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The learning management system (LMS) has long been the unified platform for hosting all content and activities in an online class. While it has served its purpose well, the advent of social media has exposed its limitations. Students find the multiple steps required to log in and reach a desired function clunky compared to the one-click convenience of apps. This limits the usefulness of the LMS on mobile devices. Whereas students snap photos for Instagram or text during their everyday activities, they tend to treat the LMS like a face-to-face classroom by sitting down at a computer a few times per week for schoolwork. Thus, their learning starts and ends with the class.
But social media apps allow faculty to extend learning beyond the physical classroom or LMS with activities that reinforce what was learned or demonstrate how class concepts apply to students’ lived experience. WhatsApp is ideal for this purpose. A messaging app, it integrates text, voice, video, and other media into one system, and its popularity is due to its user friendliness, reliability, simplicity, and security (end-to-end encryption for each message). As students are already using it, it is easy to add to a face-to-face or online class to complement what happens within the course.
Discussion traditionally concludes at the end of class, whether in a face-to-face classroom or after the student has logged out of the LMS. But WhatsApp allows the discussion to continue. Insights on a topic often occur when we are thinking about a different subject or because we see connections to something outside of the topic. Thoughts that occur after the class or logging out of the LMS are generally forgotten, but giving students a way to post them on their phones with a single click of a button captures these ideas. WhatsApp also allows students to add visual enhancements, such as emojis and memes, that enliven communication and can motivate participation.
Another use for WhatsApp is one-to-one communication with students. Teachers can reach out to individual learners at any time or from any place, with no need to wait for the next class. They can also send out new class content, such as a YouTube video relating to a past or future class topic. Additionally, the integrated chat function allows students to discuss material as soon as they receive it, rather than later, when they have forgotten much of the content.
Peer teaching and learning are important ways to gain knowledge and skills. WhatsApp makes collaboration between peers easy because students can not only message one another but also send documents, links to resources, and more. Students can plan and host group meetings on the app’s videoconferencing system as well, eliminating problems with trying to use multiple systems for different forms of communication.
Teachers have taken a growing interest in micro-lessons that reinforce learning between courses. For instance, an instructor might have students take photos of items they come across that illustrate a topic just covered in class. Students can also comment on what others have posted to delve deeper into real-world illustrations of class topics.
My expertise lies in language teaching and training educators in this field. This is why my focus is on activities related to the teaching and learning of languages.
Here are a few examples:
WhatsApp is an ideal way to host group discussions within a department, working group, or training program. Recently, a group of teachers in my country designed a short online course to equip educators with basic online teaching skills. As we wanted the conversation to continue outside of the class, we set up a WhatsApp group where we encourage and motivate each other (both trainers and participants). We share information and best practices, and chat informally to ensure that everyone is doing well.
When researchers asked students of instructors who use WhatsApp about the experience, they were told that it gives rise to intensive, efficient, and flexible communication between peers and instructor (Oliveira & Figueira, 2017); can clarify doubts more quickly than LMS communications; and allows for immediate encouragement. Students can also ask the class a question and get a quick answer from other students or the teacher. This fosters a community of practice, one that can continue long after a module or course ends. Such a community can be particularly beneficial for students with the same major as they are likely taking courses together. WhatsApp can foster a mutually supportive community among students, and a department can strengthen such community by hosting discussions between faculty and students on topics within the department’s field.
Try complementing your instruction with WhatsApp to increase student engagement and extend learning outside of class.
Figueira, Á., & Oliveira, L. (2017). The current state of fake news: Challenges and opportunities. Procedia Computer Science, 121, 817–825. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2017.11.106
Karen Ferreira-Meyers, PhD, is an associate professor and coordinator of linguistics and modern languages at the University of Eswatini.