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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Plus ça change: Why Mobile Learning is the New Impressionism, Part I


Marie Antoinette poignantly expressed what the generic French phrase plus ça change plus c’est la même chose drives at. That is, the “more things change, the more they stay the same”. Some might find this view pessimistic, like it should be accompanied by a heavy sigh of defeat. I rather find it comforting, because – let’s all admit it – change is downright scary and uncomfortable (albeit frequently exciting). Still, change is more palatable than revolution (something Queen Marie was facing at the time).

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As a history teacher for 20 years, I found the cyclical nature of History  fascinating. History seemed more and more to be about the things which make us human – love, lust, art, passion, greed, jealously, fear, pride…(fill in deadly sin of your choice). And when the Internet came along and “content” was easily accessible, information no longer “special”,  it became very clear to me that my course would need to be more about the doing of History rather than the raw facts of the subject.

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Instead of offering the usual linear “survey” course, I opted for a more thematic approach: we studied big concepts like “Historiography”, “Power”, “Revolution”, and “Progress”, for example. Flying all over the centuries – from Robespierre to Tahir Square – was at first a bit confusing for students but in their final reflections I saw that our emphasis on current events made History more relevant, and that they were aware of the thread that binds us through time.

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This is the first installment of a series of blog posts about what I feel is a strong connection between the Impressionist Art Movement of the 19th century and the so-called “Mobile Revolution” we are experiencing now. My point is this:

1. What’s Going On

We are experiencing a grand paradigm shift that of course started with the Internet but can only come to fruition with personal mobile devices, the Internet of Things, wearables, and finally implanted technology (yes, I am talking “cyborg”).

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2. Why Does it Matter?

All of the above drastically affects education and the way learning happens or should happen

3. My Phone is a Part of Me

If we think of devices as mere extensions of ourselves (see Marshall McLuhan) , then we see that our needs and wants and propensities have shaped the tech but that in turn, the tech affects the way we interact with others, our environment, and ourselves. Our smartphones, for example have become our vade mecuma Latin term that means “Go with Me” but was a handbook kept closely on one’s person at all times for reference– but it won’t be long before we have wearables and implanted devices.

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4. Proactive not Reactive

There is no going back – it’s like sitting at the top of a roller coaster or that feeling right before you give birth…we really have no choice but to embrace it

5. The Inevitable New Normal

While this is a BIG change – in fact, a revolution of sorts – there is no need to fear…we’ve been through this before…there will be a “new normal”.

6.  Moving Forward to the Past

The Impressionist Art Movement can teach us quite a lot about mobile and connected learning and hopefully put us at ease so we can reframe our thinking and offer the most enriched experience possible.

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This series will discuss:

Part II: “Hardware”

(that is, the physical components and technologies that facilitated the Impressionist movement and how they are analogous to what is going on now)

Part III: “Software”

(the mindset, thinking, attitudes, and techniques that shaped Impressionism and the parallel to our current times)

Part IV: “Connection”

(how being connected to an affinity group and recently forged connections to other cultures led to innovation- very much akin to the globally connected society to which we belong)

Part V: “Takeaways”

(what lessons can we learn from the Impressionists and this period in History that can directly influence our attitudes about mobile learning and the ways in which we integrate it into our courses?)

I believe it’s imperative that we embrace mobile technology – especially personal devices- in our courses and leverage social media as much as possible. All of this helps break down the brick and mortar – and even traditional notions of time and space – and if done correctly creates what I like to call a #glassclass. Radical transparency extends the learning experience and amplifies student work.


I’ve often said that “the cloud is our campfire”…and to be honest the most important thing we can do is help students cultivate a network, understand how to negotiate in physical and digital spaces with grace and elegance,  and give them opportunities to create and publish beautiful work to build their portfolio and share their voice. 

Nota Bene: I am thinking about doing a 15 minute keynote about this, so I’d appreciate your comments.

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#art #connectedlearning #digitalliteracy #history #paradigmshift #revolution #mobilelearning #hardware #change #marieantoinette #socialmedia #education #keynote #software #impressionism #connection #amyburvall

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