Does university suit your learning style?

girl studying for featured image
Anna Boyne

Have you ever sat in a lecture and struggled to focus on what’s being said? Or perhaps you wonder why your course mate can soak up all the information without making notes? Maybe you can never understand a practical until you’ve done it yourself. Everyone prefers to learn in different ways. By understanding what suits us, we can tailor our studying experiences and make sure that £9k in tuition fees goes a lot further.

The VARK model is an acronym for four different learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/ writing, and kinaesthetic.


Visual learners tend to prefer the depiction of information in maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, and flow charts. They learn best when lecturers use diagrams in their PowerPoint presentations, or by condensing their own notes using symbols instead of words.

“They have a need to say it themselves and they learn by saying it their way”


These people learn best from information that is heard or spoken. Lectures are the ideal way to take in new information. At seminars they learn best by talking things through to help them understand and form their own opinions.

Auditory learners often “want to sort things out by speaking first, rather than sorting out their ideas and then speaking. They may say again what has already been said or ask an obvious and previously answered question. They have a need to say it themselves and they learn by saying it their way.”


Kinaesthetic learners need to link new information to reality, whether that’s personal experiences, examples, practise or simulation. Healthcare degrees involve professional placements and learning through practise. STEM students may depend heavily on their lab and practical classes to understand theories covered in lectures. For some students, this could mean watching documentaries or reading case studies.

Reading and writing:

Although the ‘W’ for writing doesn’t make the VARK acronym, it’s still there in spirit. Learners who prefer reading and writing like information displayed as words. Their learning style suits reading journal articles and writing essays.

It’s near impossible to fit a person into one of four very distinct categories


If right now you’re more confused than before, don’t panic – it’s near impossible to fit a person into one of four very distinct categories. That’s where multimodality comes in.

Students who are Type One Multimodality switch from mode to mode depending on the situation they are presented with, choosing learning style to suit the occasion or content.

Type Two Multimodality students are not satisfied until they have had input (or output) in all of their preferred modes. This means they generally take longer to gather information but often have a deeper and broader understanding of the topic at hand as a result.  

There’s also the term ‘VARK Transition’ which refers to those who fall somewhere between these two categories.

Does university suit you?

If you find yourself struggling to understand or remember new information, change the way you study

But does the way you learn at university suit your preferences? If not, what can you do to change that?

The way your course is taught won’t be changing drastically anytime soon. If you picked a humanities degree, there’s no escaping the mountains of readings and coursework essays to write (reading/ writing), or the long lectures and seminars (auditory).

But if you know you retain or understand information best in a certain mode, you can personalise your studying methods to this. If you need to make connections between your learning and real life (kinaesthetic), watch a documentary or listen to a podcast that looks specifically at the people affected. If you need to see information differently (visual), make your own summary notes in mind map or flow chart form.

If you fit into the multimodality type, take advantage of Moodle. Lecture notes, PowerPoints and handouts are almost always uploaded. And many lecturers also include links for further engagement with content covered. You can go at your own pace and select the resources that’ll suit you best.  

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new learning methods – if you find yourself struggling to understand or remember new information, change the way you study.

This all requires going beyond the bare minimum and it can take a little extra time. But if it means you’re ultimately learning more effectively, then your tuition fees are stretching much further.

Anna Boyne

Featured image courtesy of Windows via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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