Mobile assisted language learning: Potential and limitations of using ‘WhatsApp’ messenger to enhance students' writing skills

Afef Gasmi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The proliferation of technological devices such as computers and mobile phones in the past two decades has impacted upon the various aspects of our life, including the way we learn and teach. Technology has ‘transformed’ the field of higher education and more specifically the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching. This influence has been reflected in the amount of available literature that has discussed the benefits of computer assisted English language learning and the wide range of educational resources available to the general public in the World Wide Web (WWW).

More recently, there has been a heated debate about the usefulness of the new generation of mobile phones namely smart phones for educational purposes, and their possible uses in English language instruction. Researchers have argued that along with their regular uses i.e. sending text messages, surfing the WWW, etc… the diverse applications (apps) available in smart phones open up a plethora of other choices for educators and consequently ample opportunities to enhance students’ learning and to make studying a worthwhile experience for them (Godwin-Jones, 2011; Yang, 2013).

A review of literature has shown that many scholars have emphasized the potential benefits of ‘mobile learning’, also called ‘m-learning’ in the field of English language teaching. For instance, scholars like Beaudin, Intille, Tapia, Rockinson and Morris (2007), Lu (2008), and Zhang, Song and Burston (2011) advocate smart phones as excellent tools to assist students to learn English vocabulary. Moreover, Kukulska-Hulme and Shield (2007) have explored the effectiveness of cell phones usage for synchronous and asynchronous interaction and for promoting students’ listening and speaking skills. The authors concluded that mobile devices could support collaborative speaking and listening activities successfully. Moreover, the findings of a study conducted by Motallebzadeh and Ganjali (2011) in an Iranian educational context indicate that utilizing SMS as a flexible learning tool fosters students’ vocabulary retention and as a consequence, promotes the students’ reading comprehension capabilities. Similarly, Lan, Sung, and Chang (2007) claimed that mobile devices facilitate the development of collaborative learning environments among students. In addition, they promote their reading motivation. Borau, Ullrich, Feng, and Shen (2009) pointed out another potential benefit of m-learning. The authors maintained that the opportunities that these devices offer to students to engage actively in the English language ‘production’ through social networking services and blogs constitute a good means of enhancing students’ communicative and cultural competence.

The review of the literature concerned with ‘mobile learning’ shows that little, if anything at all, has been written on the possibility of utilizing mobile phones to enhance EFL students’ writing skills. This paper reports the findings of a study conducted on 33 students enrolled in the Foundation Program in a higher education institution in Oman. The major aim of the study was to investigate the effects that mobile apps more specifically ‘WhatsApp’ free messenger app has on Omani students’ writing skills. Along with the discussion of the potential benefits, the study will also discuss the limitations of using 'WhatsApp' free app in EFL writing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationINTED International Conference, Spain
ISBN (Electronic) 978-84-616-8412-0
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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