Learner-Initiated Language Learning Through Social Media Sites (SMSs)

Learner-Initiated Language Learning Through Social Media Sites (SMSs)

Rashad Ali Ahmed (Miami University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2116-8.ch004

Abstract

Social media sites have become an essential part of communication and interaction all over the globe. They have also offered numerous opportunities to language learners across geographic borders, paralleled by a new research interest in their potential. The present study joins this relatively new line of research as it adds data from a sample of Yemeni English language learners about their uses and perceived benefits of using social media sites in English beyond formal education. The study came up with a conclusion that Yemeni EFL learners were actively participating in social media sites and were aware of their language-related benefits. The participants reported that social media sites were helpful for building various aspects of their English proficiency but found them most useful for their writing and reading skills, expanding their vocabulary, having access to authentic materials, and communicating with English speaking friends, both native and non-native speakers. They ranked their usefulness in the following order: Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
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Introduction

Over the past two decades, the Internet, particularly Web 2.0 applications, has created new channels of human communication and learning. It is now easy to access enormous and ever-expanding bodies of information online. Meanwhile, Social Media Sites (hereafter SMSs) such as Facebook, WeChat, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and WhatsApp enable millions of people across the globe to communicate and maintain connections with their friends and relatives (Al-Kadi, 2018; Bakeer, 2018, Greenhow & Lewin, 2016; Kasuma, 2017; Vivian, 2011). Some SMS users cultivate an audience comprised of people of different ages, nationalities, religions, and cultures, who follow and interact with them by commenting on or sharing posts or even interacting virtually via face-to-face interplay. Many educational institutions, bedsides owning official pages on SMSs, are now offering learning opportunities. Students around the world spend a large portion of time present on social networking sites, performing different activities: chatting, gaming, gambling, etc. In 2008, TNS Global, a market research company, published a study on the use of digital technologies by adults from 16 industrialized nations. The study concluded that adults, on average, spend one third of their leisure time online. Most of the participants showed very high use of social networking, and over a third described social networking as ‘fun’ while over a quarter described it as ‘interesting’.

Rationale

In the past, teachers have been generally regarded to be the primary sources of knowledge, and students depended entirely on their teachers as their exclusive providers of knowledge. With digital technology, today’s language students have found new sources and resources to learn independently from parents, teachers, and other formal authorities. This trend is supported by a broader paradigm shift from teacher-dominance to learner-centered approach. Lee and McLoughlin (2008) argued that “outmoded didactic models, which place emphasis on the delivery of information by an instructor and/or from a textbook, may need to be replaced in order for student-centered learning to come to fruition” (p. 641). Now that computers and mobile technology are permeating students’ lives, they spend substantial time using the Internet, seeking out new friends, playing games, watching videos, etc. (Feng, Wong, Wong, & Hossain, 2019). However, the efficiency of time that the EFL learners spend browsing social media to enhance language skills remains questionable. Feng et al. (2019) investigated how the use of Facebook and the Internet affect students’ academic performance. The study found that using SMSs (e.g., Facebook) regularly for entertainment is a distraction for students and is negatively affecting their academic performance. The popularity of SMSs, specifically Facebook, demonstrates the appeal of online and virtual communities across generations, geographic locations, and cultures, but it also shows that these sites are particularly attractive to teenagers, homemakers, and students: demographics that may frequently feel isolated or lonely in their day to day lives (TNS Global, 2008).

Since TNS Global study was conducted, the use of social media has grown increasingly, especially among college students (Ha, Joa, Gabay, & Kim, 2018). As the importance of digital technology in today’s world grows, so does the need to integrate these new technologies into the educational system. Thiele, Mai, and Post (2014) postulated that technology can “enhance learning by making the classroom more active and student-centered” (p. 80). Technology also offers access to authentic materials as well as opportunities for autonomous learning. Moreover, it allows language learners to communicate with native and non-native speakers from different parts of the world. Overall, the rise of modern technology among learners of English has received the attention of scholars in the field of English language teaching and substantial research exists on this issue (Al-kadi, 2018; Alsaleem, 2013; Bakeer, 2018; Chartrand, 2012; Manca & Ranieri, 2016). However, the specific language benefits of SMSs in informal settings have not been sufficiently explored. This omission serves as the primary rationale for this chapter.

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