How can mobile learning address different learning styles?

Child Learning With a Smart Phone

The most popular model for analysing learning styles is the VAK model, which breaks learning into three distinct strands: Visual, Auditory, and Kinaesthetic. These correspond, roughly, as follows:

1) VISUAL LEARNERS

These are people who respond best to visual elements in lessons: text and diagrams, tables and graphs.

2) AUDITORY LEARNERS

Someone classed as an auditory learner will be able take in lectures more easily, and prefer narration to copying text.

3) KINAESTHETIC LEARNERS

These are 'doers’: people who respond well to practical tasks: conducting experiments, taking things apart. The more active, the better.

So what’s the best way to deal with these disparate modes of engagement with mobile learning? And how valid is the VAK mode of analysis?

An unproven model

While there’s a certain ‘common sense’ appeal to the VAK model (don’t we all find we react better to certain approaches than others?) its validity has been called into question a number of times. Indeed, the VAK model appeared to rise to popularity through word of mouth, rather than off the back of approved data. In truth, there’s no real evidence that the VAK model helps to improve children’s performance at school.

Meanwhile, an article by the TES points out, “Many school activities are not purely visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, but a mixture of all three. A child may be looking at a book (visual) while listening to a teacher (auditory) and making notes (kinaesthetic).”

The truth is, most people learn best through a blend of all three kinds of learning. Just because a person may have a bias towards visual learning, it doesn’t mean they’re locked out from other styles. Professor Guy Claxton, of the University of Bristol, is convinced that the VAK model is based on "neuro-babble and phoney science". Similarly, Professor Frank Coffield, who headed a research paper into learning styles at the University of Newcastle, said: "The reality is that most people learn in most ways. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support a 'one child, one label’ approach.”

Mixing it up

So when creating mobile learning content, the question shouldn’t be “How does this apply to different learning styles?” but rather “How interesting is this?”

And the key to interesting content is a strong mix of complementary media. Video is a good medium for teaching, and is catered to on a variety of e-learning sites (like Udemy and Khan Academy). But with many sites like these the emphasis is solely on the video component, and often other media is subsidiary, or kept separate. Consider Khan Academy, where practice questions are kept on a different part of the site from the educational videos.

A better example of a mixed approach to learning is Code Academy, where users learn and apply concepts on the same web page, typing in code for practical exercises and observing their own success (or failure). The masterstroke, however, is the discussion board, which allows users to exchange notes on specific questions.

So while video is currently the most popular format for learning on the web, soon new structures will emerge for enriching educational content: for instance, ways of incorporating video into practical exercises, or even breaking up reading material with live group discussions. The possibilities of web and mobile learning haven’t begun to be tapped yet. And while the VAK model may be too simplistic, it’s nevertheless a valuable reminder. As Professor Claxton says:

“Most teachers know that watching a video clip, then moving into discussion, then following that with a practical activity, all makes for a more interesting lesson than if they just stand at the front and talk. The reason that VAK works well may have less to do with new-fangled theories and more to do with the proverb about variety being the spice of life.”

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