Chapter 1: Introduction

Helga Hambrock; Frelét de Villiers; and Rob Power

As technology evolves and as challenges such as global pandemic, wars, refugee crises and natural catastrophes escalate, education needs to adjust and adopt. The concern that education is placed on the backburner when these challenges affect our communities has become most apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools and universities closed for longer than a year.  Preparing higher education for such challenges has become an urgent global matter. At a superficial level, technology can appear to be a panacea for addressing some of the education challenges such as replacing physical classrooms with virtual classrooms, however, the use of technology must be considered with care and in relation to local and global contexts. A nuanced and detailed plan needs to be in place to achieve quality education; for this reason, a seamless learning approach is suggested in this study.

To understand the intricacies of a designing seamless learning experiences, the aim of this study is to provide a practical example of a comparison of ten international learning environments and approaches to establish if seamless learning was implemented before and during COVID. The seamless learning approach not only provides students with more formats for learning, but also gives the instructors more versatility to convey knowledge to the students. Beyond merely considering the technology (such as mobile phones, tablets, and other devices), rethinking the pedagogical methodologies can give students additional possibilities to choose when, where and what they want to learn.

1.1 Background of Project

1.1.1 How it All Began

During the mLearn 2018 conference Chicago, the participants attended brain-storming sessions by using a bot called CONNIE (“connecting of new neurons in exploration”, an objective content selector) to decide which topic would be relevant for a global research project. This would be the first global research project of the International Association of Mobile learning. A presentation by Dr. Ellen Rusman, Dr. Esther Tan and Dr. Olga Firssova, colleagues from the Open University in the Netherlands, titled ‘Dreams, realism, and critics of stakeholders on implementing seamless learning scenarios in Dutch secondary education (Rusman et. al, 2018) drew the attention of the global research committee.  After several rounds of discussions, the topic for the research project was decided: the topic would be built on seamless learning. The global research project of 2019 would be a follow-up study of the Netherlands study, but on a global scale.

The global research participants consisted of Dr. Helga Hambrock (Chicago, United States of America), Dr. Frelét de Villiers (Bloemfontein, South Africa), Dr. Kathryn MacCallum (Canterbury, New Zealand), Dr. Shamsul Arrieya Ariffin (Perak, Malaysia) and Dr. Ellen Rusman (Heerlen, The Netherlands). Each researcher repeated the original workshop in their own environment. Data were collected during the workshops by applying Disney’s Creative Strategy method, information from different perspectives. A more detailed description of the method is extensively explained in the book Seamless Learning in Higher Education: Perspectives of International Educators on Its Curriculum and Implementation Potential: Global Research Project 2020 (Hambrock et al., 2020). The proposition postulated to the participants was: ‘Seamless (learning) experiences should become a standard component within the curriculum of our institution’. This statement was analyzed from three different perspectives. Thereafter, a convergent parallel mixed-method approach was used. The quantitative side consisted of calculating percentages based on the number of comments in each country followed by a comparative analysis between the countries. A deductive analysis of the comments of the participants from each country, based on a framework provided by Rusman, Tan and Firsova (2018), constituted the qualitative side of the research. The three main themes of the deductive analysis were:

  • the decision process;
  • the change process, and
  • the design and implementation process.

The conclusion of the study included the following findings:

  • Even though the International Standards for Technology Integration in Education (ISTE) standards have been accepted by the departments of education and for teachers in schools, instructors, and especially university professors, are still not using the seamless learning approach in their classrooms and need to plan and implement the approach in the near future.
  • Instructors need more training, support and monitoring when implementing the seamless learning approach in their classrooms. The university is responsible for supporting the implementation process by training and supporting the instructors.
  • The implementation of seamless learning and technology integration in teaching needs to be aligned to job appointments and used as an incentive to further their career.

