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Training with the whole brain in mind.

What's your training style? Are you systematic and analytical (think outlines, agendas, and worksheets) or do your training sessions lean more toward the creative and spontaneous with games, role-playing, and brainstorming activities? If either sounds like you, thank the dominant side of your brain. Unfortunately, this same dominant side, which along with other variables dictates your personality, behaviors, and preferences, may also prevent you from connecting with everyone in your training audience. Why?


The cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls rational functions, is made up of two halves, or hemispheres. These are connected by a thick band of nerve fibers (the corpus collosum) that sends messages back and forth in a cross-wired fashion, so your right hemisphere controls your left side and vice versa. Brain research has confirmed that just as you have a dominant hand, eye, and even a dominant foot, you probably have a dominant side of your brain. And while no one is totally left-brained or right-brained, learning via the preferred side is faster and easier because your dominant side has more neural connections. This means that when learning is new, difficult, or stressful, we automatically go to our preferred side.

The fact that most of us have strongly lateralized brains is probably no accident, according to Dr. Michael Corballis, professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Early in human history, and possibly even in our pre-human ancestors, evolution delegated different cognitive responsibilities to the brain's two hemispheres. This allowed our brains to become more efficient and smaller, meaning fewer calories were needed to keep it running.

The concept of right-brain and left-brain thinking is based on studies first developed by Nobel Prize-winning American psycho-biologist Roger W. Sperry in the 1960s. Through studies with "split-brain" patients (whose two hemispheres could not communicate with each other due to a severed corpus callosum), he discovered that the human brain has two very different ways of thinking. While the idea of left-brain versus right-brain continues to be a controversial subject among scientists and academics, most scientists and researchers agree that there are definite differences in the way each hemisphere works.

The left side of the brain is the seat of language. It processes information in a logical, linear manner, by taking pieces of information, arranging them in a sequential order, then drawing conclusions and forming strategies. To the left-brain learner, facts and symbols rule. They're comfortable with words, names, numbers, and scientific data. If your thought processes tend to be more analytical, objective, and detailed-oriented, you may be a left-brained learner.

Unlike the verbally skilled left hemisphere, the right hemisphere focuses on the visual. Rather than processing information sequentially, the right brain processes information intuitively, randomly, and from whole to part, starting with the answer and working back. If you find yourself pulling answers out of the air without knowing how you got them; if you focus on the big picture before the details; if you're creative, emotional, and spatially skilled; and if you learn best by doing rather than listening, you might be a right-brained learner.

Unfortunately for right-brained learners, modern society and learning institutions tend to favor left-brain modes of thinking that focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy, while downplaying the right-brain modes of thinking that focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity. Experiments show that most children rank highly creative (right brain) before entering school. But because educational systems place a higher value on left-brain skills like mathematics, science, and language than on drawing or using our imaginations, only 10 percent of these same children will rank highly creative by age seven. By the time we are adults, high creativity remains in only two percent of the population.

It's obvious that in order to foster a more whole-brained training experience, we need to include training techniques that connect with both right-and left-brained learners. So how do you ensure that you connect with everyone in your training audience?

If you naturally live in the left side of your brain, include right-brain activities that promote creativity and synthesis like role playing, brainstorming, and creative problem solving. Remember that right-brain learners do best by seeing, touching, doing, and being in the middle of things. Adding small group activities, hands-on exercises, metaphors, analogies, and visuals to your training repertoire will increase your audience's right-brained connections and ensure a more whole-brained approach.

And if you're a right-brain-dominant trainer? Adding organizational tools like written agendas and outlines as well as analytical activities like worksheets, fact sheets, and discussion will support the linear learning needs and desire for details and data that are characteristic of left-brain learners.

Tilden's principles state that effective interpretation "must address itself to the whole man." By better understanding the influence of hemispheric dominance on you and your participants, and by promoting a whole-brain learning approach, you are one step closer to ensuring your training not only addresses the "whole man" but your whole training audience as well.

Kris Whipple, CIG, CIT, CIP, is an interpretive consultant/trainer in Naples, Florida. She can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:IN TRAINING
Author:Whipple, Kris
Publication:Legacy Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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