Bringing mobile use into formal settings has been discussed frequently. Likewise, we have been talking before about merging formal and informal learning. The fact is that learning is, somehow, the same process whenever and wherever it happens.

Formal and informal learning mixture may be described as an interaction between both domains, as we were discussing some weeks ago. Formal learning setting is a powerful training for learning by oneself in informal settings. At the same time, informal learning enrich the authenticity and meaning making process in formal environments.

This week we add two powerful insights to this conception of learning. The first is provided by Chee-Kit et al. (2009). They advocate for “seamless learning environments that can bridge both formal and informal learning” (p. 154). That conception seems to be most interesting, since it treats learning as one unique process, rather than a number of processes classified by different partial definitions. In other words, they claim to “bridge the two settings”, formal and informal (Chee-Kit et al., 2009, p. 155).

To achieve their target, they focus on the advantages of mobiles, on the possibilities that that kind of devices have “to challenge the traditional dichotomous distinction between formal learning and informal learning” (Chee-Kit et al., 2009, p. 156). Grounded on the theories of social learning, situated learning and knowledge building, these authors developed a seamless learning framework. This framework understand that “learning takes place through individual learning in private learning spaces, collaborative learning in public learning spaces, and cognitive artifacts created across time and physical or virtual spaces mediated by technology within a context” (p. 159). Mobiles devices are most suitable for being that technology, as they are present anytime and anywhere.

With a quite similar background, Kearney et al. (2012) proposed a framework to understand, design and/or evaluate learning with mobiles. Central to their position is “the notion that learning is a situated, social endeavor, facilitated and developed through social interactions and conversations between people (Vygotsky, 1978) and mediated through tools use (Wertsch, 1991)” (p. 1). Mobile devices are ideal tools to facilitate interactions within any real context beyond any time-spatial limit.

Kearney et al. proposal can is summarized in the following figure, which is a modified version of the Figure 6 in their article (Kearney et al., 2012, p. 8).

m-Learning Framework

Given the notions of authenticity, collaboration and personalization, I would say that that figure fits quite well with the next one:

Seamless Learning

Most interestingly, seamless learning can be represented in those graphs, as the double direction arrows, or as the overlap boundary between the two domains. Actually, there is no great difference between both representations.

An important question remains unresolved: how can we assess that learning happens when we consider any informal setting? The reason to bring that issue here is that Chee-Kit et al. (2012) provided a useful insight: “When considering the linkage between formal and informal learning, we might be able to infer the effectiveness of informal learning through assessing the conceptual equivalents specified in formal curricula” (p. 166). Thus, informal learning should have an appreciable effect on formal assessment, in addition to other effects more closely related to the 21st Century skills.

Based on inquire learning, Jones et al. show two cases where mobile devices act as the tools that mediate learning beyond formal and informal settings. At this point, I would like to recall a danger that mobile learning research may have to face. It looks like there is a great deal of research that focuses on description of experiences, but some experiences seem to be too particular to bring light for a general theory. Someway, research has to be connected with teaching practice and, at the same time, contribute to general theory construction. Otherwise, issues like the controversy of transformative learning may happen again with m-learning theory.


Looi, C.-K., Seow, P., Zhang, B., So, H.-J., Chen, W., & Wong, L.-H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154-169. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00912.x

Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K., & Aubusson, P. (2012). Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research In Learning Technology, 20:1, 1-17. doi:10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14406

Jones, A. C., Scanlon, E., & Clough, G. (2013). Mobile learning: two case studies of supporting inquiry learning in informal and semiformal settings. Computers & Education. 61: 21–32. Doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.08.008.


Seamless learning with mobiles

One thought on “Seamless learning with mobiles

  • July 14, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Assessment continues to be a difficult issue to address with informal learning. You mentioned that informal learning “should have an appreciable effect on formal assessment.” The premise of seamless learning and something you point out in your blog post is that learning is learning – essentially, there is no difference whether formal or informal. Using that logic, then it makes sense that informal learning should still lead to “better scores.” However, formal learning tends to have goals and objectives; informal learning doesn’t always have goals. I’m not convinced that informal learning will always have an effect on formal assessment – purely from the standpoint that good assessments need to know what they are assessing.

Comments are closed.