Chapter 2: Core Learning Concepts

Frelét de Villiers; Helga Hambrock; and Rob Power

Introduction and Background

Seamless learning is a concept that is relatively unfamiliar to the majority of educators in higher education (Hambrock, De Villiers, Rusman, MacCallum, Arrifin, 2020). It is a concept that, if introduced to higher education, could pave the way for positive innovation and adaptation to the changing educational landscape.  The seamless learning experience design framework (SLED) was created by Hambrock and de Villiers (2022) and includes five overarching concepts along with detailed themes: 1) core learning concepts, 2) positive concepts, 3) practical concepts, 4) human concepts, and 5) design concepts. According to Sharples, McAndrew, Weller, Ferguson, FitzGerald, Hirst, et al., (2012) seamless learning is achieved “when a person experiences a continuity of learning, and consciously bridges the multifaceted learning efforts, across a combination of locations, times, technologies or social settings” (p. 24). In the study by Hambrock and de Villiers (2022), the following sub-concepts were identified to be of essence to the success of seamless learning: alternative teaching and learning methods, challenges and concerns, expert engagement, innovation, measurement of success, networking with other students, and scholarship. These sub-concepts are discussed under 2.1 to 2.7.

2.1 Alternative Teaching and Learning Methods

Alternative teaching and learning methods are the first sub-concepts that are mentioned in the study of seamless learning in higher education by Hambrock and de Villiers (2022). These concepts were identified as important replacements or as supports for the traditional classroom approach. “Traditional classrooms” refers to teacher-centered pedagogy with students sitting in organized rows for a pre-determined time, often listening rather passively to the instructor in a specific classroom or space (Penner, 1984; Schramm,1954; Khan, 1997). In Skinner’s (1988) interpretation, the pedagogical approach in a traditional classroom is often behaviorist and/or instructivist. This means that the student repeats the knowledge received from the instructor without necessarily understanding the newly introduced concept or actively engaging with it. This level of knowledge acquisition is categorized by Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom 1956) as the lowest level. Sometimes the student may remember the information for a short period of time but may not be able to explain the content to his/her fellow-student or may not be able to apply the knowledge. This teacher-centered approach can have far-reaching effects on student performance and subsequently on their future.

Traditional classroom teaching tends to overlook the individual need of students and may slow the development of problem solving or higher order intellectual skills (Hannum & Briggs, 1982). Traditional teaching methods were even considered as “a major cause of a dysfunctional and even obsolete education system” (Banathy 1994; Reigeluth 1994).  When technology access by students became readily available during the early 1990s, the traditional teaching approach could be augmented by alternative teaching and learning methods such as.

It has become evident that the aim of a seamless learning environment is to focus on creating spaces for learning; that is, spaces in which individuals can participate in learning activities within and across carefully considered environments conducive to learning (Goodyear, 2015; Wright, 2011). It includes a variety of alternative teaching and learning methods (Nurutdinova et al., 2016) that offer the student not only the opportunity to learn in the classroom (Corno & Mandinac, 1983), out of the classroom, in formal and informal learning learning environments (Eshach, 2007; Russell et al.2013), on the playground, in the library but also through virtual learning beyond the school walls (Hindin et al. 2007).

In a learning environment, the student and the teacher co-construct the experience through active negotiation of meaning. The students work together individually, as well as collaboratively. Constructivist and socio-constructivist learning pedagogies (Kanselaar, 2002) are included in the curriculum. Active learning (Felder & Brent, 2009) as well as experiential learning (Kolb, 2014) can be included as part of alternative teaching and learning experiences. The role of students and teachers, time and place can be adapted to improve a seamless learning approach but access to technology also plays a major role in shifting teaching and learning approaches. Technology and its various forms in the context of seamless learning are discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.

Another important aspect to consider for seamless learning is that all senses need to be actively involved; in other words, learning should involve visual, auditory, olfactory, and kinesthetic (proprioceptive) engagement when possible and appropriate. The full range of senses are not always explicitly considered in the traditional teaching approach where most of the learning is actioned mainly by watching and listening. Research has shown over the years that learning needs to be a process where all the senses are actively engaged (Banes & Lepecki, 2012) to achieve a successful outcome. As part of an holistic approach diverse learning methods (Kolb & Kolb, 2009; Ayre & Nafalski, 2000) need to be accommodated. Holistic sensory approaches also accommodate students with diverse learning preferences (Booth & Ainscow, 2002) and/or physical challenges such as challenged eyesight and hearing (Ismaili, 2017; Brown et al, 2011).

