The complexity and the challenges of the future working life combined with the development of the technology requires novel competences from the future professionals. In international NICCoLLa project social and health care students and IT students had a chance to strengthen their wellbeing technology and international transdisciplinary collaboration competences which are essential skills in future working life.

Authors: Hannele Tiittanen, Annamaija Id-Korhonen & Marleen Mares

There are multiple fast developing changes in Europe, e.g ageing of the population, shortages of care professionals, financial pressures, that forces societies to respond. Technological innovations play a big role in finding effective, user-friendly, cost-efficient, and accessible solutions for the wellbeing sector. Many technologies are available, and the market is rapidly developing (Allen et al. 2019). In order to reach the potential of technology the care professionals’ competences need to be strengthened. This requires dialogue between the professionals working in wellbeing sector and in ICT to overcome the language gap. Co-creation of care solutions increases health outcomes, enhances patient satisfaction, better service innovation, and cost savings (Rocco et al. 2016).

Including the users of technological solutions in care and wellbeing is necessary. Physicians, together with the patients were able to co-create service value developing the telehealth ecosystem in the Covid-19 crisis. Co-creation framework provides inclusive, equitable and sustainable telemedicine services. (Leite & Hodgkinson 2020.) Lee (2018) emphasizes that developing a common co-creation environment facilitates patients´ participation in co-creation ecosystem activities. Building an effective value co-creation process of medical staff and patients require advanced technologies to share information, use data analytics and apply artificial intelligence to determine the best treatment.

International collaboration in NICCoLLa project

The project International Network for Innovative Care Competence Learning through Labs (NICCoLLa) provided a place for the social and health care students, and IT students from Finland (LAB University of Applied Sciences), Netherlands (Avans University of Applied Sciences) and Spain (The Universitat Politècnica de València), to meet and study together. The purpose was to strengthen the future professionals’ skills needed for the successful implementation and development of wellbeing technology and ICT in the care and wellbeing sector. (Niccolla application 2019.)

The primary aim of the project was to improve the education of future professionals by developing the curricular content. During the Niccolla project a 30 ECTS study module was created in international co-operation. Social and health care students, and IT students contributed to the study module development during the three international intensive study programme’s held in Finland, Netherlands and in Spain. During the study programme’s students worked together in international small groups, and solved for example the given complex working life challenges, and innovated new wellbeing technology solutions.

The key issues in students working during the study programme’s were transdisciplinary collaboration and co-creation. Transdisciplinary collaboration occurs when people bring different disciplinary expertise to the table and strive to develop innovative, holistic and shared conceptual frameworks thereby de-emphasizing the contributing disciplines (Choi & Pak 2006). Transdisciplinary learning is seen as evidence-generating and evidence-supported learning processes on the individual, organizational and societal levels. Transdisciplinary learning foster fundamental system transformations. (Barth et al. 2019.)

Unknown and complex future in working life requires higher education to respond co-creatively to solve new challenges. Significant parts of knowledge production and exchange should be built on co-creative generative dialogue. This is how students, educators and stakeholders can develop new types of knowledge and answers to the unknown future needs in collective learning processes. (Iversen et al. 2017, 16.)

Aim and methodology

The aim of the survey was to find out what social and healthcare students and IT students’ experiences were relating to the international transdisciplinary collaboration. The set research question is outlined below:

“What are the students’ experiences gained during the international transdisciplinary collaboration in the intensive study programmes?”

The data was collected with a structured questionnaire from the social and health care students and IT students who were attending to the final Niccolla intensive study programme in Alcoi, Spain, at the end of September 2022. There were all together 18 students participating to the programme, with 8 social and health care students from LAB and Avans Universities of Applied Sciences, and 10 IT students from The Universitat Politecnica de Valencia. Students were asked to fill in the questionnaire after the Niccolla final conference, with 16 students responding and completing the questionnaire. The results are presented in frequencies as the number of respondents were small. Also, as the social and healthcare and IT students’ experiences relating to the international transdisciplinary collaboration were so close to each other, their answers were combined in the final results.


