The Left Brain vs. the Right Brain: How It impacts Learning

A brain is the central organ involved in acquiring, processing and storing information. It consists of two parts: the right and left hemispheres. The hemispheres  are connected via a group of nerves called the corpus callosum. Through research, it has been found out that the two parts of brain recycle the information in different ways, so that they have different implications when the learning process starts. The left hemisphere participates in the verbal analytical processes while the right one is involved in the creative processes. An understanding of how the brain works can be used to optimize learning in various settings. This paper analyzes how the different hemispheric functions of the brain affect learning.

Learning is the process by which the individuals acquire information, recycle and store it. This process results in a change of behavior and mind-sets. During the last three decades, research has shown that different people learn differently depending on the dominant hemisphere of their brain (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). According to Zhang (2011), the three major learning styles exist: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Generally, the visual learner learns through the images or seeing things. The auditory learner learns easily by the listening. The kinesthetic learner learns by moving around and touching things; such persons are easily distracted and find it difficult to sit still. The implication of these types of persons is to let individuals learn in the ways that suit them the best.

The left hemisphere

Generally, the left part of a brain takes the responsibility for the functioning of the logic and analytics. It operates in a linear and sequential manner; it moves from one step to another. Linear processing means that information is processed from a part to the whole picture. Bits of the information are collected, lined up and arranged in a logical order; deductions and conclusions are made. The left part of a brain is more familiar with the symbolic information than the right brain (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). People with a dominant left brain tend to be good in linguistics and mathematical symbols. The results of an experiment conducted by Weisenberg and Mcbride in 1935 on 200 patients with brain injuring explain this (qtd. in Bielefeldt, 2006). It was found that people with the injured left side of the brain performed poorly in the tests on the verbal ability. Conversely, individuals with the injured right part of the brain had difficulty in tests to do with the distance its relationship with objects.

The right hemisphere

The right part of the brain processes information from the whole picture to the details. In other words, it acquires the general picture first and then proceeds to make deductions on how the eventuality was obtained. The person whose right part of the brain is dominant is practical; he or she prefers to work with concrete things. In other words, this person wants to see, feel and touch real objects (Gallagher, 2013).

To illustrate that the respective domination of the two brain hemispheres influences learning differently, Zhang (2011) conducted a series of tests and collected data from various participants. The test he employed include: Image Memory Test, Faces and Names Memory Test, Story Listening Test, Story Listening with Slap-Jack Test, Story Listening with War Test, Math Test, Math Test with Visual Distraction, Math Test with Noise Distraction, Math Test with the Activity Distraction, and Stage III-Post-Testing Session/Data Analysis. From the results obtained, Zhang (2011) observed that:

46.4% of left-brain dominated people are plain visual learners, 7.1% are plain auditory learners, 0.0% is plain kinesthetic learners, 35.7% are both visual and auditory learners, 7.1% are both auditory and kinesthetic learners, 0.0% is both visual and kinesthetic learners, and 3.6% are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. 85.7% of left-brain dominated people are visual learners, 53.6% are auditory learners, and 10.7% are kinesthetic learners. 65.0% of right-brain dominated people are plain visual learners, 0.0% are plain auditory learners, 0.0% are plain kinesthetic learners, 25.0% are both visual and auditory learners, 0.0% are both auditory and kinesthetic learners, 5.0% are both visual and kinesthetic learners, and 5.0% are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. 100.0% of right-brain dominated people are visual learners, 30.0% are auditory learners, and 10.0% are kinesthetic learners. (p. 3)

Despite the fact that the brain sides process differently, lateralization does not mean that they work independently. According to Bielefeldt (2006), the two of them work in a complementary manner to process the needed information. For example, seasoned musicians use the left part of the brain, contrary to popular belief that they use the right side. Talking about the right part, there is also the increased brain activity of individuals who take part in solving complex mathematical problems or experienced chess players.

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Schools of learning

There are two main schools of thought in regard to how learning takes place: the behavioral and cognitive. These schools are based on a host of theories that distinguish them. The cognitive school of thought is hinged on the mental activities such as memory and the thought processes which result in a change in knowledge. From the other side, the behavioral school of thought is hinged on the external activities of the person. The cognitive school of thought tends to focus on the analytical mode of acquiring information while the behavioral school focuses on the practical mode of acquiring information.

Learning in the contemporary school setting

A close observation of the teaching style in the most schools shows that the traditional instructor-based approach is still in use. According to the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992), this mode of instructions may not be the most appropriate since students are forced to adopt the left-brain learning style. Basically, the teacher instructs students while they are sitting. The learners are expected to synthesize the given information to search for the solutions to the task in the gradual way. Given that the right brain is responsible for the movement, music, creativity, shapes, colors and emotions, students whose right brain are dominant find it difficult to excel. Children with abilities in art and music are not given a chance to flourish because the tools required for their learning are not availed to them. The eventuality is that such children perform dismally in academics and are viewed as the failures in a society.

According to the information from the research on how the brain works, professors should be educated about the impact of both brain parts on the successfulness of learning. Having such knowledge, teachers will be able to analyze strong and weak sides of the different methods of instruction. Moreover, it gives them the ability to create new methodology for the education system and discard those which may adversely hamper the learning of some of their students.

An appropriate way to enhance learning for both right and left hemisphere learners is to change the education system, so that it is balanced for both of them. In another way, children can be helped by teaching them how to access and apply their two brain parts. For instance, this can be achieved through the specific physical activities aimed at matching the sensory centers of the brain. To help right-brained people learn effectively in a left-brain education system, the instructor can also assign the class or individual to read some background information about a chapter before the lecture. The followings are some of the recommendations given by Caine in 1990 on how to improve the learning environment to suit different learners (qtd. in Bielefeldt, 2006):

  • Coordinate student learning experiences to draw upon and reflect the simultaneous processing of all brain functions.
  • Introduce novelty, discovery, and challenge into the learning environment.
  • Engage students in active learning processes, such as problem-solving and critical thinking to help them develop personally relevant learning patterns.
  • Create a supportive emotional climate.
  • Provide learning experiences that engage the functions of both the left and right brain hemispheres.
  • Extend the learning environment beyond that in a learner's immediate focus.
  • Incorporate awareness and reflection as part of the learning process.
  • Draw upon the personal world of the learner to expand memory functions.
  • Enhance spatial memory through experiential learning activities.
  • Create in learners a state of relaxed alertness.
  • Use a multifaceted approach to teaching that allows uniqueness. (p. 24)


Different factors have the impact on the learning procedure. Perhaps the most significant of them is the relationship between methods of instruction and the way in which both brain parts work. The logical functions such as verbal and analytical processes are those that the left brain part is involved in. Oppositely, the right brain part is primarily involved in the creative processes such as those that deal with patterns and relationships. Therefore, this implies that students will acquire information differently based on how it is presented.

Instructors may cover content adequately, yet they will find that some students have not understood the concepts presented. To address this issue, it is imperative that the instructors develop apposite methods of instruction to ensure that all types of students are in a good position to understand what is taught.

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