To improve the understanding of content, even more access to the actual world is highly beneficial and can make learning more meaningful and relevant. This can be achieved either by real world scenarios from case studies and augmented or virtual reality to receive first-hand experience (Kolb, 2014) in the workplace or to simulate the learning experience (Dawley & Dede, 2014; Dunleavy & Dede, 2014). The experience outside the classroom may also include connecting with the community to understand the bigger picture and the environment that surrounds the client. For example, doing a practical activity in a school and meeting the parents of the school kids is a way of connecting with families. Another hands-on activity for the student would be to find more information on the Internet and to do interviews with the parents or customers/managers. Such interviews can be helpful for the student to understand the context of the knowledge they are learning. These examples demonstrate how a seamless-learning approach supports the integration of theory and practice. Furthermore, the inclusion of inquiry-based and project-based learning (Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006) can provide additional learning opportunities including game-based learning (Tobias et al., 2014). The above-mentioned lessons and activities will also provide a richer learning experience if the students are encouraged to explore (De Freitas & Neumann, 2009) and to find solutions during active learning experiences (Keith & Wolff, 2014).

Since we are living in a globally connected world, students need to be prepared for a multicultural experience (Pedersen, 2004). To promote better understanding of multicultural environments, various cultural elements and perspectives should be added into the course work (Tung & Verbeke, 2010; Hofstede, 2011). It is important that all aspects of the course convey respect for ethics and beliefs of different people, languages, and cultures. The child or student needs to be exposed to differing philosophies to understand who they are in relation to others and ultimately to understand why others act the way they do. Pedagogically, the same approach of mutual respect would be necessary for teachers to model an unbiased approach for all students. Teachers and learners can retain their own opinions, but they can also learn how to convey their thoughts and beliefs with dignity and respect.

Not only are today’s student living in a globally connected, multicultural world, but they are surrounded by continuously changing technologies. Adaptive strategies can help simplify complex systems (Pinheiro & Young, 2017). On the institutional level, it is important to conceptualize systems that are clear and simple enough to implement throughout the universities and higher education institutions. In order to achieve this seamless experience, a well-planned strategy needs to be in place and evolve into a policy for all to follow.

At the learner level, there may be so many distractions are part of the current more traditional classroom that it can be difficult for students to concentrate on the information at hand. For example, during a given class, students may be accustomed to talking to each other when the instructor turns away or even when the instructor is speaking. For students who have missed lessons or important points during a class, a seamless learning environment can advance transfer of learning as it offers the students to go back and catch up on the work, they missed in the class or the instructor can monitor the class with technology or give the class immersive work to do to keep the students focused. (Clark & Harrelson, 2002). Improving transfer of learning also offers the students the opportunity to improve their level of learning (a per Bloom’s Taxonomy) and their retention of the knowledge (Cormier & Hagman, 2014).

Another challenge that may cause distraction but that can be channeled into learning with great success is the use of educational mobile apps to curate information. The number of available apps in the market today can be very confusing and overwhelming but with a matrix as designed by Hambrock and Richter (2019), mobile apps can bring an interesting and motivating approach to the learning of the student. For example, using an app like Google maps for a virtual tour in a geography class or a Kahoot activity involving interactive quizzes can create a fun and yet informative learning experience. Furthermore, students can interact directly with learning content that is available in a variety of formats (e.g., video, audio, document, etc.) on a variety of devices and platforms. Through many different platforms, they can also have the option of having their own learning sequenced, directed, and evaluated by a teacher.

Many social, cognitive, and metacognitive skills can be developed and facilitated through a seamless-learning approach. For example, seamless learning can take place within an online, blended, and/or face-to-face community of inquiry, employing synchronous and asynchronous activities available on the internet (video, audio, computer conferencing, chats, or virtual world interaction). These synchronous and asynchronous online environments can help users to develop social and collaborative skills. Cognitively, there are several features that are proposed in terms of leveraging tools to support students’ cognitive development and collaborative knowledge construction: (a) utilizing various tools in information retrieval, mind mapping, document management, presentation, and social tools to assist students in accessing information, comparing different points of view, expressing their own opinions, and forming an organizational and multi-media personal knowledge base; and (b) utilizing instant messaging tools, social platforms, and learning communities to assist students in discussing, debating, and reaching agreements with group members or learning community members. This can aid students in internal negotiation and creation of meaning through reflection on learning outcomes and processes, promoting personalized understanding and, in turn, the development of higher-level thinking. Metacognitively, the student can be encouraged to take responsibility for his/her learning in a seamless learning environment. Malcolm Knowles (1975) defines self-directed learning as “a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, and evaluating learning outcomes” (p.18).

