The Differences Between Left and Right Brained Learners

Learning takes place in the brain. The brain is made of many parts and specific areas for all different kinds of learning. There are several parts of the brain that focus on sensory input. Other parts of the brain focus on logical reason, linguistic thinking, organizing information according to patterns, relationships, movement or even spatial awareness.

Both sides of the brain can reason, but may use different strategies and one side may be dominant. This means when the brain is stressed, or asked to perform a function it may go on auto-pilot and reach to the dominant side to solve a problem, learn a skill, or perform a task. It is not so much that we are biologically right brain or left brain dominant, but that we are more comfortable with the learning strategies characteristic of one over the other. However, the left side is considered “the brain” of the brain, and controls final decisions concerning information gathered throughout the brain. It inhibits the right side’s cognitive and decision making processes. But because the hemisphere of our preferences probably has more neural connections, learning may occur faster in the dominant side.

We know that the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that houses rational functions. It is divided into two hemispheres connected by a thick band of nerve fibers (the corpus callosum) which sends messages back and forth between the hemispheres. And while brain research confirms that both sides of the brain are involved in nearly every human activity, we do know that the left side of the brain is the seat of language and processes in a logical and sequential order.

Let’s consider the common characteristics of both sides:

Left Brained Learners

When you process on the left side, you use information piece by piece to solve a math problem or work out a science experiment. When you read and listen, you look for the pieces so that you can draw logical conclusions. Your decisions are made on logic – which provides to you the proof.

The left brain processes in sequence – in order. The left-brained person is a list maker. If you are left-brained, you would enjoy making a master schedule and doing daily planning. You complete tasks in order and it pleases you to check them off when they are accomplished. Likewise, learning things in sequence is relatively easy for you. For example, spelling involves sequencing; if you are left-brained, you are probably a good speller.

The left side of the brain processes information in a linear manner. It processes from part to whole. It takes pieces of information, lines them up, and arranges them in a logical order; then it draws conclusions.

By thinking and reasoning, you come to conclusions based on many considerations carefully thought out.

Reality based
The left side of the brain deals with things the way they are – with reality. You think in the present and the past. Very firmly seated in reality in all things. You want to know the rules, and are able and willing to follow them. If there are no rules? You’ll be the first to create them! Left brained children and adults understand consequences to actions and in-actions. These are the people who follow the directions, and instructions to the letter when building something or learning a new skill.

Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as you see or understand them without letting emotions, personal feelings or other’s interpretations distort the facts in your mind. Left brain dominant people are abstract perceivers who take in information through analysis, observation and thinking. They are also reflective processors who make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it.

Left-brained children and adults have little trouble expressing themselves in words. Listen to a left brained person giving directions! The left-brained person will say something like: “From here, go north eight blocks and turn east on Main Street. Go two miles and turn west onto Front Street.” They can be very precise in their choice of words. You may be a great speaker, because your language abilities are so refined. You are comfortable speaking, and use very little hand gestures as you talk.

The left brain has no trouble processing symbols. Most academics deal with symbols such as letters, words, and mathematical formulas. The left-brained person tends to be comfortable with linguistic and mathematical work. Left-brained students will probably just, and are able to memorize vocabulary words or math formulas.

Furthermore, if you are a lefty, you are probably punctual. And can easily recall people’s names. You generally prefer more formal structured studies, and like to learn in brighter lighting.

Traditional schooling tends to favor left brained people. Taught mostly by left brained teachers, who themselves love order, sequence and planning. Right brained learners do not always get the rewards or understanding of a different way to process information.

Right Brained Learners

If you process primarily in the right brain, you are an intuitive thinker. You may know the answer to the math problem, but may not be sure how you got it. You might be able to figure out your mental formula by going backward to see how you got there. On a quiz you may rely on your gut feeling, and are usually right. You rely on your “feelings” about something to decide if it is true or not.

If you are right brained, your mind may move rapidly from one thought to another. It’s not that you don’t want to finish that assignment, but you remembered something else you just had to do, and forgot about what you were working on.

Thoughts, plans and ideas are crowding out the sequential reasoning of finishing the task at hand.

Also called Holistic. A right brained processor needs to see the whole picture, then examine and learn about all the parts that create the whole. Whole – to part.

You need to know why you should know this material. You need the answer presented first, then you can figure out the path to get to that answer. You do not generally like outlines, because it presents the pieces first. A right brained person does well, if they scan or read the chapter first, then learn about the details and how it is relevant to their life.

