CHAPTER 3: PERSPECTIVES ON SEAMLESS LEARNING IN THE CONTEXT OF HIGHER (DISTANCE) EDUCATION IN THE NETHERLANDS

Ellen Rusman

Introduction

In this study we are looking at the current situation and potential of adoption and implementation of the ‘seamless learning’ design paradigm in Higher (distance) education (HE) in the Netherlands, in terms of existing studies, policies, technology access and good practices. Higher education in the Netherland comprises both (distance) universities (research universities) as well as higher vocational education institutes (universities of applied science) (Nuffic, 2019). In the Netherlands there are 14 governmentally funded research universities (including the Open University, the Dutch distance education university) and 36 universities of applied sciences.

To sketch the background and status of seamless learning in the Netherlands, both a desktop as well as a snow-ball domain literature search (pursuing references of references) was performed (Greenhalgh & Peacock, 2005). In the desktop search several relevant keywords were used to find relevant information (seamless learning; contextualized learning; good practice SL + higher education + Netherlands/Dutch) in both EBSCO and Google Scholar. For the snowball search domain search relevant advisory and governmental institutes organizations associated with higher education specifically and/or ICT use/Technology-enhanced learning in education at various school levels (from primary to higher (vocational) education) were identified and (adhering) relevant policy documents retrieved. Based on the retrieved material an analysis was made on the occurrence of (aspects of) the seamless Learning design paradigm, looking at the following five design elements (DEs), derived from the main definition of seamless learning.

Table 3.1: Design Elements (DEs) of the SL paradigm

1.    Connect/binding (learning) experiences and activities of learners participating in various contexts
(cross-boundary learning)
2.    Enhance learning and support processes through (real-world/authentic) contextualization 3.    Support learning continuity and self-directedness of learning processes across environments and settings at different times/places 4.    Optimally benefiting from personal experience in and across (specific) contexts and (professional) practices (in-situ, experiential learning) 5.    Technology
-supported personal learning scenarios
(mobile, ubiquitous, handheld devices)

Furthermore, this chapter describes a qualitative study which aimed to detect and analyze underlying reasons for the faltering adoption and implementation of the seamless learning paradigm within higher education in the Netherlands, through participation of academic teachers in a workshop addressing this issue.

Literature Review

Background and status of seamless learning in HE in the Netherlands

Research and best practices

Search in EBSCO with ‘seamless learning’ AND ‘Netherlands’ yielded 7 results of which 1 was not relevant (news item instead of academic article/paper), 2 were related to international Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs), 3 on mobile and digital games, and 1 on lifelong learning networks. All studies had design perspectives and researchers were mainly affiliated with distance learning universities, although the reported research was not always positioned in this context. Looking at Google scholar results, with the same search terms, the first page contains mainly international and overlapping results, 3 additional articles were retrieved. Various articles were positioned within other contexts, e.g. secondary education or special education and were therefore excluded from this review. After further filtering the total of results from EBSCO (6) and Google Scholar (3) on the context and (best) practices in higher (distance) education, open (higher) education and/or lifelong learning, 3 articles remained, of which 2 were written by the same first author.

In the first and most recent article (Tabuenca, Kalz & Lohr, 2018), evaluating mobile screencast for online courses within the context of a MOOC on Marine Litter, the authors state that the progressive adoption of smartphones and interconnected devices is inspiring students to redesign their physical spaces towards a seamless shift between daily life and learning activities. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are seen as key resources facilitating universal access to education as they enable students to learn across formal and informal contexts. The authors understand seamless learning as placing the learner in the center of (both a public and private) context in which access to cognitive tools is given, and space, time and artifacts are influencing the behavior of learners, in line with Looi et al. (2010). They also refer to the 10 different seams, proposed by (Wong & Looi, 2011) that are often challenging learners from a continuous and rich learning experience , and relate their work to 3 dimensions: 1) Encompassing formal and informal learning; 2) Encompassing physical and digital worlds and 3) Combined use of multiple devices.

