Chapter 2. The Learning Process

Right Brain/Left Brain

According to research on the human brain, people have a preferred side of the brain to use for understanding and storing information. While both sides of the brain are involved in nearly every human activity, it has been shown that those with right-brain dominance are characterized as being spatially oriented, creative, intuitive, and emotional. Those with left-brain dominance are more verbal, analytical, and objective. Generally, the brain functions as a whole. For example, the right hemisphere may recognize a face, while the left associates a name to go with the face.

While most people seem to have a dominant side, it is a preference, not an absolute. On the other hand, when learning is new, difficult, or stressful, the brain seems to go on autopilot to the preferred side. Recognizing a student’s dominant brain hemisphere gives the instructor a guide for ways to teach and reinforce learning. There are also some people who use both sides of the brain equally well for understanding and storing information. [Figure 2-14]

Holistic/Serialist Theory

As seen in Figure 2-14, right and left brain learners have preferences for how they process information. Based on information processing theory, left brain learners or serialist learners have an analytic approach to learning. Because they gain understanding in linear steps, with each step logically following the previous one, these learners need well-defined, sequential steps where the overall picture is developed slowly, thoroughly, and logically. This is a bottom-up strategy.

Right brain or holistic learners favor the holist strategy and prefer a big picture or global perspective. This is a top-down strategy and learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, until suddenly “it” clicks and they get it. Global learners solve complex problems rapidly once they have grasped the big picture, but they often have difficulty explaining how they did it. This type of learner seeks overall comprehension; analogies help this learner.

Index of Learning Styles (ILS)

In 1988, Richard Felder and Linda Silverman designed a learning style model with parallel learning styles that classified students as having learning preferences in sensing or intuitive, visual or verbal, active or reflective, sequential or global (discussed under holistic/serialist learning style. Dr. Felder maintains a website at that offers learners the opportunity to assess learning preferences at no cost for noncommercial purposes. [Figure 2-15]

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