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The Basics of Effective Learning
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Getting the Big Picture and
Paying Attention to the Details

Based on information gained from new technologies and recent research on the brain, we know that we use the entire brain when processing information. In spite of this fact, learners seem to fall into one of two camps. Some tend to be "right brained," showing a preference to learn and process information simultaneously and focusing on the big picture and relationships between ideas. Others tend to be "left brained" and learn and process information in a sequential, step-by-step fashion, while focusing on details. But just as we need to see with both of our eyes in order to capture all of the nuances of an image, we need to gather information from both "big picture" and "detail" perspectives in order to fully understand. Like a puzzle, you don't get the "whole picture" until you have all the pieces.

If you tend to be a "big picture" learner, you should be aware that you may miss important details when you read, take notes, and study. You may "jump to conclusions" in your eagerness to look for patterns and relationships. In a similar way, if you tend to focus on details, you may not recognize the relationships between ideas that are also critical to full understanding. If you "can't see the forest for the trees," you may find it difficult to understand where the information is heading.

The implication is that we should strive for a balance between these two styles of learning. We should seek ways to get information from the opposite "brain," by practicing ways to get all the information we need and/or by working with others who tend to be strong in the opposite style.

The following are some techniques that can help to strengthen both styles of learning:

If you are "Left Brained" (detailed, step-by-step, linear)

If you are "Right Brained" (big picture, simultaneous, holistic):

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Developed by Meg Keeley
Special Populations Office, Bucks County Community College
With funding from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act
Designed and Produced by Chimera Studio

Copyright 1997 Bucks County Community College. All rights reserved.

Author: keeleym@bucks.edu