The second paper (Tabuenca, Kalz & Specht, 2014) presents a mobile tool called the Learning Hub, that fosters lifelong and distance learners’ awareness on learning goals and time they actually spent on learning in various contexts and places, to achieve these goals. The tool supports tracking time on learning activities (by NFC tags) and by providing feedback to learners with statistics, for example time spent on each learning goal and moments spent on learning during the day. The authors state (p.534/535): “there is little support for lifelong learners that typically try to learn in different contexts, are busy with multiple parallel learning tracks, and must align or relate their learning activities to everyday leisure and working activities. Hence, there is a need to provide suitable tools for lifelong learners to facilitate bridging learning experiences in a seamless flow.” They design support to keep track of learning activities across locations, devices and environments and to assist learners in awareness of possible links between their learning activities and everyday life. The authors also cite Wong (2012, p. 22), who mentions “a seamless learner should be able to explore, identify and seize boundless latent opportunities that his daily living spaces may offer to him (mediated by technology), rather than always being inhibited by externally-defined learning goals and resources.” However, the learning hub mainly supports lifelong and distance learners’ awareness of and reflection on various learning activities at various moments, with different devices/resources in different environments and places, by tracking and providing data on them, but doesn’t offer actual self-directed learning activities or cross-boundary learning support services within the tool.

The third and eldest article (Koper et al., 2005) presents a theory-based design model for the organization of lifelong learning in ICT networks using software agents and open learning technology standards to establish an interoperable network of collaborating parties, called Learning networks. Also, a first attempt to implement the model for learning networks in a peer-to-peer network, using an existing platform, is described. An analysis and discussion on whether it was possible to realize design requirements as well as envisioned learning objectives of a Learning network in this pilot is presented. In this article, ‘seamless learning’ is not described as a separate definition, however the authors use the term ‘seamless’ as an adjective of access to learning opportunities across various contexts (work, schools, home and universities) when they state that , “A promising approach to lifelong learning is to use ICT networks to connect distributed learners and providers in a discipline to establish Learning Networks (LNs). ICT networks can support seamless, ubiquitous access to learning facilities at work, at home, and in schools and universities. Learning resources from providers such as schools, companies, libraries, and the learners themselves can be made available from a single point of access and learners can be helped to perform certain tasks more efficiently by including software support. The use of ICT networks implies the development of new ways of organizing learning facilities that goes beyond course and programme-centric models and envisions a learner-centred, learner-controlled model of distributed lifelong learning (p. 72).”

Looking at communalities across these three articles, all three provide a conceptual basis for a specific learning design or learning support service with certain design requirements, elaborate on this design and present (prototypical) implementation of and/or first results with this design. All three articles are at the first stage of development and/or pilot implementation phase, no wide-spread and long-term implementations were found. Furthermore, looking at the design elements in relation to seamless learning (see DEs in Table 1) mentioned in the articles, all three articles mention learners’ participating in various contexts and cross boundary learning (DE1), supporting self-directedness of learners and learner-centered designs (DE3) and mention technology-supported personal learning scenario’s (DE5). Less attention is paid to the enhancement and actual ‘filling in’ of the learning and support processes themselves, by profiting from (real-world, authentic) contextualization (DE2) and in-situ, experiential learning (DE4). This would allow for benefiting from personal experience in and across (specific) contexts and (professional) practices.

Policies and Trends

The concept of ‘seamless’ learning is not (literally) mentioned in policy and trend reports by the government, leading knowledge institutes and advisory bodies, outlining the future of the Dutch higher educational system. However, aspects of the concept and underlying intentions do match with policies and objectives envisioned by various important stakeholders in Dutch higher education. Below, first a summary of several recent and influential policy and trend reports is given and subsequently opportunities that the ‘seamless learning’ design paradigm offer for envisioned objectives are described.

