Are you a visual learner? I have some bad news for you

The stubborn myth of learning styles

Around 65% of us identify as visual learners.

Are you a visual learner?

Chances are, the answer is yes and no.

Let’s explore why.

Learning styles

In the late 1980s, Neil Fleming developed a model to better understand how people like to learn.

After observing thousands of classrooms, he noticed only a few teachers could connect with every student.

Fleming wanted to understand why.

He focused on how people like to be presented information.

Fleming developed one of the most well-known models: VARK.


The VARK model matches many of our senses.

  • V - Visual (seeing)

  • A - Aural (hearing)

  • R - Reading (and writing)

  • K - Kinesthetic (touch)

Visual learners like seeing things (images, charts).

Aural learners use their ears (audio books, podcasts).

Reading (and writing) learners process words (books, note-taking).

Kinesthetic learners learn by doing (physical activities, demonstrations).

Or so we’re led to believe.

The myth of VARK

Evidence* shows that people do not have a particular learning style.

In one study, people completed a VARK questionnaire to determine their learning style.

Researchers then gave learning strategies matching the person’s learning style.

Two things happened.

First, people did not study in ways that reflected their learning style.

For instance, a visual learner used reading and writing more than diagrams, graphics and charts.

Second, people who studied according to their learning style did not perform any better on tests.

A visual learner, for example, who got visual learning strategies did no better on a test than a visual learner receiving aural learning strategies.

We don’t know what we think we know about ourselves.

What is the best way for me to learn?

It depends.

Think about the last thing you learned.

How did you learn it?

Did you look for an article, audio clip or video to match your learning style preference?

Did it matter as long as you learned it?

Start from the end

Instead of saying I’m a visual learner, start with what you’re trying to do and work backwards.

If your boss asks you to make a case to approve a project, you might first create a list of your points (reading and writing).

Your approach depends on what you’re trying to do.

Consider your surroundings

Your environment may influence how to do something.

If you’re driving and want to read a book, a more convenient (and safer) option is listening to an audio book (aural).

Learning in a restricted environment is better than not learning at all.

Think multimodal

There’s no rule that says you can’t learn something using many styles.

To hit a golf ball, you can watch a video of someone showing the proper technique (visual) and then try it yourself (kinesthetic).

As you get more comfortable, you can also listen (aural) to hear if you made good contact with the ball.

We learn with a multimodal approach more often than we think.

Be flexible

Most things we try to learn are best suited to a particular style.

It’s tough to differentiate bird chirps by reading about them, for example.

Focus on the task at hand and be flexible with your learning approach.

Key takeaways

Your cheat sheet to learning styles greatness:

  • Learning styles matter less than you think

  • Start with what you’re trying to learn

  • Combine styles when it makes sense for you

  • Be flexible in how you learn

Thanks for reading.

See you next week (no pun intended, visual learner).


*learning styles studies from 2014, 2016, 2018