2.1.1 Summary

As part of alternative teaching methods multiple pedagogical approaches and techniques can be used, as well as multiple technologies such as videos with subtitles. Videos, for example, can convey knowledge to students without the instructor being present. Other technologies such as bots can also be added as a chat support in the learning material of the students. Thus, if the student has access to a WAP-enabled device, learning can take place continuously. Anywhere, at any time and can seamlessly move from one mode to another. Figure 2.1 presents the data that were collected and compared in this study in terms of alternative teaching and learning methods before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic:

Figure 2.1

Alternative teaching and learning methods

Figure 2.1 - Alternative teaching and learning methods

The participants from the institutions in the USA, India, and Turkey indicate slight differences in teaching and learning methodologies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions with a decrease of alternative methodologies during COVID-19 include those located in Egypt, South Africa (institution #1) and Saudi Arabia, whilst alternative teaching and learning methods increased in South Africa (institution #2), Portugal, Malaysia, and Canada.

The slight increase in alternative methods may be because the institutions had already adopted various alternative teaching methodologies before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the institutions where a noticeable increase was indicated, presumably they adjusted their teaching and learning approaches to accommodate the new learning environment. At those institutions where a decrease in alternative methods was indicated, alternative teaching and learning methodologies may not have been implemented in some cases because most of their students had very little or no access to technology during the pandemic.

2.2 Challenges and Concerns

The use of seamless learning approaches necessitates seamless access to the digital tools employed and the infrastructures required to support instructors and students. This includes access to hardware such as desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. It also includes access to the digital applications required to integrate new pedagogical approaches. Equally as important as the front-facing hardware and applications, teachers and students require robust infrastructures including hardwired or wireless internet connectivity, reliable power supplies, and technical support teams. They also require access to training support when mastering new tools and pedagogical approaches, and administrative support such as the allocation of dedicated time to develop new teaching and learning resources, and time to implement those approaches and resources effectively.

Figure 2.2 shows the differences between countries in terms of the challenges they faced with access to technology, power, connectivity, support infrastructure, and workload. In most cases, it appears that these challenges and concerns were more pervasive before the COVID-19 pandemic and became less of an issue as the pandemic forced institutions, faculty, and students, to leverage technology to facilitate teaching and learning during the pandemic.

Figure 2.2

Challenges and concerns

Figure 2.2 - Challenges and Concerns

2.2.1 Access to Technology

Access to hardware such as desktop or laptop computers, tablets, or mobile devices did not appear to be a challenge or concern for some participant countries. For example, the participants from Canada and the USA described existing widespread access to such devices amongst both faculty and students, while Saudi Arabia noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic technology was “in our hand now.” However, other countries such as South Africa describe issues of equity in technology access as a significant challenge, noting that “not all students have access to the same level of technology.”

2.2.2 Power and Connectivity Concerns

Access to a stable power supply is critical when using technology to facilitate seamless learning access. For most institutions in this study, this did not appear to be a significant issue. However, reliable power supplies did present a challenge in contexts such as those of the two South African institutions, where “run down municipal infrastructure,” especially in rural areas, was noted as a contributing factor to the challenge of frequent “power failures and load-shedding.” Unreliable access to electrical power can prevent faculty and students from using digital technologies. It was also noted as a contributing factor to unreliable wired and wireless internet connectivity. This was also noted as a problem for both faculty and students in India. In contrast, the institutions samples from Canada, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Turkey, and Egypt noted that access to both reliable power and internet connectivity did not present significant issues either before or during the pandemic. In most cases, faculty and students had access to reliable power supplies and internet connectivity on campus and in their communities. This was especially true in larger urban and suburban centers. However, even in Canada geography did create some technology equity issues. For example, during the pandemic, faculty and students participating remotely from rural communities did face some challenges with the availability of broadband internet services.

2.2.3 Access to Support and Training

Institutions in most countries were described as having technological support infrastructure in place, such as IT Support teams that could be contacted both in-person (on campus) or remotely. This meant that help was available for general technical issues when encountered by faculty and students. However, support for both technology skills and workload issues were frequently noted as a challenge when implementing seamless learning approaches. In many cases, faculty were provided with access to professional development support to learn how to use the digital tools employed for seamless learning during the pandemic. Students appeared to have less access to dedicated training on the use of digital tools. Faculty expressed most concern about a lack of time to dedicate to redesigning curricula and developing and deploying seamless learning resources and activities.

2.3 Expert Engagement

Markowitz (2020) notes that engagement with peers is vital because “students learn more effectively through interaction, collaboration, and discussion with other students than they do through individual study.” Power (2013) describes how the use of technology to facilitate peer engagement draws upon Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, allowing students to fill in gaps in their own expertise and skills by drawing upon those of the collective.  As illustrated in Figure 2.3.1, drawing upon collective peer expertise increases the range of knowledge and skills of both the individual student and the entire peer group.