Dutch Government and Recent Policies

In the most recent strategic agenda ‘Fit for the future’ for Higher Education (HE) the Dutch ministry of Education (2019) outlines policies for the next 4 years. Four ambitions are mentioned and two of these ambitions have ground in common with intentions ‘underlying’ the seamless learning design paradigm. These ambitions are 1) more flexible and tailored higher education and 2) closer alignment of HE with the labour market and society. The government envisions increased flexibility of higher educational trajectories and a substantial increase of educational participation of (working) adults as professionals. This is realized by a flexible, modular system, which allows (various types of) students to phase, delay or accelerate their study or to study (inter)disciplinary and across departments and institutes. They also value an improved connection and collaboration of HE with the labour market, both in terms of domain-related content of curricula, but also, next to domain-specific skills, the acquisition of complex (generic) skills. They state that both (working) adults as well as ‘starting’ students are in need of more control on their own study-trajectory. Digitalization is seen as an opportunity to achieve these ambitions and specific educational technologies are mentioned (e.g. artificial intelligence, learning analytics, open badges, microcredentials, serious games, virtual & augmented reality and block chain). The agenda furthermore states (p.66): “Conscious use of educational technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, learning analytics,and serious games enables student-centered and experiential learning. This can help to increase student involvement and learning outcomes and it can enable teachers to transfer skills and theory more effectively”.

In order to achieve these ambitions a national ‘Acceleration plan for educational innovation with ICT’ was initiated, in which both associations of research universities (VSNU) and applied science universities (VH) as well as SURF (national organization for ICT in Dutch education and research) participate, supported by the Dutch government.

Trends

Looking at the latest trend report of SURFnet (2016), the Dutch organization for ICT in education and research), several topics on technology-enhanced learning are identified and grouped under a three-fold umbrella. The major focus of the report is on how technological trends can contribute to and realize more tailored education, as student populations are becoming more diverse (e.g. in terms of knowledge, skills, talents, needs, ambitions and backgrounds) and an increasing number of students combine paid work with their study ( SURFnet, 2016, p. 5). Students are in need of more control on and ownership of a personal and flexible learning path, both in terms of what they learn (e.g. choice of content, tailored to their background, e.g. experience and competences) as well as how they learn (own time, place, tempo, level and preferences). Technologies offer opportunities to realize this and may contribute to didactic enrichment and more effective education, although ‘proven and mature’ technology is conditional (p.6). Technological artefacts (e.g. micro credentials, MOOCs, badges) can contribute to flexibility of study paths, enabling students to study more domains within an institute, between (inter)national institutes and also at different educational levels, thus creating their own ‘educational’ identity on the fly. Moreover, technology can make learning more adaptive to background and (former) activities, e.g. by the application of artificial intelligence to track (former) ‘study traces’, interests/background and activities of students to offer personalized learning paths and recommendations for future learning or through (stealth) assessment with learning analytics. Further technologies and technology-enhanced learning artefacts mentioned in this report are virtual reality, the virtual classroom, the internet of things, serious gaming and gamification.

A recent report by Kennisnet (Schouwenburg & Kappert, 2019), a Dutch public organization dedicated to ICT-innovation for primary and secondary education and vocational training, identified broad international trends and perspectives on educational innovation with technology in general (not specifically focused on their own target groups). They outline four areas of educational innovation (p.8), namely 1) authentic learning, with the expectation that student learn better in (close to) real-world situations, making learning more relevant; 2) flexible learning, with the expectation that education is tailored to what a specific students needs at a specific moment; 3) provision of insight in learning, with the expectation that teachers, students and parents can better monitor learning processes, instead of outcomes only and 4) development of skills, with the expectation that learners are better prepared for future learning, living & working.

