“So is the program online? Oh.”

I’ve mentioned my enthusiasm for MBE before: I’m enormously proud of the good work that my program, its leaders, and its alumni are doing in the world to bring educational practice, neurobiology, and cognitive psychology together. MBE is one of the co-sponsors of the annual Learning and the Brain conference, and I’ve been impressed with the conference each year as its tone has evolved. At the first few that I attended, there was a lot more uncritical enthusiasm for “brain science!!” and not nearly enough actual, you know, science. I saw a lot of slides that would quickly show a still from an MRI or an EEG and the presenter would exclaim, “And that’s how learning works!” It made me a little uncomfortable: having trained in MBE, my default is to be skeptical until proven otherwise. The idea is to be a thoughtful and responsible steward of insights from these three key disciplines to better serve each of htem; it doesn’t serve anyone to just get excited about technology without asking what its practical implications might be.

Increasingly, the conversation has gotten more sophisticated. The conference feels more like a thoughtful inquiry into how the mind, brain, and education universes interact. The talks are more conservative in their statements–it’s not that “learning takes place here in the brain”; instead, there’s a lot more cautious language about what certain neuropsychological findings can suggest for learning. While this has meant fewer snazzy multi-colored brain scans, it’s led to deeper conversations about how we as educators can better serve our students. That, to me, is the most worthwhile work that can come out of a conference like this.

The one thing that’s stayed constant, though, is the question that every single person asks at the MBE table here at the conference. It has a few variations:

So is the program online?
When will they be moving it online?
Wait, why not? Doesn’t Harvard know about MOOCs?
Are you sure it’s not online?
Why are you advertising this in San Francisco?

The answer is: nope, not online, and never going online. We’re not here to advertise; we’re here to lend our voice to the conversation here that we consider so valuable. Bringing the best insights from educational practice, neurobiology, and cognitive science together takes lively, committed, and deep conversation. That’s the kind of thing that conferences can foster, and it’s something that thrives on-site in Cambridge in the MBE program. So that’s why I’m here.

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