Figure 2.3.1

Impact of peer engagement (adapted from Power, 2013, pp. 5-6)

Figure 2.3.1 - Impact of peer engagement

Beyond peer engagement, Fitzgerald et al. (2016) explain that a full seamless learning experience for higher education students must include engagement with experts and the broader community because “not all knowledge and expertise resides in the academy, and… both expertise and great learning opportunities in teaching and scholarship also reside in non-academic settings” (p. 223). As with peer collaboration, engagement with experts in students’ fields of study exposes them to greater breadth of knowledge and helps them to expand their own expertise and skill sets. For this study, data were collected on the integration of expert presentations, interviews, and experiential learning beyond the classroom. Figure 2.3.2 shows the data collected about the level of expert engagement integrated into seamless learning design in participant countries.

Figure 2.3.2

Expert engagement

Figure 2.3.2: Expert engagement

Figure 2.3.2 shows that the level of expert engagement remained relatively stable for most countries before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The institutions from the USA, Canada, Portugal, and South Africa all indicated high degrees of expert engagement in seamless learning before the pandemic. However, some countries such as South Africa noted challenges to maintaining students’ access to engagement with experts during the pandemic because of restrictions on guest presenter access to campuses, or student access to field experience locations. Other countries, such as Canada, described continued or increased reliance upon live virtual or pre-recorded expert presentations. In some cases, countries also noted challenges during the pandemic with arranging for student interviews with experts.

2.4 Innovation

As Kozma (1994a, b) posited, leveraging new technologies can provide instructors and students with access to new teaching and learning approaches. These innovative approaches can enrich seamless learning by allowing students to draw upon their own creativity, by immersing students in unique learning situations, and by challenging students to move beyond explore on their own and move beyond traditional representations of their learning.  For example, the participants from Canada, Turkey, and Egypt all described engaging students in the design, development, and testing of new learning resources or experiences. Students in these contexts made their own decisions about the problems to be tackled with their instructional design projects, determined what sorts of technology-mediated learning activities to integrate into their own prototypes, and applied learning theories and instructional design principles to create products with immediate, real-world application. Other participants described leveraging technology in innovative ways during the pandemic to promote learner engagement and collaboration, and to allow students to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes in unique ways.

In this study, data were collected on the integration of creativity, unique learning opportunities, challenging students, and encouragement of student exploration, both before and during the pandemic. The results are summarized in Figure 2.4.

Figure 2.4


Figure 2.4: Innovation

It is evident from the data that innovation played a key role in all countries both before and during the pandemic, with overall levels of innovation integration remaining stable for most of the institutions sampled in this study. Institutions from all countries indicated that innovation in teaching and learning was central to the seamless learning experience even before the pandemic, with only South Africa, Malaysia and Egypt noting increases in the difficulty with integrating innovation during the pandemic. As well, India noted that traditional academic and organizational structures often discouraged the integration of truly innovative practices.

2.5 Measurement of Success

Measurement of success can be translated to the effectiveness of assessment strategies. Riconscente et al. (2015) define assessment as a ‘collection of processes and instruments that allow the subjects to make valid claims regarding their knowledge, skills and abilities.’ Knowledge can be assessed, for example, through activities in which learners demonstrate interpretation of facts, learning and cognition, and observed performance of skills (Pellegrino, 2014).

2.5.1   Authentic and Cheat-Proof Assessments

A consistent theme when discussing the use of technology to facilitate assessments is cheating. Instructors, administrators, and indeed the public often express concern over the potential for students to either plagiarize written assignments or cheat on computer-facilitated exams (Heilweil, 2020; Jargon, 2020; Senoran, 2020). Recent research has been inconclusive as to whether technology-based assessments in blended or distributed learning contexts lead to an actual increase in academic fraud or simply increased ability to spot cheating when it occurs (Online Education Research, 2021; Watson & Sottile, 2010). However, there are strategies that instructors can use in seamless learning contexts to reduce both the potential and the motivation to cheat.

Power (2018a, b, 2019, 2020a, b, c, d; Power et al., 2020) describes how he uses a variety of authentic assessment strategies to increase student engagement and decrease cheating. Authentic assessments are ones that mimic the actual skills or tasks that students would be expected to perform in “the real world,” usually drawing upon realistic problems they are likely to encounter (Harrison, 2020). For example, an authentic assessment in a trades training course would be to ask a student to weld pipes together, repair a defective motor, or patch a security vulnerability on a data server.