Looking at objectives and visions expressed in the policy and trend reports described above, several notable and overlapping objectives can be derived. First, more flexible, student-centered and tailored study trajectories are envisioned both in terms of ‘what’ and ‘how’ students learn, reckoning with a diverse student population needs and backgrounds and an increasing number of students that combine their work with studying. Second, the locus of control of these study trajectories are increasingly foreseen in the hands of students and insight in these learning processes (by learners, teachers and parents) becomes more important. Third, experiential, authentic (close to real-world situations) learning is explicitly mentioned as a way to increase learning involvement and objectives, transfer of learning and relevance to learners. Fourth, improved connection and collaboration between HE institutes and with the labour market is strived for, both in terms of domain-related content and the acquisition of domain-specific ánd complex (generic) skills. Students should e.g. be able to ‘pick and mash’ learning modules, independent of and across HE institutes. Fifth, ubiquitous technology and digitalization plays a major role in realizing aforementioned visions and objectives in Higher education.

Viewing the design elements (DEs) of seamless learning (as mentioned earlier in the section), overlap can be detected between outlined visions and various design elements: enhancement of learning through (real-world/authentic) contextualization (DE2); supporting learning continuity and self-directedness of learning processes across environments and settings at different times/places (DE3); optimally benefiting from personal experience in and across (specific) contexts and (professional) practices (in-situ, experiential learning)(DE4) and technology-supported personal learning scenarios (DE5), although mobile, ubiquitous, handheld devices are not explicitly mentioned. Although no reference to DE1, connecting (learning) experiences and activities of learners participating in various contexts (cross-boundary learning) is made, curricular collaboration within and across institutes and with the labour market, could assist in the design and development of scenarios and trajectories across contexts and (educational and labour) organizations, interweaving both theoretical and (professional) perspectives and practices while learning to become more knowledgeable, competent and skilled.

Technology Access

Technological access and coverage of higher educational students within the Netherlands is high. In a trend study on mobile technology in higher education and research (SURFnet, 2013), 100% of students in higher vocational education and 99% of students in universities already owned a mobile phone, 93% and 83% respectively a smart phone and 90% of both groups a laptop. So, 90% of students in higher education (research and applied science universities) owned both a smartphone and laptop. One may expect even higher access to technology now, as this study is done already 7 years ago. Looking at the scenarios of actual and foreseen use in this report, it was mainly applied within existing practices (e.g. during college classes as polling tools or for searching additional information or for logistic matters, e.g. checking schedules and assessments, reading mails), but not as instruments influencing (re)design of existing practices.

Now that we have gained insight in both research and practices of seamless learning in higher education in the Netherlands as well as relevant policies and trends, in the next section this study explores the perspectives of academic teachers in higher (distance) education on this concept through an exploratory qualitative approach.

Research Methodology and Data Analysis

The aim of this exploratory study is to determine how the educators in higher education are conceptualizing the potentials and pitfalls of the seamless learning design paradigm for higher distance education. Academic teachers and their daily practice(s) are in general known to play an important role in the adoption and implementation of learning and instruction paradigms for their (re) design of education (Fanghanel, 2009; Fraser & Bosanquet, 2006; Trigwell & Prosser, 2014). It is therefore important to understand what potential, pitfalls and preconditions they foresee when they think about the implementation of the seamless learning paradigm within their educational practice. In this study we therefore address the following research question:

What are academic teachers’ perspectives on incorporating the seamless learning design paradigm in the higher (distance) education curriculum in the Netherlands?

To answer this question, academic teachers from the Faculty of Cultural and Legal Sciences of the Open University of the Netherlands were involved in a qualitative study. The Open University is one of the universities in the Netherlands and Belgium. There are, however, differences with the regular universities, as the Open University is specifically dedicated to online and distance education and research at university level (Open Universiteit, 2020). It is an independent government-funded university and draws on a variety of (blended) methods to teach at a distance and to support personalized, flexible and interactive education. The educational program is structured in such a way that it enables students to study part-time. The Dutch government’s purpose in founding the Open University of the Netherlands was to make higher education accessible to anyone with the necessary aptitudes and interests, regardless of formal qualifications. The university aims to provide cost-effective education, reinforced with socially relevant research, and to encourage innovation in Dutch higher education, in terms of both curriculum and teaching.

