1 July 2016

emfec welcomed Professor Robert Winston today who delivered a talk to education practitioners about how we learn from experience and how making mistakes is an important aspect in the process of learning.

The event was a rare opportunity for practitioners to hear Professor Winston in an intimate environment and for him to reflect on how neuroscience can teach us valuable lessons in other fields of work, in this case in education and training.

Combining a series of relevant videos from his career and elsewhere, Professor Winston explored how visualisation is a crucial component in both physical and theoretical learning, giving the example of a gymnast learning a new competition move. In order to successfully complete the move, the gymnast visualises every aspect the body will go through first in order to forge new pathways in the brain to prepare for the real thing.

We learn the most quickly when we are young, Professor Winston explained, and we learn from the experience of doing things and seeing other people doing them. Referring to a moment when footballer Michael Owen missed an open goal in a crucial match, Professor Winston drew the audience’s attention to an image of the crowd, who were all holding their hands on their heads identically in disbelief.

Instinctive learning like this is not hard-wired into our brains but comes from repeated experiences. To explain this in more detail, Professor Winston told the audience about the brain of Albert Einstein, considered to be one of the world’s greatest geniuses. After his death, pathologists opened up his brain to find that there was nothing remarkable about it at all.

Professor Winston said:

“Two people working together have more brain power than Einstein. Collaboration is key because it combines different personalities and attributes. Very few scientists truly work on their own.

“We don’t teach people that failure is absolutely critical to success and an important part of learning. All of the scientific papers I and others have worked on have had a failure in order to help us reach a successful outcome.”

Professor Winston also argued that vocational education is just as challenging as academic pursuits, and that he has been extremely impressed with the further education colleges he has visited to see such aspiration in students who are perhaps stereotypically less driven to succeed.

He added:

“The work teachers do is much more important than the work I do because it is your job to inspire the next generation – something which Government ministers don’t always get.”

Professor Winston’s wide-ranging talk also looked at the role of music in helping people to learn, particularly in language subjects, and the role that empathy plays in creating a more comfortable and ultimately happy environment for people to learn in.

emfec was also delighted to welcome Five Leaves Bookshop, a local independent business who came with a number of Professor Winston’s books for the audience to buy and have signed by the speaker.

Professor Robert Winston is renowned for his ground-breaking research in fertility treatments and runs a research programme at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College that aims to improve human transplant.

He is a champion of STEM outreach in all aspects of education and is a frequent speaker in the House of Lords on matters relating to education, science, medicine and the arts.

Professor Winston is also the Chair of Genesis Research Trust, a charity which raises money to fund research into the causes and cures for conditions that affect the health of women and babies, and to understand more about premature births, miscarriages and still births.

Today’s event was also an opportunity for Professor Winston to hear about the virtual bike ride that emfec and ABC Awards are doing to support staff member Denise to raise money for the charity. You can find out more about this here.