Mobile devices are embedded into individuals’ daily lives. As the pervasiveness of these devices is becoming inevitable at a time when learning is becoming more accessible, a timely question arises: how can educators harness the power of mobile devices for learning? To answer this question, we must consider the main characteristics of mobile devices: their mobility and connectivity. It is these characteristics that make these devices such powerful tools as they provide smartphones, tablets, & Co. with the ability to bridge the learning that occurs in school to that which occurs outside of classroom walls. This type of learning is referred to as seamless learning.
What is seamless learning?
According to Chan et al. (2006), seamless learning involves creating continuous learning experiences across time, settings, contexts, and social groups. As such, teachers can use mobile devices to develop seamless learning activities that begin in the classroom and extend beyond it.
Wong and Looi (2011) set forth several characteristics that all seamless learning activities should possess:
1. Include formal and informal learning
There are many ways in which researchers distinguish between formal and informal learning. Formal learning can be defined as classroom learning, teacher-directed learning, or the kind of learning that is part of a set curriculum. On the other hand, informal learning can include learning that occurs outside of the classroom, student-directed learning, or the kind of learning that is not part of a curriculum. Whatever definition of formal and informal learning you adopt, you need to include both types of learning.
2. Include personalized and social learning
Since learning is no longer an individual endeavour, seamless learning activities should not only include tasks that learners accomplish on their own but also tasks that learners accomplish as part of a group. At the center of this strategy we find social media apps such as Twitter and collaborative apps such as Google docs. These allow learners to work individually but also connect with other classmates and larger networks of individuals. When designing seamless learning activities, you need to strike a balance between the personal and social aspects of these applications. Not only that, but you can also have students work in groups; that is old-school social learning.
3. Occur across time and settings
By definition, seamless learning activities occur across a definite but extended period of time and occur in at least two settings, one of which is in the classroom. Take advantage of the fact that mobile devices are, by definition, mobile and carried across settings. This makes it easy to participate in seamless learning.
4. Include access to physical and digital resources
Even though we are discussing using mobile devices to create seamless learning activities, it is important that learners have access to the physical resources that they often use in a classroom. This includes, books, handouts, exercise sheets, and so on. For example, create activities that ask learners to refer back to their workbook or to follow the checklist handed out in class.
5. Include interacting with physical and digital worlds
Not only should students interact with the physical world around them, but also with the digital world. Youtube, Twitter, reddit, course management systems, all these and more represent digital worlds within which learners can engage in seamless learning. When designing seamless mobile learning activities, include tasks that require learners to interact with objects/individuals in the physical world and artifacts/individuals in the digital world.
6. Include the use of several technologies
What is technology? Technology includes anything that makes the lives of humans easier and allows individuals to perform their activities with less effort. As such, notepads, pencils, papers, books, are all example of technologies; let’s call them old technologies. In their daily lives, learners interact with all both old and newer technologies, and as such seamless learning activities should promote these types of interactions. In addition, devices and applications (i.e., the newer technologies) now possess the ability to sync up with one another. Taking advantage of this helps in creating more of a smooth and seamless learning experience. For example, encourage students to take handwritten notes, use their phone to take a picture of them when they are done, and upload them to Dropbox or Evernote.
7. Include changing learning tasks
When designing seamless learning activities, you need to make sure to include several varying sub-tasks. When you think of a mobile device, say smartphone, you don’t only use it for talking, but also for texting, surfing the web, checking email, writing down reminders, and so on. As such, to mirror the multifunctionality of the mobile device and to equally mirror the multitasking nature of today’s learners, you need to develop activities where learners are accomplishing several tasks of differing natures. For example, ask them to use their mobile device to take pictures (i.e., data collection task) and to take hand-written notes (i.e., reflection task).
8. Include synthesizing prior and new knowledge
You need to construct tasks in such a way that learners make a connection between what they have learned in class (i.e., their prior knowledge) to what they learn in a new setting (i.e., new knowledge). This is the overall purpose of seamless learning activities; learners need to realize that there isn’t disparity between classroom concepts and their daily observations.
As you’ve noticed, the seamless learning properties themselves are bridging gaps. They involve connecting two opposing ends: the formal and the informal, the physical and the digital. The mobility and the connectivity of the mobile device helps in building these bridges. Let’s consolidate these with a (general) example. Consider the following:
1. Include formal and informal learning: Learning starts with a science lesson in the classroom (formal learning) and extends to the zoo (informal learning).
2. Include personalized and social learning: Leaners can be paired up. One student documents the animals and another the plants. After the field trip, the pair has to collaborate on a Prezi to showcase their findings.
3. Occur across time and settings: The learning from science lesson and the trip to the zoo took place at different times and in two different settings.
4. Include access to physical and digital resources: At the zoo, the students can collect pamphlets (i.e., physical resources) to include in their projects. In addition, they might have watched a short documentary during their trip (i.e., digital resource).
5. Include interacting with physical and digital worlds: The classroom lesson and the zoo field trip, both allow for the learners to interact with the physical world. While working on their project, the students might need to search for more information online (i.e., interacting with the digital world).
6. Include changing learning tasks: At the zoo, one student takes pictures of the animals and plants, while another takes down notes. After a while, they would switch roles.
7. Include the use of several technologies: At the zoo,learners might be taking notes on their smartphones, tablets, or in a journal. Back in the classroom, they could refer to their textbook for additional information.
8. Include synthesizing prior and new knowledge: In class, students learned about the properties of mammals and were exposed to several examples (i.e., prior knowledge). At the zoo, they might encounter an unfamiliar animal and deduce that it is a mammal (i.e., new knowledge).
Chan, T.W., Milrad, M., et al. (2006). One-to-one technology-enhanced learning: An opportunity for global research collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning Journal, 1(1), 3-29. doi: 10.1142/S1793206806000032
Wong, L.H., & Looi, C.K. (2011). What seams do we remove in mobile-assisted seamless learning? A critical review of the literature. Computers & Education, 57(4), 2364-2381. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2011.06.007
Image from seamlesslearning.org