Twenty one (21) employees of the Faculty of Cultural and Legal Sciences of the Open University took part in this study by participating in a workshop of 2 hours. They first received an introduction to the seamless learning paradigm and completed a questionnaire. Filling the questionnaire was voluntary. They then responded to a statement, first individually and then in groups of four or five on post-it notes, from a specific role (‘dreamer’, ‘critic’, ‘realist’ and ‘observer’), according to the Disney-method. In total 5 groups were formed. They received a role description of their role, some questions specifically related to the role they were given and colored post-it notes, a specific color for each role, to describe their thoughts. Sometimes roles ‘doubled’ within each group, depending on the group size, however within each group all four roles were always represented.

They responded to the following statement, from the perspective of their respective role (‘dreamer’, ‘critic’, ‘realist’ and ‘observer’):

“Seamless” (learning) experiences and learning activities must (become) part of the curriculum of the Open University”

The questionnaire contained questions on the characteristics and backgrounds of the participants. The post-it notes with ideas were transcribed, analyzed and clustered with an existing coding scheme (Rusman, Tan & Firssova, 2018) with factors influencing adoption and implementation of educational paradigms in daily educational practices, as earlier derived from a similar study in the context of secondary education. The scheme was taken and (slightly) adapted, as outlined in the Framework chapter of this book. Each post-it was individually coded and placed within one code.

Results

Questionnaire

Out of 21, 19 employees of the Faculty of Cultural and Legal Sciences completed the questionnaire (90% of participants), 2 workshop participants did not participate in the questionnaire. Based on this information, the response group can be characterized as:

  • male (50%), female (50%)
  • age: 30-39 years (26%), 40-49 (37%), 50-59 (5%), 60-69 (32%)
  • 53% of respondents from Cultural sciences, 33% of Legal Sciences, 14% as an all-round manager / researcher
  • 16.4 years of experience in education on average (min. 1 and max. 40 years)
  • Possession of expertise that participants mentioned themselves is predominantly domain-related, as well as expertise on (online) educational design and development, online tutoring and guidance expertise and research expertise
  • The most frequently mentioned adjectives (total 56, mention when > 10%) to describe the academic institute are: social / people-oriented / student-oriented (14%); innovative / ambitious / inspiring (14%); technological / online (13%) and bureaucratic (13%)

The respondent group was quite balanced in terms of gender and can be described as (highly) experienced in online higher (distance) education. Perspectives of both domains (cultural and legal) sciences are represented (also due to perspectives of the all-round managers), although the cultural science perspective is slightly overrepresented.

Brainstorm

The brainstorm of 21 participants yielded 86 post-it notes with multiple ideas, an average of more than 4 post-it notes per person: 29 for the dreamer-, 28 for the realist-role and 29 for the critic-role. The ideas per role were therewith quite equally divided and represented.  All  post-it notes were labelled with an (existing) coding scheme that was developed and used within the context of secondary education (Rusman, Tan & Firssova, 2018), consisting of factors that fell within broader categories.

Factors that were mentioned multiple times are represented in Table 3.3 (see Addendum 3.1) and per factor some representative example statements are given. Several factors that were part of the original coding scheme in secondary education were not at all mentioned or only mentioned once and therefore not included in the analysis. Within the category ‘Considerations and factors affecting decision processes towards implementing seamless learning designs’  the factors ‘teachers’ competences and attitudes’ (teachers fit in terms of their competences and attitudes to deal with a seamless learning design paradigm), ‘social expectancies and role/requirements of organization’ (expectancies of society on the role of the educational organization) and ‘national programs and requirements’ (relation to national curriculum and certification program requirements) were not mentioned once by this group of academic teachers.

