How To Be A Better Tutor

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Updated  Tom Hamilton Stubber


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How to be a better tutor, a guide to learning preferences.

Have you ever found that your tried and true online tutoring technique fails with a student? Or that some of your students randomly pick up information quicker in certain lessons? Chances are that isn't a coincidence, and the only reason you are unable to engage a student is because they learn in a different way to how you teach!

You might be asking yourself: but what are different learners, and how can I learn to engage all students? Well look no further, in this article you will be able to learn all about learning preferences, and how online tutoring can adapt to the teaching styles that suit your students.

VARK: A guide to Learning Preferences

The acronym VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic. These 4 senses are generally used to distinguish between the four styles of learning preferences. VARK was originally created by Niel Fleming and Coleen Mills in their 1992 paper, in which they found that these four learning techniques seemed to best reflect the experiences of students and teachers.

The study found that while there was some overlap between people's learning preferences, generally students have distinct preferences. Studies have found that no one learning style is preferred by a majority of people.

online tutoring using personalised learning pie chart

VARK learning styles were also studied based on gender and age, and it was found that neither of these showed any strong correlation with preference towards a certain style of learning.

Teaching styles table in numbers

What we can see from these results is that there is a slight preference for Kinesthetic learning. This learning style is also often neglected by educators as they are unable to understand how they can cater towards these learners. Understanding this data can help you to be a better tutor.

Fleming and Mills make it very easy to find out your learning preference. Take this quiz, to find out your preference. However, while it is simple to find out what is the best way for you to learn, people often find it difficult to know what to do with this information.

How can I incorporate VARK learning preferences into my teaching?

Many educators find it difficult to understand how they can use these results of a VARK test to create more engaging and effective lessons. Similarly, if you know about your own learning preference, it is often difficult to use that. However, once you begin to understand the learning styles, adapting your teaching style will become second nature. Tailoring your teaching style is simpler than you think.


What are visual learners?

Visual learners are students who prefer using images, pictures, colours and mind maps to organise information. These are people who are likely to show lots of interest in visual arts, architecture and photography.

How do they learn?

Visual learners will learn the best using charts, graphs, labelled diagrams, and any symbolic representations of information which could also be represented with words. Visual learners will be able to learn quickly if they are given meaningful symbols for relationships between different things within a topic. Using tools such as a whiteboard is very useful with these learners.

What should I avoid?

Fleming and Mills have suggested renaming Visual learners to Graphic Learners. This is due to the word Graphic better encompassing what they find useful.

Visual learners will not learn better with any visual prompts. Instead, learners must be given visual representations which have meaning attached to them. Still images, videos and PowerPoints will not help aid learning, unless these are somehow used as meaningful symbols.


What are Aural learners?

Aural learners digest information best when it is heard or spoken to them. They are likely to pursue playing instruments, creating music, or doing sound engineering.

How do they learn?

These students can learn best from lectures, discussions, and talking through things. Aural learners respond well to being asked about something that has already been said, allowing them to phrase the idea in their own words. They will also remember information better if it comes with an aural representation.

What should I avoid?

Many people believe that being an aural learner means a student is better at remembering information verbatim from a lecture or talk. While this may be true to some extent, in order to properly engage aural learners you should make sure that the words and sounds you choose to use are well thought out. Using acronyms is a great choice when teaching aural learners. These will allow them to attach meaning to certain words, and therefore recall information better.

Learning styles pie chart


What are Read/Write learners?

A read/write learner prefers for information to be displayed as words. These students will be very well spoken. They may also be avid readers, and will likely excel at text based assignments such as reports, and essays.

How do they learn?

Read/Write learners can best absorb information best through writing notes, and reading text. These people will remember things more successfully if they are able to re-write and re-read their notes multiple times.

What Should I avoid?

One of the most common misconceptions is that all read/write learners are able to absorb information from any written document they are given. However, like with any student, read/write learners will have more success in memorising information if the material they are given is interesting. Providing these students with extra information outside of a topic which peaks their interest will help them learn the necessary information.


What are Kinesthetic learners?

Kinesthetic learners are by far the most difficult to define out of the four VARK variations. Thus they are often the most neglected group. Generally these people will enjoy sport, exercise as well as handy work and DIY. They are also often energetic and are more sensitive to the physical world around them.

How do they learn?

Kinesthetic learners are able to learn new things by relating them to the real world. Although these can be simulated examples such as through a video, these people will generally remember things best through concrete personal experiences and examples. Case studies are useful for some Kinesthetic learners. This is because they can link what they are learning to real life.

What should I avoid?

One of the big misconceptions about teaching kinesthetic learners is that they cannot learn from writing notes. However, writing or drawing a diagram is a physical activity. Therefore, kinesthetic learners can use this too to learn. To really engage kinesthetic learners use lots of colours and variation in note taking style. The more physically engaged a student is in drawing diagrams and writing down information the easier they will learn.

It's that simple!

VARK learning preferences are used in many schools and by many educators around the world. Their free and easy quiz can help you find out what learner you and your students are.

There are many variations to the VARK model which you can find out about here!

Want to read more tips on how to become a better tutor? Click here to read some of our other blogs about education.

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