Education in the nursing profession is a lifelong undertaking, so it is preferable for students and registered nurses to identify a personal learning style to make the process more enjoyable and efficient.
There are around 70 different learning styles in total, but the most prominent theory in nursing is the VARK method. VARK is an acronym for visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic. These four learning styles use different human senses to help students learn and retain information. The VARK model identifies a preference for each nurse.
You might think that a combination of each learning style is more well-rounded and would provide a higher-quality learning experience. While this might be the case for you, a study by the National Library of Medicine found that practicing nurses who hone in on a personal learning style are often happier in their job roles. Taking advantage of educational opportunities with this preferred style can be key to long-term professional development.
The first letter in the VARK acronym stands for visual, which covers learning material with visual aids. Nurses who prefer this style might have a photographic memory, for example, and be able to recall images and charts more readily than written text in a book. They might just also find visual content more engaging and feel less distracted during video demonstrations compared to other methods.
Auditory learners prefer sound and hearing as learning cues rather than the written word or video. Nurses with a preference for audio might like teaching materials that are presented in a podcast-style format or using jingles and sound effects to remember important information. Auditory also includes the use of the human voice to read aloud and debate with others. Nurses may respond the most to a back-and-forth discussion or a one-on-one tutoring session than a webinar, for example.
The reading/writing style is arguably the most common form of learning as it’s so prevalent in formal education from childhood onwards. Students who like to read textbooks and underline passages with notes or summarize information in slides and presentations will get the most from a reading and writing method. This style also includes following lectures from a ‘talking head’ such as a teacher during a lecture and discussing it with others or writing down key insights.
Perhaps the most abstract form of learning out of the four styles is kinesthetic, which is a term that encompasses tactile actions based on touch. Students who like being active prefer this method as it can involve walking or pacing around a room while discussing a text or conducting physical experiments. Kinesthetic also extends to interactions with digital devices such as computers and smartphones. Some people feel more creative when they are using a keyboard or touchscreen, for example.
The VARK method in education
The best way to refine your particular learning style is by completing a degree at the University of Indianapolis. The 100% online curriculum is perfect for nurses who want to take the next step in their respective careers by becoming an effective and respected leader.
While there are four distinct learning styles, you don’t always have to select a specific one for your educational journey. A recent study found that a ‘best’ learning style doesn’t always have to be consistent across the curriculum or dependent on a single style. It instead advised students to adopt flexible methodologies at first to see what works best and then to continue with this approach where possible to ‘enhance’ their overall learning capabilities.
However, preferences are important as they can help teachers to deliver tailored classes for specific students. Teachers can do more high-quality, one-on-one lessons with students and develop strategies for individual learners. For example, those who have an inclination toward the kinesthetic style will prefer laboratory demonstrations and taking part in more interactive learning activities to reading a PowerPoint slide. Knowing when to offer hands-on lessons for each student will make it easier to guide them through the various stages of practical nursing education.
So, try not to feel too pressured into selecting a VARK style when you start nursing school, as it will be a process that you can get a feel for naturally over time. Studies show that teaching methods are usually very flexible, and universities will be accommodating in optimizing the learning process for each student. The VARK method, which was first developed by Neil Fleming in the 1980s, is proven to increase students’ success in their exams and prepare them accordingly for the world of work in healthcare.
A Sri Lankan-based study found that most nursing students opted for a unimodal learning style using just one of the four main methods. Just over two-thirds completed courses unimodally compared to 31.5% who had a multimodal preference for two or more methods. Considering that nursing requires an active, hands-on approach, it is perhaps not surprising that 49.8% of students preferred the kinesthetic style, making it the most popular by far. In contrast, reading/writing lagged far behind at just 1.2%, while aural and visual were preferred by 12.8% and 4.6%, respectively.
Again, strong preferences don’t always mean that another style has to be discounted entirely, and it may be best for a student to adopt an active learning style using two or three methods. What the studies and research do show, though, is that the four learning styles can each help to unlock the potential of a nursing student in different ways and enable them to learn new information and retain it. Experts say that all the learning styles are ‘essential’ in some form, especially for teachers who can use them to create a diverse range of instructional strategies.
To conclude, all four learning styles have a significant impact on how nurses are taught throughout their careers.