Within the category ‘Organization of change processes in educational organization towards implementing seamless learning  designs’ the factors ‘changing roles and responsibilities’ (effects on individual roles, responsibilities and tasks of stakeholders and organizational units), ‘change of daily school organization’ (practical effects on organization, e.g. on time schedules, sections/units etc.) and ‘change of models, methods and approaches’ (guidelines, considerations (how/when) and changes coming with using seamless learning as a learning model and method) were  also not mentioned more than once.

Within the category “Organization of design and implementation processes of SL in daily educational practices” the factors ‘learning objectives and results’ (learning objectives that are seen as a specific advantage/gain of seamless learning), ‘technology’ (technological prerequisites, design considerations and hard/software and network arrangements that are needed),  ‘safety measures/insurance’ (ensuring safety of involved stakeholders in various environments and settings) and ‘social learning and involvement of networks’ (considerations on and development of partnerships between organizations and stakeholders to support social learning practices) were either mentioned once or not at all and therefore not included in the current analysis.

The remaining statements are classified in Table 3.3 (see Addendum 3.1).

Table 3.2 outlines a summary of the broad categories mentioned by participants in the different roles and their overall frequency across categories.

Table 3.2: Categories of statements mentioned as affecting implementation of seamless learning in higher (distance) education in the Netherlands

Category

 

Dreamer

(freq. & % of category)

Realist

(freq. & % of category)

Critic

(freq. & % of category)

Frequency of statements per category Percentage of statements (of total nr. of statements)
Considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level towards implementing seamless learning designs 14

(33%)

9

(21%)

20

(46%)

43

(100%)

50%
Organization of change processes in educational organization: from current learning designs towards implemented seamless learning designs 1

(4%)

16

(67%)

7

(29%)

24

(100%)

28%
Organization of design and implementation processes of seamless learning in daily educational practices 12

(71%)

3

(18%)

2

(12%)

17
(100%)
20%
Agree with statement, however no further explanation 2 0 0 2 2%
Total 29 28 29 86 100%

Unlike the study in secondary education (Rusman, Tan & Firssova, 2018), where the types of categories mentioned by each of the roles were quite equally divided, looking at the types of  post-it notes mentioned by academic teachers in a specific role varied this time. ‘Dreamers’ and ‘critics’ contributed most to the considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level towards implementing seamless learning designs. Realists were mostly concerned with the organization of change processes in the educational organization to implement SL. Dreamers were especially addressing the organization of design and implementation processes of SL in daily educational practices.

Conclusion and Discussion

Despite the potential the seamless learning design paradigm has for Higher (distance) education in the Netherlands, especially to support flexible and student-centered (lifelong) learning trajectories across (professional) practices, currently not many institutes have adopted and implemented examples and good practices of seamless learning. The literature search revealed only a few small-scale pilot implementations: no lasting and wide-spread implementations could be identified. It is therefore also problematic to empirically study effects both at a larger as well as on a longitudinal scale.

Considering policy and trend reports from leading organizations and stakeholders in the Netherlands, the seamless learning design paradigm aligns well with envisioned objectives for the future of Dutch higher education. Learners will increasingly study part-time and combine their work with study, which offer opportunities for experiential learning in and across (professional) contexts through the use of ubiquitous technology. Outlined policies envision study paths that need to become more flexible, student-centered and relevant for more diverse student populations. Students will increasingly steer and manage their own learning paths and ‘pick and mix’ according to their interests and background. Looking at the five design elements of the seamless learning paradigm, four out of five do overlap with these policy visions, namely 1) enhancement of learning and support processes through contextualization; 2) support of learning continuity and self-directedness of learning processes across environments and settings at different times; 3) learning from personal experience in and across (specific) contexts and (professional) practices (in-situ, experiential learning) and 4) technology-supported personal learning scenarios with mobile devices. Although no explicit reference to the connection of (learning) experiences and activities of learners participating in various contexts (cross-boundary learning) is made in policies by relevant Dutch stakeholders, more curricular collaboration within and across institutes and with the labor market is mentioned. This current state and the envisioned objectives from policy fit well with the design and development of seamless learning scenarios and trajectories for students across contexts and (educational and labor) organizations, interweaving both theoretical and (professional) perspectives and practices while learning to become more knowledgeable, competent and skilled. Although the seamless learning design paradigm aligns well with policies and intentions, it is not explicitly mentioned in these policy documents and it seems the concept is still largely unknown by policy makers.

