In this detailed, large-scale study, published in the Journal of Kinaesthetic Education (174-76 p64 2009), the VAK learning styles theory was put through its paces using 600 GVCSE students split into; a control group (no identification of learning style), along with selected Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learner groups. The control group of 150 received normal teaching, and the three other groups of 150 received teaching in their dominant style. The results are fascinating.
The kinaesthetic group were blindfolded and had earplugs inserted to focus their psychological attention on the learning tasks through touch alone. In English they were introduced to Shakespeare by feeling a plaster bust of his head, then asked to imagine a poem and short story, followed by recitation from memory, beyond this no real progress was made. On Mathematics there was some success with identifying 3D objects by hand alone, and in simple arithmetic, counting balls in and out of bags. However, numbers greater than 20 were beyond their kinaesthetic ability along with all 2D maths including negative numbers, decimals, averages, square roots, algebra, angles, measurement, trigonometry, probability and data handling. Students in physics did well in feeling the effects of energy transfer and static electricity shocks, but on electronics, forces, motion, waves, the earth, radioactivity, light, sound, and particles, no significant progress was measured. Results in Chemistry showed the greatest improvement where students were asked to feel the difference between gases, liquids and solids, but struggled with the Bunsen burner experiments. After several health and safety incidents this part of the trial had to be curtailed. ICT scored highest with keyboard skills showing some improvement but even with touch-screens nothing could not be read, so scores were generally low in all other tasks. Music was the lowest scoring subject as the students only had hands-on vibrations to go on. This proved to be an insurmountable barrier to learning. Touch rugby was played, although passing proved to be difficult. Asked to internally visualise their performance in their own minds, significant improvements were reported in ping-pong, the shot-putt and javelin, although the javelins had rubber balls added to their tips to prevent accidents.
The auditory group were blindfolded but not allowed to use their hands and sense of touch. In English, audio books proved useful for novels, short stories and poetry but there were disappointing results in reading and writing. In Maths, mental arithmetic was improved but in all other areas there was no measurable learning. The sound module in Physics showed most improvement but electronics, light, forces and every other part of the curriculum, were unteachable. Chemistry benefited only from the recognition of the hydrogen test, where a lit splint goes pop in a test tube. ICT showed no significant improvement, and even audio was of little use as the students could not see that the mute icon was on. Physical Education lessons were a challenge, but teachers ingeniously played football by inserting a bell inside the ball.
The visual learners had earplugs inserted but were not allowed to use their sense of touch. In English the visual learners outperformed the other two learning styles; this was attributed to significant effect of being able to read and write. Maths performance was fine, but teachers struggled to cope with sign language to communicate feedback to students. In physics, the sound module was impossible, but in chemistry and biology, only the impossibility of hearing the teacher was a problem. Music could be read but not played. Physical Education could be performed but the inability to hear the ref’s whistle led to some indiscipline in team sports. Not being able to touch each other meant that rugby had to be abandoned.
The researchers concluded that students who were taught using visual learning would do well, despite the lack of auditory cues from their teachers, and that the addition of hearing and touch would almost certainly provide further educational benefits. Students taught using just an auditory or kinaesthetic approach are likely to significantly underperform in almost all subjects, apart from music and pottery.