In the case of teacher education, Power (2021) illustrates how he uses various digital technologies to facilitate a problem-based learning context, where his undergraduate and graduate teachers identify their own problems to solve, and he shapes the learning scenarios around those problems. In one type of project, Power asks teachers to develop their own prototype online learning modules in a learning management system (Athabasca University, 2021; Power, 2020b; University of Ontario Institute of Technology, 2021). The courses focus on the instructional design process. Power merges the theoretical aspects of the course concepts with the practical tasks as participants build courses that they can use in their own classrooms. Several layers of peer review are used to help participants master their application of those concepts to their own problems, as well as to see those concepts in the context of their classmates’ problems.

In another example, Power (2018a, 2018b, 2019, 2020a; Power et al., 2020) modifies the traditional term paper concept to engage undergraduate and graduate education students in a more authentic academic writing experience. Rather than producing a research paper that will only be read by the instructor, students can co-create an open-access digital textbook for their professional colleagues (Power, 2018a, 2018b, 2019, 2020). Participants write chapters related to the central course themes but focus on their own real-world problems. They also engage in double-blind peer-review processes where they both provide and receive feedback to help them improve their academic writing skills.

Power (2018a) describes these types of authentic, problem-based assessment strategies as transformative for seamless learning contexts. Students have lower motivation to cheat because they see the activity as purposeful and valuable rather than pointless. Indeed, they see the activity as an opportunity to achieve their own personal goals while “getting some marks for it on the side.” The pragmatic applications within students’ personal contexts have the benefit of increased comprehension and retention of key concepts. They also have the benefit of an increased sense of personal ownership and responsibility to produce their best work, because the products will benefit them personally and likely be seen by a wider audience of their own colleagues.

2.5.2   Enhancing Seamless Formative and Summative Feedback

The authentic assessment strategies described by Power (Power, 2018a, b, 2019, 2020a, b, c, d; Power et al., 2020) provide examples of how students can use technology to get involved in their own formative and summative evaluation processes. In both examples, students engage with each other in multiple levels of providing peer feedback. That feedback is then focused on the course concepts being explored, helping to cement those concepts for the reviewers and those receiving the feedback. As with any real-world peer review process, students may choose to ignore specific pieces of feedback when finalizing their projects. But they must be able to justify ignoring specific feedback, adding another layer of metacognition to the formative feedback process. This use of a peer feedback process helps to seamlessly integrate assessment into the overall learning experience and to make it more impactful and meaningful for the learner.

Rich multimedia tools to make the formative and summative feedback process more seamless and potent for students (Power, 2020c, 2020d). When providing feedback on applied assessments such as online course prototyping projects. The screencasting process allows for increased teacher presence in a distributed learning context and allows more detailed and targeted feedback than traditional rubrics or text-based notes (Stannard, 2018; West & Taylor, 2015).

Figure 2.5

Measurement of success

Figure 2.5: Measurement of success

When looking at the data, it seems as if the participants from most countries continued with the same assessment procedures (thus the theme of measurement of success). The respondents from the South African and Malaysian institutions left this question blank. (Sometime questions were left blank when the participants did not understand the question well.) The participant from the Egyptian institution felt that it was difficult to continue with the same assessment procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic and explained, “everything was [unclear] because we have worked fully online, but we have depended on the final exam as an accredited measurement tool”. Other institutions had assessment plans in place like “continuous measuring” (Saudi Arabia), “monthly reports” (USA), “collection of both formative and summative assessment data” before COVID and “students create a variety of digital learning artifacts throughout the course” after (Canada).

2.6 Networking with Other Students

Part of the appeal of the core concept of seamless learning is that it enables networking with other students and the fact that the world becomes “smaller” as a consequence of this mode. Mateev and Milter (2010) believe that group-based learning (where students interact and network with one another) is advantageous to learners in the sense that it develops analytical skills and enhances “ownership of learning” and reflective practice (p. 209) It may also increase student satisfaction, higher-order thinking, and long-term retention (Pombo et al., 2010). Rocca et al. (2014) found that it positively affects student achievement and motivation. Schmulian and Coetzee (2018) add perceived learning to this list of benefits.

There are a few types of learning that include networking with other students.  The three types most relevant to seamless learning are 1) interpersonal social learning, 2) collaborative learning, and 3) learning through social constructionism.

2.6.1 Interpersonal Social Learning

Social learning can be described as learning through aspects such as the value of knowledge, stimuli and actions from others. Information is acquired by observing or interacting with others (Apps et al., 2016). At least two parties are involved: the observer (learner) and the demonstrator (lecturer). Fan et al. (2016) define social learning a little differently, noting that it involves the exchange of complex information, which the human brain must swiftly and dynamically decode.

The use of mobile devices (relevant to seamless learning) can enhance and promote social learning through communication and collaboration with other learners (Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004). Motiwalla (2007) adds that mobile devices afford rich and varied opportunities for the communication and sharing critical to collaborative knowledge construction. Pan, Novembre, and Olsson (2021) differentiate four types of interpersonal social learning: direct, unidirectional observational, interactive, and interactive group (Figure 2.6.1).