Looking at the technology access and uptake of students, this would not be a barrier for further development and implementation of seamless learning scenarios in the Netherlands, as 90% of students in higher education (research and applied science universities) owned both a smartphone and laptop. Furthermore, 100% of students in higher vocational education and 99% of students in universities owned a mobile phone.

As teachers play an important role in the adoption and implementation of educational paradigms and the (re) design of higher education, we gained insight into academic teacher’s perspectives on the possible significance of the ‘seamless learning’ paradigm for their daily educational practices in a higher (distance) educational setting. Teachers mentioned considerations and factors affecting the adoption and uptake of seamless learning within three broad categories, namely 1) decision processes at organizational level (50% of statements), 2) organization of change processes in educational organization (28%) and the 3) organization of design and implementation processes of seamless learning in their daily educational practices (20%). 2% agreed with the statement ““seamless” (learning) experiences and learning activities must (become) part of the curriculum”, however did not provide any further explanation. Most statements were related to the benefits (21%) and costs (19%) of implementing the seamless learning paradigm and on how implementation and organizational change process should be organized (20%). Several benefits teachers mention align well with policy, such as learning skills and applying knowledge; connecting with students’ professional environments, increasing flexibility and efficiency through technology and facilitating ‘bridges’, although here mentioned between courses and within the curriculum. On the critical and cost side, teachers mention that it has to become clearer what you can’t do with seamless learning, that re-design of courses is a huge investment without guarantee of success, as there is (yet) no or hardly empirical evidence for the gains of this approach. Furthermore, it is mentioned that it would not be applicable to all courses and learning objectives, e.g. for theory-oriented courses. Noticeable in the latter category of statements, on the required change process within the organization, is a collaborative approach and the involvement of various types of stakeholders (e.g. enthusiastic teachers, students, ICT expertise, practical partners and educational design expertise) early in the development process. Furthermore, a strong design research and pilot-projects approach is advocated. Strikingly, the last category of statements on the actual design and implementation process, contains less ideas. Teachers’ may here encounter difficulties with the transfer of the seamless learning design paradigm to a concrete design for their own educational practice. This might point to the importance for further professionalization and support of teachers, during their thinking of the implications of and design process of a seamless learning scenario.

This study has been carried out within the context of one higher educational institution, with teachers used to a distance learning perspective for their course design. This might have affected their responses and is therefore a limitation of this study, as they are used to the design of online learning, availability of technological infrastructure and mainly adult students, with a professional background. On the other hand, two domains (Law and Cultural sciences) were represented in the response group, thus ensuring a broader perspective. For future research and to further ensure representativeness of findings, additional workshops are foreseen, both with other faculties within the same higher educational institute, as with other higher educational institutes in the Netherlands.

Reflecting on the coding scheme, originally developed for secondary education teachers (Rusman, Tan & Firssova, 2018), it has shown to be also largely (re) usable to characterize the considerations that academic distance learning teachers make for the adoption of the ‘seamless learning’ paradigm in the curriculum. Only a few factors in the coding scheme, previously mentioned by secondary teachers, are lacking or only identified once, and thus not overlapping with the perspectives of this group of academic (distance) teachers.

