Adult Learning Styles: Helping Adults Learn with the VAK Model


Updated March 09, 2021 - Gini Beqiri

When teaching adults, it's important to take into account characteristics and learning styles of adults, especially how previous experiences influence their thinking.

In this article, we cover the essential learning styles for adults and how to help them learn.

Characteristics of adult learners

Learners differ in many ways, from gender to culture to previous education. It's important to be aware of these factors when teaching. However adult learners do share similar traits which impact their learning:

  • Less flexible thinking
  • Self-direction
  • Practical and outcome-focused
  • Use personal experiences
  • Readiness to learn
  • Slower learning but more knowledgable

Read the full article on 6 Key Characteristics of Adult Learners

Group of adults learning in a classroom

Adult learning styles - general tips

  • Adults prefer having facilitators rather than lecturers, so ensure that your training has problem-solving and reflection.
  • It helps to form classes with adults that have similar life experiences and to create environments in which they are encouraged to discuss and share with one another.
  • They benefit from having a peer community in which they can interact with and ask questions to.
  • Adult learners may feel uncomfortable if the setting is too formal so try to create a supportive environment and build their confidence by giving them tasks that suit their skills.
  • Remember that cognitive ability does decline with age

VAK learning styles

VAK is another model that categorises learners - it focuses on the most common ways people learn. Usually we prefer one of three types of learning: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

VAK learning styles diagram

Diagram showing the different VAK learning styles. Image from VAK learning styles.

1. Visual learner

This is when an individual learns more effectively when information is visually presented, such as, pictures, videos, diagrams etc.

Tips:

  • Use visual aids - most other learners will benefit from visual elements as well.
  • Provide visual analogies and metaphors to help with visual imagery.
  • Sometimes graphics are not easy to use for specific topics but consider writing key points in front of the class as this provides visual cues.
  • Substitute words for colours and pictures.
  • Ask the students to write down explanations and take notes because this entails looking at your presentation or visualising what you’re presenting.
  • Avoid using large blocks of text.
  • Include exercises where the students create mind maps.
  • Use storytelling to help with visualisation.
  • Colour-code and organise any materials you provide as this helps organise things in their minds.
  • Get students to visualise using phrases, such as, "Picture this", "Let's see what you would do."

2. Auditory learner

Aural learners prefer learning with sound, music, recordings, rhymes, rhythms etc. They remember conversations well and music causes an emotional response in them.

Tips:

  • Encourage your students to participate in discussions.
  • If reading is required suggest audio books if appropriate.
  • Suggest for them to listen to music as they go over material.
  • Allow recordings of your lessons or make you lessons accessible online - this is also helpful for other learning types.
  • Get students to pair up and explain concepts to each other.
  • Encourage problem-solving aloud.
  • Suggest rereading their notes back to themselves when they get home.
  • Use mnemonic devices and rhyming.
  • If you are explaining a story, play relevant sounds from your computer.

3. Kinaesthetic learner

These learners process information effectively when a hands-on approach is implemented - when they're using their bodies and when they are actually doing something. They put their learning into practice.

Tips:

  • Use physical exercises and provide hands-on experiences.
  • Exercises where they are standing and walking are very effective.
  • Include activities where they use pen and paper to map out their thoughts and problem-solve because writing is a physical exercise.
  • Find a venue that provides these learners with large spaces so they can write and draw.
  • Encourage them to draw diagrams, graphs and maps.
  • Get them to interact with physical objects or solve puzzles.
  • Role-playing.
  • Provide real life examples, such as, case studies.
  • Suggest reviewing their notes whilst they engage in physical activity.
  • Ask them to teach other class members some of the lesson content.
  • When you are asking them to visualise, explain the sensations that would be felt, for example, "The wind was forcibly hitting against the left side of my body."

Using a combination of tasks and activities that incorporate these learning styles will optimise learning.

Helping adults learn

Helping adults learn

Feedback

Let adult learners know how they're doing so they feel more confident and so that they understand what needs to improve. When you provide the feedback ensure that you are encouraging and you formulate an action plan together.

Motivation

Adults typically seek education voluntarily so this motivation fuels their learning. It's important to challenge them so they find the material stimulating but avoid being too challenging because this reduces their motivation.

Multiple commitments

Adults will have multiple commitments to manage in their lives, such as, their social life, family, work, hobbies etc. It's therefore more difficult to find the time to learn so courses must make room for busy schedules by, for example, holding day and evening sessions, sessions on the weekend, online courses etc and accept that things might get in the way of learning.

Higher expectations

Adults want information that they can apply and they expect instant outcomes. If their expectations are not met they may drop out. Your course must boost their already existing skills.

Find out what their expectations are from the beginning and make it clear what you course does - ensure the course objectives are clear right from the start.