How The Brain’s Hemispheres Shape the World We See
I’ve been regularly consuming podcasts since 2009; NPR’s Hidden Brain is one of my current favourites. While driving into work this week, I listened to One Head, Two Brains: How The Brain’s Hemispheres Shape The World We See, an episode featuring psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist who’s released a book entitled The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. There’s a lot to dig into with Iain’s informative interview, but I’d like to highlight the one metaphor he used to illustrate the difference between our left and right brain hemispheres.
Consider Narrow View AND Broad View
Consider a bird out in a park focused on a worm it wants to have for lunch. Its left hemisphere has that worm sharply in focus and uses this narrow view to allow the bird to grasp its snack out of a scene that includes pebbles, grass, dirt and other visual details.
But, the bird also needs to make sure it doesn’t become some other predator’s lunch! So, the right hemisphere of its brain takes a broader, sustained view of the scene it finds itself in where a cat, red-tailed hawk, pet dog or some other threat might be present or appear.
Similarly, the left and right hemispheres of our brain work together to make sense of our world and keep us safe. We get precise, simplified details in a closed system processed by the left side of our brain (EG: picking the specific items we want from the shelves of a well-stocked grocery story), and we get the context, connections and changes processed and noted by our right hemisphere (EG: how these groceries make up the meals for the coming week for the family members we want to take care of).
Design for Both Hemispheres
So, what does this mean for learning? Quite simply: design for both hemispheres. Don’t meticulously create a workshop that focuses only on precise details of the skills participants need to learn and practice. Also include the context of how and where these skills fit into their work and life. Help them discover that what you’re teaching them relates to their roles back in the office. Use more visuals, pictures and metaphors to imply meaning rather than bullet point after bullet point of explanation.
I’ve been exploring cognitive/brain science for a number of years now because I want to design learning experiences that work WITH the brain, not against it. How about you? What have you learned in this field that helps you help people learn and develop in effective ways?
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