Fantasy Based
Right brained people tend to see the present and the future as opposed to the past. You are creative, imaginative and able to perceive what could be, as opposed to the reality of what IS. Singing, music, art, writing, designing… anything creatively based may come easy for you. These are the most imaginative children, and the most innovative adults. The world can know no bounds as far as their ability to create through fantasy and imagination. These are the dreamers and presenters of possibilities in our world.

Your views, opinions and even facts may be subjective, in that you view them through your own personal experiences, and background. Your feelings, based on your senses may guide you more than external stimuli. You may identify by means of your own perception.

Right brained children and adults may know exactly what they mean, but have trouble finding the words to express it. Take the case of the left vs. right in giving directions. A right brained person may say something like: “From here, go to Burger King, and turn right, then go past the Park, and you’ll know you are there when you see the big sign with the huge dog on it!” You may use symbols, or landmarks instead of miles and certain numbers of blocks and red lights.

Visual learners can see images in their mind’s eye that can far exceed that of the left brain. They can see an image frequently in three dimensions, turning it this way and that, hence the confusion with certain letters and numbers, which, viewed this way can be a “b”, and that way can be a “b”. Some of you are very strong in “mental math”, others in writing, art, music or even architecture due to your superior visual ability. Maps, drawings, time lines, graphs and symbols are visual images that may stick and be remembered better than text or rote memorization. These are the people who throw away the directions and do it themselves!

The right brained person likes things to be concrete. You like to see, feel or touch the real object. Learning to read using a phonics based program may not be the best choice. Learning whole words instead by using their visual imagery makes more sense to a right brained person. You also prefer to see words in their context or see how a formula works. Today’s use of primarily phonics based programs leave many right brained children behind. Using hands-on colored letter and word tiles strengthens their natural visual retention.

The right brained learner recognizes patterns, connections and images. The right brain contains the seat of feelings and emotions. You respond to the tone and emotion of someone’s voice. You are by nature impulsive. Generally, right brainer’s can recall people’s faces, rather than their names, prefer music or white noise when studying, and need movement to stay alert while learning. You also tend to be less punctual. You like direct experiences that are related, to learn. Lab work, science experiments, counting real money, hands on learning are just a few of the ways a right brained person can easily learn.

To be considered “Whole Brained” a person uses many of the above strategies, left and right, for learning. A left brained person may also have some right brained tendencies and vice versa. By identifying which learning styles you, your child, or your student prefers enables the parent or teacher to better meet the learning needs of the children.

Right-brained children and students need an environment rich in direct contact with learning materials. They may learn best by DOING, not reading about doing. Seeing, feeling, experiencing. Creative projects, visual exercises, and exploring patterns would be teaching “to the right”. Use their visual strengths to support memory retention.

Expand unit studies to incorporate related materials and information. Although they may not like to make lists, it can become very important to them as a life skill to learn to keep a calendar and lists in order to be remotely organized.

The ideal learning environment for a class or family with multiple learning styles would rely on direct experiences, field trips, role-playing, and hands-on learning with strong visual based support, coupled with utilizing metaphors in similarities and differences, connections and how things are related. Use language to teach by evoking sensory imagery, emotions, and associations.

This is a study of learning preferences and possibilities. Potential left untapped and possibly unexplored by both children and adults. With the ever-growing diagnoses of ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia and other learning challenges it is important to note that possibly the majority of these children will need to be taught in a different way than is generally accepted in many of our mainstream schools.

To recognize and teach according to each child’s strengths and preferences allows for the maximum potential in learning to occur. Let’s expand the idea from “how to teach” to one of a broader scope of “how do we learn?” How do we each learn? And when we can see and understand this, what doors of possibilities can we open for this and the next generations to come?

Food for thought

What would our world be like without these amazing people? Many of them ostracized or misunderstood as children for their differences, yet became able to create, lead and invent the best our world has ever known. What would our world be like without these people who were very likely, right brained?

  • Thomas Edison
  • Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Run
  • Walt Disney
  • General George Patton
  • Nelson Rockefeller
  • Hans Christian Anderson
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • John Lennon
  • Louis Pasteur
  • Orville and Wilber Wright
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Ludwig Van Beetoven
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • George Washington
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Agatha Christie
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Mark Twain
  • Anna Roosevelt
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • King Gustav IV of Sweden
  • Albert Einstein
  • Marie and Pierre Curie
  • Socrates
  • Galileo Galilei
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Bill Gates
    — Written by Michelle Morris, 2006