The social and healthcare and IT students’ answers were reflecting the positive experiences relating to the transdisciplinary collaboration. Students especially strongly agreed that international transdisciplinary collaboration increases the understanding of global challenges, and that different disciplinary expertise is needed in solving technology challenges in social and healthcare settings. Most students also considered that working together encourages international cooperation.

ArgumentStrongly disagreeDisagreeAgreeStrongly agree
Different disciplinary expertise is needed in solving technology challenges in social and healthcare settings214
International transdisciplinary co-operation enables development of innovative solutions to the given challenges79
International transdisciplinary co-operation facilitates holistic creating solutions given technology challenges610
International transdisciplinary co-operation encourages international cooperation after the project1114
International transdisciplinary co-operation increases the understanding of global challenges (e.g. Covid19, ageing population) in social and healthcare214
International transdisciplinary co-operation increases common understanding between the disciplines in given technology challenges610
International transdisciplinary co-operation supports mutual learning between multiple participants610
International transdisciplinary co-operation increases the abilities for collective decision-making610

Table 1. Social and health care and IT students’ experiences of transdisciplinary working (n= 16).


Social and healthcare students and IT students’ experiences relating to the international transdisciplinary collaboration in health and wellbeing sector were positive. Although the number of respondents was small the results gave important feedback when planning the future international course implementations. Important dimension in teaching and learning is not only the subject content of the disciplines but also the organization of possibilities for students to help develop their internationalization competence. International encounters during the study provides opportunities for students to build up valuable connections also beyond their study time.

The previous studies support the results of this study. Wagner et al. (2014) reported that such skills as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving were improved in transdisciplinary and collaborative working. Also, empathy and respect to another’s opinions were developed when students from different disciplines work jointly together. Tijsma et al. (2022) reported similar results where students gained diverse perspectives and learned to communicate with each other across the disciplines, and their critical reflection skills had been developed.

The pedagogical discussion is needed in higher education institutions to develop methods how the transdisciplinary collaborative learning can be implemented as a part of the curriculum implementation. In addition, teachers need training to be able to bring their professional expertise to transdisciplinary teaching. (Di Giulio & Defila 2016.) International implementations of transdisciplinary collaboration often create an extra challenge for the curriculum implementation, but they are rewarding learning possibilities for students and teachers. International transdisciplinary collaboration develops competences that are valuable and needed in the future working-life. The complexity of the future working life is increasing and the demand for advanced solutions and problem-solving skills has grown. The competence of transdisciplinary way of working where the knowledge from different disciplines are applied and integrated becomes important in such complex working life situations, as well as the ability to collaborate effectively to create innovative solutions to problems. (Marope et al. 2019.) 


A complex and unexpected future is challenging higher education to organize learning environments to facilitate transdisciplinary collaborative working. Transdisciplinary collaborative competence is also a requirement when responding to the technological development in the care and wellbeing sector. Implementing technological solutions requires transdisciplinary problem solving and user driven co-creation skills. Learning environments in higher education should support the development of transdisciplinary and co-creative competences of future professionals. The learning environment described in this article is a promising way of promoting these competences and will be further developed in co-operation with partners after the project lifecycle.


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Hannele Tiittanen, is a principal lecturer at the Faculty of Health Care and Social Services at the LAB University of Applied Sciences. She was an expert in NICCoLLa project in 2019 – 2022.

Annamaija Id-Korhonen, is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Health Care and Social Services at the LAB University of Applied Sciences. She was an expert in NICCoLLa project in 2019 – 2022.

Marleen Mares, is a senior lecturer at Avans University of Applied Sciences, Breda, The Netherlands, and was a participant in the NiCCoLLa project in 2019-2022.

Illustration: (Gerd Altmann, Pixabay License)

Published 24.3.2023

Reference to this article

Tiittanen, H., Id-Korhonen, A. & Mares, M. 2023. International transdisciplinary collaboration increases students’ professional competences. LAB RDI Journal. Cited and date of citation. Available at