Figure 2.6.1

Four types of interpersonal social learning (from Pan et al., 2021, p. 5)

Figure 2,6.1: Four types of interpersonal social learning (from Pan et al., 2021, p. 5)

Direct learning (also known as Pavlovian learning) is when the learner is presented with a conditioned stimulus (for example, a spider), previously paired with an unconditioned stimulus (for example, an electric shock). It is called “unidirectional observational learning” occurs when the learner observes another person’s defensive response to a conditioned stimulus. In the case of seamless learning, the following two types of learning are applicable: interactive learning, in which “a learner acquires threat information by interacting with another individual”, and interactive group learning, in which “a group of individuals learns about threat information through interaction” (Pan et al., 2021, p. 5).

But there is yet another use of the term “social learning” refers to “the use of social networks, both in terms of entertainment and for research tasks” (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995, p. 70). According to Kemp (2021), 89% of internet users are active on social media. This type of mobile learning is especially advantageous for humanity students (Sanchez-Prieto et al., 2016) because the students’ daily use of these networks can be incorporated into the instructional design strategy of seamless learning modules. It is something that is so familiar to them that learning will happen naturally.

2.6.2 Collaborative Learning

Smith and MacGregor (1992) describe collaborative learning as: “an umbrella term for various educational approaches involving a joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together … mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product (p. 11). It is based on the principle that learning is inherently a social process in which students can interact and solve problems in groups (Bouroumi & Fajr, 2014, p. 66). Zydney and Warner (2016) define collaborative learning as a “coordinated, synchronous activity resulting from a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem” (p. 2). Gašević et al. (2019, p. 562) call it cooperative learning and group partnerships between students that help them to complete a task. Bouroumi and Fajr (2014) also distinguish between collaborative and cooperative learning: “The main difference between these two strategies is that collaborative learning focuses on comparing outcomes of both collaborative and individual works, whilst cooperative learning focuses only on the effectiveness of cooperation and not on individual works” (p. 67). Team-based learning is a term used in conjunction with collaborative learning. It has been used since the 1970s, initially in the Health Sciences, but later it also became relevant in information management and education (Tucker & Brewster, 2015). Michaelsen and Sweet (2008) give an all-encompassing definition when they state that team-based learning is:

[A] student-centred, active learning approach which is characterized by strategically allocated and managed permanent groups, accountability for individual and group work, frequent and timely feedback, and assignment design that promotes learning and team development. (p. 21)

The benefits of collaborative learning are, among other considerations, that students obtain workplace skills such as enhanced communication skills, the building of personal networks and fostering knowledge exchange (Slotte et al., 2004; Weinberger & Shonfeld, 2018). Collaborative learning promotes learning through interactive, engaged activities. Gillies et al. (2008) emphasize positive aspects such as allowing students to develop cognitive skills (examples are analyzing and problem-solving skills) and pro-social behaviour, such as empathy and helping other people. It was also found that collaborative learning has a positive influence on student engagement and satisfaction and leads to better outcomes regarding retention and the ability to apply theory to practice (Gillies, 2016; Pellegrino & Hilton, 2012; Rocca et al., 2014).

The downside to collaborative learning is that students may focus on the task rather than on collaborating with other team members (Fransen et al., 2011). Or the flip side may also be true that students may not contribute at all and only share in the good results (McClelland, 2012; Ubell, 2010). Monteiro and Morrison (2014) note that the negative aspects of collaborative learning include a lack of homogeneity and predictability, and that they often require active involvement and guidance by instructors. These facts are also mentioned by Strijbos et al. (2004) when they state that lecturers play an important role in the effectiveness of collaborative learning regarding the design and implementation process. Sometimes the lecturer may even be part of the group (Gašević Joksimovic & Eagan, 2019).

Smith (1989) suggests that five conditions need to be met for collaborative learning to be successful: all the group members must complete their tasks, individual accountability, promotive interaction, social skills (everybody benefits from the social skills of all the learners), and group processing (strategizing together for a better result) (p. 67). Aspects such as interdependence, individual accountability, and interaction are fundamental to the effective application of collaborative learning. Training is a factor that cannot be underestimated either. Both lecturers and students need training in the “act of collaborative learning” and how to use online applications to simplify the task (Monteiro & Morrison, 2014; Weinberger & Shonfeld, 2018). Students especially need to learn strategies for working collaboratively in groups (Monteiro & Morrison, 2014; Weinberger & Shonfeld, 2018).

