In thinking about the ways that people learn, the traditional approach has been to classify individuals as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. Instructional designers are often encouraged to design approaches to learning and instructional methods to match those styles. According to this theory, designers and instructors should include content and language that uses the appropriate sensory references to address each of the styles. This is the learning theory (known as “VAK”) that has been widely taught to teachers and instructors since the 1950’s.  

Critique of traditional learning styles

Despite its popularity, research has shown that basing instruction on the traditional learning styles is not effective in improving learning outcomes. In addition, people’s preferences change with context, task, and experience. Fixed labels don’t accurately capture those differences. Each person has a unique blend of learning preferences, making it challenging to neatly categorize them. The concept of learning styles has been widely debated, and recent research suggests alternative concepts that may be more effective in explaining and enhancing learning. In this article I examine two research-supported alternatives to the traditional learning styles (Dual Coding Theory and Universal Design for Learning). Both approaches promote inclusivity and flexibility, allowing all students to enjoy successful learning experiences.

Alternative Approach #1: Dual Coding Theory

Dual Coding Theory suggests that combining verbal and visual information can improve learning.  It emphasizes the use of both verbal and visual stimuli to process and understand new information.

Here’s how to apply the Dual Coding Theory in your teaching practice:

  • Encourage learners to create visual summaries after reading texts.
  • Mind maps, flowcharts, or diagrams are excellent ways to encapsulate the main ideas in presentations and texts.
  • Use infographics that combine visuals with brief textual explanations to represent complex information in an easily digestible format.
  • You and your learners can incorporate visual flashcards with images to reinforce learning.

Reference: Main, Paul (2021, October 26). Dual coding: A teacher's guide. Retrieved 4/24/24 from  

Reference: Knight, Kam (2021). Mind Mapping. Improve Memory, Concentration, Communication, Organization, Creativity, and Time Management.

Alternative Approach #2: Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that encourages the development of flexible learning environments to accommodate individual learning differences. Universal Design for Learning is an educational framework that aims to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. It’s a proactive approach that provides flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it, and show what they know, thus accommodating individual learning differences.  

UDL is a powerful approach that aims to reduce barriers to learning by meeting the needs of all students. Anticipate variability among students and plan accordingly.

Follow the three core principles of UDL:

  • Multiple Means of Representation: Provide various ways for students to access content (e.g., text, audio, images, videos). Present information and content in separate ways.
  • Multiple Means of Action and Expression: Allow students to interact with content differently (e.g., through movement, art, writing). Allow learners to approach tasks and show knowledge in various ways.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement: Spark students’ interests and motivation by using relevant and exciting content. Capturing interest, offering challenges, and increasing motivation.

UDL emphasizes flexibility, giving multiple ways for students to access content, and to express themselves.

Goals of UDL: The primary goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and to build flexibility that can be adjusted for every person’s strength and need. This makes UDL beneficial for all learners, including those with learning and thinking differences and English language learners.

Implementation of UDL: Educators can implement UDL by:

  • Using technology and materials that are accessible to all students.
  • Providing choices in how students can express their comprehension and mastery of a topic.
  • Creating opportunities for students to engage with content in multiple ways to reinforce learning.

Benefits of UDL: UDL helps in creating inclusive virtual and classroom environments where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed. It’s especially helpful for students with learning challenges, as it can be tailored to meet their specific needs without singling them out.

UDL can create a flexible and inclusive learning environment that acknowledges the uniqueness of each participant and provides opportunities for all to access and engage with the experience,


I will publish two more articles about alternatives to the VAK learning model in 2024 and how to apply them in your teaching practices.

Free Software for infographics:

Canva: $ Free

Canva Pro: Pro

There are also many tutorials about infographics on YouTube 

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For an in-depth look at the data on learning styles, see our past research reports The Truth About Teaching to Learning Styles, and What to Do Instead and Popular Myths and Misconceptions: What Not to Believe about Learning Styles, Personality Types, and Generations in the Workplace.