VAK ,Bloom’s, SOLO and SAMR – Do educators need to know this stuff?

I recently wrote a blog about the art of passing exams and SOLO Taxonomy that you can find here. I had passed degree level physics, despite knowing very little physics and certainly unable to see many connections between concepts. I was a very sophisticated decoder of exam papers. Unfortunately after leaving University this was a skill I never really used, apart from to guiltily pass it onto my students.

You don’t need to have heard of VAK, Bloom’s or SOLO taxonomy, Gardner’s Learning styles, DeBono or the SAMR model to be a good teacher. Great teachers use all of these techniques intuitively already. What knowing these does is allow you to explicitly plan to get the best from your students

VAK – “I’m not dead yet”

The use of Verbal, Auditory and Kinesthetic approaches were developed in the 1920s primarily to help dyslexics. The fashion for VAK became massive through the nineties and noughties with lesson plans having to show explicit VAK activities. The idea was that individuals had a preferred learning style and that by delivering activities in a kinesthetic way, the kinesthetic learners would learn more effectively than if the same material was delivered in a visual way. The visual learners needed diagrams and pictures and the auditory ones needed to listen to lectures and debate ideas.

Dylan Wiliam tells a story of a primary school he went into where the students were tested and given coloured bands to wear to show their VAK preferences. One of the dinner ladies told him “You’ve got to watch the kinesthetic ones, they’re the naughty ones!”

VAK Visual Graphic 2011

Howard Gardner extended this to include a wider range of learning styles spawning a huge range of different schemes and courses and making a lot of money for speakers and authors.

Then research suggested that these ideas were oversimplistic, that there was no link between how well someone learned and whether it was delivered in their preferred learning style. VAK and Gardner were dropped by many overnight, particularly if they had a confirmation bias (and we as human beings are a long way from rational see here )  towards the didactic approach to teaching.

What this research did not do is find that a multisensory approach to learning was ineffective, in fact the opposite;

In tests where learners have been trained to recognise different species of birds up to 60% less time was taken to learn the different species by those who were shown pictures accompanied by the sounds those birds made. Remarkably, these results remain even if the final test is conducted purely on the basis of visual recognition without the accompanying sounds. The multisensory inputs provide different ‘hooks’ for retrieving the information allowing faster learning and improved recall.

There is also an issue of congruency. Learning will not improve if we simply stimulate more than one sense simultaneously. Using the above example, if we simply play music whilst showing pictures of the birds to our learners they will only experience a marginal reduction in learning time.

Before we run headlong into ditching VAK and Gardners take time to consider what we are doing. Watch the RSA Animate Series and if you havent yet seen the mighty Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms watch it here and see the impact that the artist adds to the speech. The impact of allowing students to succeed by them performing their understanding in a way they feel comfortable with cannot be underestimated.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – Inverted?

Bloom’s Taxonomy has stood the test of time and we have for a long time taught from the bottom up. Though Bloom never actually suggested this, nor did he draw a pyramid. We lay the foundations and then build up the student’s bank of knowledge and understanding to the point that they can then create something new. However, what if we invert Bloom’s and start with a challenge that they have to solve creatively?  The lower order thinking skills are built up from the need to find out more and the curiosity invoked by the task. Skillfully constructed films and series rely on this approach and it is rare for anything that grabs peoples attention to be delivered in the way we normally teach – instruction booklets may get us to where we want to go, but are rarely engaging, nor memorable

An inverted Bloom’s ICT tools is shown below that we can integrate into the SAMR model later.


There is a nice example of inverted Bloom’s in History and also the different approaches at High school and graduate level here

SOLO Taxonomy – More educational fluff?

The Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy developed by Biggs and Collis (1982) is a model of learning outcomes that helps schools develop a common understanding and language of learning and in so doing helps teachers and students to understand the learning process and learning outcomes.

– Pam Hook and Julie Mills, 2011

An extension of Bloom’s, SOLO Taxonomy is what good teachers have always known.It  puts into a logical sequential order from simply knowing a fact ( Unistructural) up to being able to see the links between facts and being able to create new  material demonstrating their understanding (Extended Abstract) . It is interesting to do a survey of the textbooks you use and your scheme of work. How often do students have the opportunity to create, generate, theorise or reflect on their own learning?


I have written a blog on SOLO and the art of passing exams here but the best set of resources and explanations of SOLO  I have found come from The Learning Spy David Didau @LearningSpy here and Pam Hook here

A really nice way of using SOLO Taxonomy collaboratively is using Hexagons . Resources and instructions from Pam Hook are are here

A lesson for A* English is outlined here

Part of the problem with SOLO is that we don’t have to get our students to these highest level in order to pass exams. However we do if we want them to be able to compete in a connected world with ever more sophisticated digital droids.

SAMR Model – More of the same – Just add tech?

The SAMR model is pretty much SOLO Taxonomy applied to technology.


At the bottom level technology is used simply to replicate what was done before, a substitution without any real advantages. So for example word processing a document  without using spell checks etc rather than writing it, printing it and handing it in.


This is replicating what was done before, but with enhancements. So this time during the word processing copy and paste is used, spell checking, the document is saved allowing editing at a later date.


This is where significant changes can be made to the task. Spreadsheets and graphing are integrated int the document and hyperlinks to other related areas. The work is emailed to multiple people asking for feedback.


At this level transformation takes place and we are able to do something that was inconceivable before. Collaboration is one of the key areas, so a document could be shared on Google Docs allowing open editing from multiple people. A blogpost could be written to share ideas and bring together experts.


I believe that technology should be used only when it adds significantly to the learning and never just for the sake of it . There is a blog I wrote before I had heard of SAMR on iPads here the lesson outlined shows redefinition.

iPads and SAMR

Used properly iPads can be transformative devices, Apps for different levels of the SAMR model are shown

samr poster


When considering which of these are useful, think about how you would like to spend your days. Sitting passively with enforced compliance as facts and instruction manuals are read out to you? Or creating, collaborating, solving problems and shaping your own future?

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One thought on “VAK ,Bloom’s, SOLO and SAMR – Do educators need to know this stuff?

  1. Excellent post Neil! Thanks for sharing such a balanced and meaningful analysis of these learning strategies. I also believe there is much that can be gained by using technology to enrich the learning experiences of young people and to offer them a tool to become more creative and independent learners.

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