Student-centered collaborative approaches can only benefit from mobile technologies and applications (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2009). Technological advancements enhance the ability to work collaboratively in teams and online using various online applications. This is also beneficial when thinking about the increasing lecturer-student ratios and the continuously changing nature of the content (Michaelsen et al., 2014; Vlachopoulos et al., 2019).

2.6.3 Social Constructionism

Constructionism is complex and multifaceted, and sometimes controversial, especially outside the higher education sphere. Social constructivists emphasize that learning occurs best in social groups and that inter-subjective reality is essential. It is therefore vital to be mindful that learning can take place through social interactions (Van Bergen & Parsell, 2017, p. 54).

There are many types of constructionism with social, radical, and psychological constructionism being three of those most commonly found higher education (Van Bergen & Parsell, 2017, pp. 41, 47). Social constructionism is where knowledge is constructed in groups. This type is a construct between the extremes of radical and psychological constructionism. In radical constructionism, individuals construct knowledge as a result of their interactions with the world. In psychological constructionism, the cognitive process is emphasized in the construction of knowledge. In the seamless learning design of module content, social and psychological constructionism will be used regularly when specific tasks are designed with the intent that they must be completed in the group using the accumulative knowledge of the students in the group.

Van Bergen and Parsell (2017) describe constructionism as either epistemological in nature (“knowledge is not discoverable … but created by the knowing subject”) or pedagogical (“knowledge is not transmittable by the teacher but individually constructed by the student”) (p. 43). Boghossian (2006) posits that: “students must each extract meaning from their learning experiences to actively construct their own knowledge; that the learning environment is one in which each learner’s subjective experiences have a special and unique meaning” (p. 715). This implies that the group input will be the collective of each individual’s unique experiences.

Figure 2.6.2

Network with other students

Figure 2.6.2: Network with other students

With a first glance at the figure 2.6.2 it might at first seem as if the statistics are incorrect. One might wonder how there can be the same amount of networking before and during COVID. But networking in the realm of this study involves more than physical contact, it also includes interpersonal, centralized, social, interactive and collaborative learning, social constructionism, and be accessible to anyone, anywhere. Only the participants from the institutions in the USA, Saudi Arabia and Turkey reported the same level of networking throughout. Statements in favour of the “yes” side of the feedback include, for example: “students are encouraged to collaborate with each other” (Canada), “collaboration in group work” (USA), “social interactions are building the scaffolds for learners to step on from level to level” (Egypt) and “they receive the content of the module in a binded folder and online in a folder” (South Africa, institution #1). South Africa (institution #2) mentioned that there is no networking since they do “traditional” classwork learning.

2.7 Scholarship

Through seamless learning, a culture of scholarship in teaching and learning can be created. Unfortunately, not all researchers and lecturers are in favour of using mobile learning as part of their teaching methods. Zhampeissova et al. (2020) show that a lack of communication between students and lecturers can be a negative aspect of mobile learning. The lack of communication can trump the positive side of universal access to educational materials and a more expanded and cheaper mode of content delivery (Brandt et al. 2020). Garca-Gutierrez et al. (2017) also contradict Zhampeissova et al. (2020), stating that mobile learning is an accessible environment that ensures a constant presence. In this debate, we must not lose sight of the most important element of the teaching and learning process, namely, the student. Their preferences and modes of learning must be considered, especially in the era we live in where technology and online platforms triumph over more traditional modes of learning.

2.7.1 Culture of Teaching and Learning

The population is, thus far, grouped into seven generations based on their birth years (Allen, 2018). (Sources are not all in agreement about the exact dates. Therefore, these dates given are approximate)

  • The Greatest Generation (born 1901–1927)
  • The Silent Generation (born 1928–1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)
  • Generation X (born 1965–1980)
  • Millennials (born 1981–1995)
  • Generation Z (also referred to as iGen or Centennials (born 1996–2010)
  • Generation Alpha (born 2011–2025).

Although using these kinds of classifications can be unnecessarily reductionist and can neglect individual variability, it can still be helpful because it can help us to understand how the students in our classes think, learn, and communicate—at a general level. Each generation has shared experiences, common behaviors, distinct attitudes. In Allen’s (2018) words, “a generation is defined as a group of people born in the same general time span who share some life experience” (p. 1).

When designing learning content based on the seamless learning principle, we must clearly keep the generation we are working with in mind. This is apparent when looking at the work done by Sandars and Morrison (2007). They take the classification a little further and add the “Net Generation”, a group of young people born between 1982 and 1991 “who have grown up in an environment in which they are constantly exposed to computer-based technology.” The impact of this is that this group of students have a different learning method than previous generations. They are experienced users in online systems, are positive towards using online tools, and are team-oriented (Chu et al., 2017; Monaco & Martin, 2007).

