My Research Proposal: Questions and Objectives

The following post outlines my current thinking in terms of my research problem and problems/objectives.

Research Justification

The results of the 2014 EDUCAUSE Centre for Analysis and Research (ECAR) study of undergraduate students in the United States found that more students used their smartphones, tablets, and e-readers for academic use in 2014 than in previous years. The study also found 92% of respondents owned at least two devices and 59% owned three or more (Dahlstrom & Bichsel, 2014). The ratio of students to technological devices used to be many students to one device and then gradually moved to “one device per learner” (Chan et al., 2006; Cheung & Hew, 2009). We are now entering an era where the ratio is becoming one learner to many devices.

A key benefit of ubiquitous technology-enhanced learning is that it enables the continuity of learning experiences or “seamless learning” across different learning settings (Chan et al., 2006). It therefore becomes important to understand what personal devices students have and how students use various media and technologies for academic activities, and what tools they find are most effective to support their learning. These insights can lead to better informed decisions in the learning design process with regard to the selection of media and learning activities in online learning (Schroeder, 2013; Stöter et al., 2014).

Research Problem

Students at Open Distance Learning (ODL) universities make use of their own or the devices of others to assist them in their studies (Liebenberg et al., 2012). However, access to devices alone does not lead to effective usage. Although there are significant studies available on how to integrate mobile devices into teaching and learning (Hwang & Tsai, 2011; Wu et al., 2012), there is very little applied research into how university students use multiple devices to support their learning (Gikas & Grant, 2013). More research is needed to improve lecturer ability to better facilitate the nurturing of “seamless” learners, as well as providing the associated technological support (Milrad et al., 2013).   This investigation seeks to address the problem of the lack of effective academic and technological support provided to students learning with multiple devices, within the context of ODL universities. The aim of addressing this research problem is to be able to provide better learning support to online students who can benefit from seamless learning experiences. With better support, students are more engaged and this can lead to improved student success.

Research Questions and Objectives

The objective of the research is to gain an understanding of existing and potential learner behaviours of students using multiple devices to create seamless learning experiences, within the context of ODL universities. The main research question is: “How do students at open and distance universities use multiple devices to support their learning tasks seamlessly?”

This question is supported by several sub-questions:

  1. What devices, and for what purposes and contexts, are online university students using to perform their learning tasks?
  2. How do online university students use mobile devices together with other devices to perform learning tasks?
  3. What academic and technological support do students learning with multiple devices require from open and distance learning universities?


Chan, T., Roschelle, J., Hsi, S., Kinshuk, K., Brown, T., Patton, C., … Sharples, M. (2006). One-to-one technology-enhanced learning: an opportunity for global research collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 1(1), 3–29.

Cheung, W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2009). A review of research methodologies used in studies on mobile handheld devices in K-12 and higher education settings. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 153–183.

Dahlstrom, E., & Bichsel, J. (2014). ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2014. Louisville, CO: ECAR.

Gikas, J., & Grant, M. M. (2013). Mobile computing devices in higher education: Student perspectives on learning with cellphones, smartphones & social media. Internet and Higher Education, 19, 18–26.

Hwang, G.-J., & Tsai, C.-C. (2011). Research trends in mobile and ubiquitous learning: a review of publications in selected journals from 2001 to 2010. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(4), E65–E70.

Liebenberg, H., Chetty, Y., & Prinsloo, P. (2012). Student access to and skills in using technology in an open and distance learning context. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4), 250–268.

Milrad, M., Wong, L., Sharples, M., & Hwang, G. (2013). Seamless Learning: An International Perspective on Next Generation Technology Enhanced Learning. In Z. Berge & L. Muilenburg (Eds.), Handbook of Mobile Learning (pp. 95–108). New York: Routledge.

Schroeder, B. (2013). Mobile and Digital: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning in a Networked World. In A. Tsinakos & M. Ally (Eds.), Global Mobile Learning Implementation and Trends (pp. 105–119). Beijing: China Central Radio & TV University Press.

Stöter, J., Bullen, M., Zawacki-Richter, O., & Von Prümmer, C. (2014). Chapter 16: From the Back Door into the Mainstream: The Characteristics of Lifelong Learners. In O. Zawacki-Richter & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda (pp. 421–457). Edmonton: AU Press.

Wu, W. H., Jim Wu, Y. C., Chen, C. Y., Kao, H. Y., Lin, C. H., & Huang, S. H. (2012). Review of trends from mobile learning studies: A meta-analysis. Computers and Education, 59(2), 817–827.


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