Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some tips on two commonly used learning styles questionnaires

I have mentioned in a number of postings and presentations that I use the VARK questionnaire for absorption learning styles and the ILS questionnaire for processing and absorption learning styles.  A request came in that I share some tips on ASPers using these two questionnaires with their students.

The VARK questionnaire letters stand for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic.  These four dimensions are all absorption style measurements.  Read/Write is the same as Verbal on a number of other instruments.  Aural can be used, with additional discussion with students, as a measure for Oral as well.  Likewise, Kinesthetic can be used to discuss Tactile learning.  Students will be multi-modal (2 or more styles are strong) or single mode (only one style is strong).  The link for the VARK questionnaire is: VARK Questionnaire.   

The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) surveys Visual and Verbal absorption styles and processing styles for Global or Sequential, Intuitive or Sensing, and Active or Reflective.  With ILS, the results are given as oppositional continua showing Mild (1 or 3), Moderate (5 or 7) or Strong (9 or 11) preferences for one of the two styles that are compared.  The link for the ILS questionnaire is: Index of Learning Styles.

Both of these questionnaires have the following common characteristics: 

  • They are free on-line to your students and provide printable results immediately upon submission of the questionnaire answers.
  • They are require a relatively short amount of time for students to take them.  The VARK is 16 questions, and the ILS is 44 questions.  Most students can complete both in 30-45 minutes.
  • ASPers can learn to interpret the results easily.  Some interpretation information is on the website for each instrument.  The results can be easily translated to a law school situation.
  • Both suppliers provide information on their websites on copyright permission for ASPers who wish to use the questionnaires with large groups or for research.

Here are some tips when using the instruments with your students:

  • Some students have trouble answering the questions because they feel that they would respond differently depending on the situation.  I suggest that they answer the questions as they would if they were in an undergraduate academic setting (if first-semester 1Ls) or in a law academic setting (other law students).
  • Make sure that students understand that they need to "layer" ALL of their style preferences together to learn best.  Some students fixate on one style ("I'm a visual learner.") and ignore the other dimensions that they need to use to their advantage.
  • Make sure that students understand that they need to use ALL of the styles even if they are not preferences.  They cannot refuse to read cases because they prefer visual over verbal.  Both reflective and active thinkers have to answer professor questions in class.  The best exam answers or papers will use global, sequential, intutive, and sensing styles even though the writer will only prefer two of those processing styles. 
  • Make sure that students understand that their non-preferences are "shadow" styles; students can strength their non-preferences with conscious effort and practice.
  • Remember that even within a category, a student is unique.  "Visual" learners have common traits but will pick different visual strategies because of their own visual score levels and their own "packages" of absorption/processing styles.
  • If the results for Visual-Verbal (Read/Write) are different for the VARK and ILS, I go with the ILS score.  There are 11 questions on the ILS that look specifically at Visual and Verbal.  VARK is only 16 questions total for all four preferences.
  • Very occasionally a student will tell me after our interpretation discussion that the questionnaire results are all wrong.  However, that happens rarely and is probably indicative of what "setting" the student was considering when the questions were answered.
  • Listen carefully to your students.  They often provide their own insights that help you learn more about the nuances of learning styles.  They also mention strategies that work that you never thought of when considering a style.

If you are new to using these questionnaires and want to discuss interpretation with me after you have read the website information and worked with some students, feel free to get in touch with your questions.  (Amy Jarmon)

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