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Addendum 3.1: The Netherlands

Table 3.3: Factor and example statements within each category mentioned as affecting implementation of seamless learning in higher (distance) education in the Netherlands

Category/factor Freq. % Example statements
Considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level
Benefits/surplus value/results 18 21% ●       to learn academic skills (e.g. for setting up a research proposal) in such a context, that students can experience contextual relevance and learning is linked to practice, so that students do not only ‘collect’ knowledge, but can also apply it

●       advantage: experiencing law, problematize law, change of perspectives

●       depart from experience and application in practice

●       bridge between leisure time (together) and structure

●       technology can ensure that physical distance or even physical presence does not matter; the same technology can be used across different contexts

●       “take” students from one course to another course via “curriculum app” , visualize and built concrete ‘bridges’

●       in this way, outside the scarce formal contact moments, more contact could emerge between students and between students / teachers in the form of an “app” that is a kind of ‘continuous’ virtual class. Sharing, uploading, etc. throughout the duration of the course. Seamless learning could also reduce the “gap” between individual courses and increase and clarify the coherence of the curriculum to students

●       Develop a course that is supported by a technological application, so that the scenario for students is constantly changing, depending on their behaviour: fully teacher-independent, assessment of progress and results during the course on the fly, large numbers of students without a teacher and excellent quality

Costs/efforts/ investments/ dangers

 

16 19% ●       more collaborative tasks = less flexibility

●       not applicable to all courses and learning objectives, e.g. theoretical courses

●       huge investment without guarantee of success

●       it also has to be clear what you can’t do with seamless learning

●       there is no/hardly any empirical basis

●       bureaucracy: do we have enough capacity and ‘schwung’ to implement completely new ideas?

●       doesn’t this all distract from the education itself?

Technology

 

6 7% ●       technology needs to work

●       the means (mobile) should not become the objective

●       what if technology falters? Will technology work? Students could become completely dependent on technology instead of mastering basic skills

●       Chaos in platforms: textbook, Youlearn, seamless, reader

Learner 3 3% ●       connect with students’ professional environment;

●       involve student’s working environment in study

●       do students need this (patronizing)?

Organization of change process in educational organization
Organizational management and planning

 

17 20% ●     initial steps in design phase: make an inventory, analyse (also consult with target group to retrieve information) and decide on roadmap and script

●     good embedding, policy, budget, training (teachers/students), guidance

●     needs support/skills/interest of (part of) teacher population

●     ensure availability of time /expertise/money/material for development of digital learning activities

●     parties involved: enthusiastic teachers, ICT expertise, practical partners and educational design expertise

●     let students provide input

●     gain insight in students’ background

●     cooperation across faculty and service boundaries is necessary

Teacher professionalization 3 3% ●     teachers and students have to learn to work with this concept and that requires a completely different approach to learning and studying

●     teachers have to receive good training

●     teachers have to be taught how to deal with this and it is already difficult to get a PE (professionalization credits) system going

Evaluation and quality control 4 5% ●     start with a concrete pilot project per faculty, evaluate, decide, based on evidence and results, whether it can become a permanent part of a course

●     follow right process: ideas => contribution of expertise => plan => pilot

●     realistic pilots

●     succeeded: when it is well/voluntary accepted by students

Organization of design and implementation process
Experiential design of activities within school and in out-of-school environments/ settings

 

5 6% ●       we are going to develop innovative apps that combine theory and practice

●       the app can issue an assignment at any time and the task must be solved in collaboration with other students and under time pressure. The app thus approaches the complex legal reality

●       in this app, the student is confronted with complex legal issues in different roles (e.g. lawyer)

Process-oriented design of interdisciplinary/ transboundary activities

 

4 5% ●       the app is active throughout the complete study and measures progress made by students over a period of 4-6 years

●       combination of various digital instruments

●       several students can play the same game at home at the same time: role play or dialogue / discussion

Guidance/ support/ degree of autonomy of learners

 

4 5% ●       [feedback through standardized] question-answer-model

●       Virtual classes are recorded

●       The developers provide feedback on ‘short term’ on developed solutions

Assessment (formative & summative), evaluation and testing 2 2% ●       what do you assess, how do you demonstrate that a student has achieved the learning objectives

●       portfolio containing situations [dealt with] at work is included, including proof/examples

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