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Learning Styles

Left and Right Brain Learning

October 19, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Learning Styles

Left and Right Brain Learning

In very basic terms, the human brain is divided into two sections or hemispheres. Research has shown that while not exclusively by any means, the left hemisphere is the main center for linguistic expression whilst the right hemisphere deals with visual, spatial and holistic thinking. For example, for many years, brain specialists ascertained that damage to certain patient’s left cerebral hemisphere resulted in a loss of language function whilst damage to the right hemisphere was associated with the loss of visual-spacial recognition.

The findings of this research (and the apparently week-by-week discoveries of modern neuro-science) have a great bearing on learning styles and on some of the developmental theories of adult human learning in particular. One of the major educational debates in this area is centered over the tendency in western society to emphasize verbal or left brain development through our education systems.

The argument that education has restricted the development of the right side of the brain, (the creative side), in favor of the logical verbal processing of the left hemisphere appears to be a strong one. This is largely because the language and mathematics ability controlled by the left brain is seen to be critical for workplace knowledge and learning. Hence, other ‘intelligencies’ such as several of those put forward by educational expert Howard Gardner like musical intelligence, for example, are almost entirely ignored by our formal higher education system (unless music is going to be a chosen career).

Left-Brain based learning

Research has shown that logic, language, mathematics and analytical evaluation capability resides predominantly in the left brain for 98% of right-handers and 65% for left-handers. As a result, many children are assumed to be or encouraged to be right-handed by their parents. Of course, we live in a right-handed and left-brained physical world (scissors, golf clubs, writing from left to right in most cultures, etc).

Left-Brain based learning

From a learning perspective, the importance of being left-brain biased is that this is likely to lead to preferences for learning through words and numbers, linear or sequential information and logical and ordered argument. Hence, talks, lectures, book reading, data tables, etc, are all likely to appeal more to those with a left-brain bias if these are dominant teaching methods in the training room.

Right-Brain based Learning

Despite the bias towards left-brain learning in the past, an ever growing number of books seem to be encouraging more ‘right brained’ thinking today. This is partly because, the research and understanding about right-brained functions is younger and less developed and partly because educators wonder what could be possible if the power and creativity of the right brain were being encouraged to be used more. Like the Left brain data, physiology research suggests that the right brain is strong on visual images, imagination, rhythm and dimension space.

Right-Brain based Learning

The often favorite example of a right-brained person is Albert Einstein, whose left-brained traditional learning in logic and analysis was limited (because he was expelled from school) but whose right-brain oriented creative thinking allowed him to conceive of entirely new world paradigms. Hence, despite this apparent set back of quitting his formal education early, he creatively ‘jumped’ to perhaps the most complex and significant theories ever generated in producing his theory of relativity.

From a learning perspective, the importance of being right-brain biased is that this is likely to lead to preferences for learning through analogies and metaphors, images, patterns, non-verbal signals and music. Hence, diagrams, songs, group exercises and role plays are all likely to appeal more if these are dominant teaching methods in the classroom.

Summary

Whilst it is interesting to see how left and right brain biases may operate for each of us, perhaps the more useful development in recent learning theory has been the evolution of possible differences in learning styles relating to being Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Tactual (or tactile). The last two of these are often paired together and called Kinesthetic. This thinking more practically applies the brain bias research by suggesting that getting both sides of the brain to receive information will create more endorsement and therefore greater understanding and recall. Hence, a lecture delivering only words will appeal well to the left brain but have little appeal to the right. However, an added video, group exercise and demonstration will also appeal to the right brain.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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