During the data analysis, it also became evident that more information could be deducted from the data without using pre-constructed categories and an inductive data analysis method was applied. After obtaining written consent from all researchers from the first project, Hambrock and De Villiers reviewed and analyzed the data sets for a second round from a new perspective. They combined the data sets to find new overarching themes and sub-themes. By coding data and categorizing the data into the identified themes. Five themes were identified as relevant for designing a seamless learning experience include 1) seamless learning concepts, 2) positive concepts, 3) practical concepts, 4) human concepts, and 5) design concepts. Based on these five (concepts, a Seamless Learning Experience Design (SLED) framework was developed.

Figure 1.1

Seamless Learning Experience Design (SLED) framework (De Villiers & Hambrock, 2022)

Figure 1.1 - Seamless Learning Experience Design (SLED) framework

The overarching concepts incorporate several sub-themes that will be discussed in more depth in the following chapters.

1.1.2 Follow-Up Study 2021 – 2022

A follow-up study was initiated by Dr. Hambrock and more researchers from inside and outside the IAMlearn community were invited to participate in the second round. The goal was to follow an instructional designer approach by firstly analyzing existing courses with specific focus on the design of the course by using the concepts and the subthemes of the SLED framework as criteria. The data collection and analysis were conducted in ten (10) educational institutions in 9 different countries.  As mentioned above, the focus was on the design of the courses with specific reference to teaching an identified course before and during COVID-19. The five identified concepts of the SLED framework are presented in chapters 2 to 6. The five concepts include: core learning concept in chapter 2, positive concepts of seamless learning in chapter 3, practical concepts in chapter 4, technical concepts in chapter 5, and design concepts in chapter 6. In order to ensure a sound understanding of the meaning of each concept and its subsequent sub-themes within the context of this study, the concepts and their subthemes are explained as part of the introduction to each chapter. After the clarification of the concepts in each chapter, the collected data are depicted in the form of comparative graphs in chapters 2 to 6 and discussed. Chapter 6 focuses on the relevance of technology and chapter 7 provides a reflection on the journey of the researchers during this study. The study concludes with chapter 9, which includes combined graphs with suggestions and a conclusion. In each chapter, key terms are clarified in each chapter. The descriptions of the terms are retrieved from existing research studies and academic resources. Understanding the themes is especially helpful when having to plan and design a seamless learning environment.

1.1.3 Objective and Research Methodology

The objective of this study is to apply the SLED model as an analysis and guiding tool to design a customized seamless learning experience for each environment. For this study the SLED model was used to analyze how prepared the mentioned higher education institutions were for seamless learning before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research question for this study were formulated as follows:

  1. How prepared are higher education institutions for seamless learning?

Sub-questions include:

  • 1 What needs to change to improve the seamless learning approach at academic institutions?
  • 2 How can seamless learning be customized for a specific environment?
  • 3 How did seamless learning change from before to during COVID-19?

The questions were used as guidelines to explore the current practice at academic institutions. These guidelines are openly accessible for any researcher with the passion to improve the learning experiences of the students and to achieve a smoother seamless learning experience for them.

In this book the five identified concepts are presented in chapters 2 to 5 with an introduction in each chapter to clarify the meaning and definition of the themes and subthemes within the context of seamless learning. In the second part of each chapter the findings from the collected data are presented in the form of comparative graphs where all 10 institutions are represented. In the final chapter a conclusion provides suggestions on the overall findings regarding each concept how the SLED model, as a seamless-learning analysis tool, might be adjusted.

1.1.4 Participants and Data Collection

The participating researchers work at institutions in the following countries: Canada, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Saudi- Arabia, Portugal, South Africa (institution #1) and South Africa (institution #2), Turkey and the USA. Thirteen researchers from twelve countries volunteered to participate in the study. The countries include the USA, Canada, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa from an urban campus (South Africa 1) and a rural campus (South Africa 2).

The researchers collected the data in their own respective countries and worked as a team to compile the book. The writing of the chapters was shared by two or three researchers per chapter and two additional volunteer researchers from Sweden and Denmark participated in writing two more chapters from a more objective perspective and included data collected from the researchers.

