person.

When you know your preferred learning style(s) you understand the type of learning that best suits you. This enables you to choose the types of learning that work best for you.

There is no right or wrong learning style. The point is that there are types of learning that are right for your own preferred learning style.

There are various ways in which preferred processing modes become apparent and some simple ways in which we can enhance the effectiveness of our communication once we are aware of them. One way to detect a person's preferred processing mode is to watch their eye movements, particularly when they are thinking or answering a question. For example,

  • VISUAL thinkers tend to look upwards. 
  • AUDITORY thinkers tend to look straight ahead. 
  • KINAESTHETIC thinkers tend to look downwards

However, in practice, it is not quite as simple as this. Additional factors affect eye movements - such as whether the person is trying to recall real or imaginary circumstances (such as lies). 

Another is to listen to the words, or “meta-language”, people use. These “vocabulary clues” can help to detect preferred processing modes. 

For example, Visual thinkers will tend to use and respond to terms such as: “I get the picture” or “I see how that works” 

Auditory thinkers will tend to use and respond to terms such as: “Sounds good to me” or “That rings a bell”

Kinaesthetic thinkers will tend to use & respond to terms such as: “Does that grab you?” or “That feels right”

Understanding someone’s processing modes and preferences can help you to adjust your style to communicate more effectively. After all, people like people like them. They are more likely to understand when you use their preferred style. 

So, you could sketch a diagram for visual thinkers. They respond well to such as diagrams, charts and pictures. 

You could stress key words for auditory thinkers. Use stories, anecdotes, jokes and puns.

You could use a "hands-on" approach for kinaesthetic thinkers. They like activities and opportunity to move about. 

If you are addressing a group, then try and use a combination of styles to appeal more widely. 

In summary, the VAK model is helpful tool to understand the learning style of yourself and others. This enables you to adjust your style to communicate more effectively, and design learning interventions that will be more successful. 

Kolb's learning styles model, and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences model, are other approaches of looking at thinking styles.


Fleming, N., and Baume, D. (2006) Learning Styles Again: VARKing up the right tree!, Educational Developments, SEDA Ltd, Issue 7.4, Nov. 2006, p4-7.