The twenty-first century has raised educational demands that require new ways of thinking and learning (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, & Terry, 2013). These demands include the diffusion of technology into all aspects of personal and professional life (Butson, 2005), the exponential growth of the amount of information available, the growing importance of a knowledge-based economy, and globalization, which is facilitated by technology.
One of the fastest growing trends, as reported by Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman (2014), is the growing ubiquity of social media. The authors state that portable, connected, and personal technology is transforming people’s lives wherever they go. Ubiquitous learning environments can thus provide possibilities for accessing information, content creation, and communication and sharing in a personalized way through mobile devices (such as smartphones or tablets) at any time and in any place place (Sharples, 2006). This implies that learning can also occur independently from the physical and temporal context (Evans & Johri, 2008; Salinas, 2012); hence, because it is seamless, it can broaden learning environments from classrooms and other formal places for learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). The idea is that students can learn whenever they want to in a variety of scenarios, and that they can switch from one scenario or context to another easily and quickly using a personal device as a mediator (Chan et al., 2006; Looi et al., 2010; Wong, 2013). Therefore, a shift to more dynamic conceptions of space-time and an emphasis on lifelong learning is taking place. Seamless learning environments are rooted in two main characteristics of mobile learning that have previously been expressed: personalization and mobility (Wong, 2013a).
“Personalization” is based on student-centered approaches, which prioritize learning as a whole person, including intellect and feelings as well as personal and group processes (Motschnig-Pitrik & Holzinger, 2002). Furthermore, student-centered approaches emphasize authentic, complex, and ill-defined tasks in order to enhance meaningful and relevant learning experiences (Elen, Clarebout, Léonard, & Lowyck, 2007; Lombardi, 2007). Much of the research on the use of mobile devices for learning has been conducted either in formal or informal learning environments, but not much research has been done on bridging these two environments (Looi et al., 2010).
This study will provide insights, examples, and challenges for designing seamless learning environments that utilize mobile devices in the higher education context. We will present and discuss the findings of the interview study through three case examples and a synthesis of each. The three cases are related to educational programs that aim to design seamless learning environments. These programs are implemented in the context of the teaching development project of the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.