Each participant analyzed their course or program according to the criteria in the rubric and sent the information to the central committee for further analysis. The data was then re-organized, so each section contained the data from all 10 environments. Each country’s data was represented under the same heading.

The rubric was presented to the researchers in an Excel spreadsheet containing the overall concepts and the sub-criteria. Each sub-criteria was divided into sections. The included the sub-criteria for example: “alternative teaching and learning methods were used” and included the options of a “Before” COVID-19 column and a “During” COVID-19 column. Participants could answer with an affirmative “YES” or a non-affirmative “NO”.

Table 1.1

Example of a survey

Criteria Before During
Alternative teaching and learning strategies YES NO

Table 1.2

Example of YES and NO frequencies per country

Table 1.2: Example of YES and NO frequencies per country.

The data is that is collected by country is combined into a larger data set which is furthermore portrayed in the form of comparative graphs. (Such as graph 1.1 Figure 1.2 below.)

If a category includes more than one sub-category the sum of the frequencies of the sub-categories are added up. In the graph below the sum of “YES” or “NO” of the sub-categories adds up to 29 per country. In the USA, 17 of the criteria “before” were stipulated as “YES” and 12 as “NO” “during” COVID -19. The “YES” answers decreased and the “NO” answers increased. This means that more alternative teaching and learning methods were used during COVID, but the NO answers also increased which could mean that more challenges were found. In Canada, even more methods were introduced during COVID whilst in South Africa 1, less were introduced. Portugal had an increase whilst Egypt had a decrease in the use of alternative teaching and learning methods.

Figure 1.2

Alternative teaching and learning methods

Figure 1.2 - Alterantive teaching and learning methods

1.2 Reflection

This book offers rich data and interesting scenarios to the reader. Collaborative work is encouraged by this book. In global research projects, as this one, the researcher’s view changes from a local to a global perspective and invites reflection on one’s own local practices. It opens the thinking of the researcher to a more objective view and is being inspired to come up with innovative ideas for finding solutions. The unique views of the researchers are included in each chapter. A major motivation for undertaking this study was to collaboratively finding solutions to improve the quality of education systems of all countries during a time of multiple challenges. Indeed, living in a globalized world with continuously shifting economic, climatic, social, and political challenges lends itself to working together to identify common problems and to finding solutions that can benefit the students, the instructors, and the educational systems as a whole. Considering the success of the collaborative global research in the health environment to develop and distribute a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus in a short period of time, this research study is, likewise, a positive attempt to the betterment of the greater good in the academic world as outlined called for by UNESCO (Locatelli, 2018) and the Calgary Communique (PCF10: The Calgary Communique, 2022). In observing the issues with the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to marginalized communities around the world, this work is being published in an open format to ensure equal access to learners, instructors, and administrators in educational institutions around the world regardless of socio-economic status.


De Villiers, F & Hambrock, H. (in press). Designing a seamless learning experience design (SLED) framework in higher education based on global perspectives. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning (EJEL).

Hambrock, H., de Villiers, F., Rusman, E., MacCallum, K., & Arrieya Arrifin, S. (2020). Seamless learning in higher education. Perspectives of international educators on its curriculum and implementation Potential. Global research Project 2020, International Association for Mobile Learning.

Locatelli, R. (2018). Education as a public and common good: reframing the governance of education in a changing context. Education research and foresight working papers. UNESCO.

PCF10: The Calgary Communique (2022, September 23) [PDF file]. Commonwealth of Learning.

Rusman, E., Tan, E., & Firssova, O. (2018, November). Dreams, realism and critics of stakeholders on implementing seamless learning scenario’s in Dutch secondary education. In World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (pp. 88-96).


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Seamless Learning in Higher Education 2 Copyright © 2022 by Helga Hambrock; Frelét de Villiers; and Rob Power is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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