2.7.2 Authentic Contexts and Combination of Theory and Practice

The phrase “authentic contexts” is self-explanatory: activities in particular contexts must be significant and authentic. Huang (2011, p. 567), Barab et al. (2000), and Brown and Duguid (1996) propose certain design principles when creating authentic contexts. The tasks must be authentic and complex, generating different perspectives within a holistic view of the complexity. Meaningful relationships must be formed through engaging in community activities. Authenticity finds meaning through relationships between individuals, tasks, and communities (Barab et al., 2000). Lecturers must provide the necessary support, meaning, knowledge, and resources in the form of social activities, technology, and learning materials (Brown & Duguid, 1996). By doing this, a balance is achieved between a project’s capacity and its complexity. Purcell (2017) elaborates on learning material by stating that existing context “should be supplemented by various information resources rather than created from scratch” (p. 67).

An important aspect of authentic contexts is stimulating the work environment where real-world projects integrate professional knowledge and the learned skills or information of the classroom. However, the authentic, complicated part can easily be overlooked. Barab et al. (2000) suggest two models to overcome this: the simulation and participation models. The simulation model implies that classroom activities should be as similar as possible to the outside world. The latter means that students immerse themselves in the community and engage in authentic practices.

In our evolving world, it becomes more and more important to integrate theory and practice. Vlachopoulos et al. (2020, p. 1) call it “an increasing demand for employability skills in graduates.” The students’ professional discipline-specific knowledge and skills must be combined with practical experience or at least simulations of practical experience (Arts et al., 2002). An increasing number of universities are investing in employability and the transfer of soft skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. At institution #1 in South Africa, for example, a new module that specifically prepares the students for the workplace is being implemented from 2022. This module is titled “ePortfolio development: Enterprising your degree” and it will be made available to final-year students. The module aims to enhance students’ employability by teaching them to obtain an overview of the skills and attributes they have acquired during their studies. This module is intended to help students market their skills, network, and apply for work. Using the module, students can develop the digital literacy skills to engage on LinkedIn, create a website, and develop a future work plan to enable them to turn their skill set into a career.

Some of the module outcomes are:

  • Reflect on the development of your graduate attributes throughout your university experience and synthesize this information as a lens through which you articulate your skill set.
  • Apply digital literacy skills through the creation of a LinkedIn Profile as a professional ePortfolio and also the creation of a website as an exploratory ePortfolio.
  • Recognize the value of networking and job-hunting skills.
  • Develop a future work plan to turn your skill set into a career.

Figure 2.7


Figure 2.7: Scholarship

Scholarship is about the culture of teaching and learning, authentic contexts and the combination of theory and practice.  The data of most of the countries stayed the same. The reason being that these aspects are not dependent on external circumstances. The instances where it differed were because of authentic contexts (Malaysia), they only did mostly theory and could not include practice (USA and South Africa, institution #2), and that authentic contexts and the combination of theory and practice were not part of the curriculum to begin with (South Africa, institution #1). Authentic contexts and the combination of theory and practice is eloquently described by the participant from Canada: “The aim of the course is to promote participants’ abilities to transfer skills and resources to their own professional practice.” Regarding the culture of teaching students and staff are supported in many ways like a designated Teaching and Learning division, workshops, and teaching and learning assistants for all the faculties (South Africa, institution #1).

Conclusion and Recommendations

For the seamless learning analysis, the following interesting findings were made:

The was an overall increase in the use of seamless learning pedagogical approaches in the USA, Canada, South Africa 2, and Malaysia during the COVID-19 pandemic. These countries had to adjust and found additional ways to achieve the most effective approach, especially for students studying from remote sites. In countries such as South Africa 1, Saudi Arabia and Portugal the seamless learning approaches declined, as they may not have been able to use all the options they had before. Technology may not have been readily available to all students and this may have impacted the pedagogical approach in their countries which could been traditional teacher centered teaching. This means that they were not sure how to continue with their pedagogical approach and resorted to using simpler methods like sending assignments to students via a learning management system or even email.

The two countries with no change before and after the COVID-19 pandemic are Turkey and Egypt. They continued as before as their approaches were applicable regardless of the changes. They may have been teaching in both face to face and online modes before the pandemic and could shift to remote learning without much effort. The surprising finding of this study is that all of the countries used some form of seamless learning but not one had a full score which means that all can benefit from the study to improve their courses.

Considering these findings all the current courses need to be adjusted to reach higher level of seamless learning. This means that the analysis of the courses can be used to identify the gaps in the courses and the sub-concepts of the core concepts of seamless learning as discussed in the first part of the chapter can be used as useful guidelines to improve the seamless learning experience of each country.


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