Written by Judith Dembaremba, Project Assistant with Global Academic Initiatives with help from Kim Welch, Instructional Designer, EdPlus Innovations and Emerging Initiatives.
Please note: Arizona State University has not approved the usage of WhatsApp within its institution. This article addresses the special low-bandwidth needs and solutions in many developing countries, such as the needs of the learners from Cameroon, Ghana, and Zimbabwe whose input was used to inform this article. The purpose of this article is to offer valuable insights to a global audience about the effective solutions implemented to tackle specific challenges related to online access.
WhatsApp is a global messaging platform. Over 2 billion people in at least 180 countries (Rollason, 2021) turn to WhatsApp for social and business interaction (Phan, 2021). Not surprisingly, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the globe and over 30 million learners no longer had access to in-person instruction (Disha, 2021), WhatsApp became a prominent place for learning, as well.
The advantages of using WhatsApp for learners persist beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in multi-national learning groups. These advantages include:
- Increased inclusivity: Many international learners, especially those in developing countries with fewer resources and less-developed internet infrastructure, rely on mobile phones as their sole devices. The use of a mobile-first platform that is designed for a lower draw on bandwidth assists in decentralizing learning and enabling institutions and educators to distribute knowledge to more marginalized learners than the traditional in-person method (Disha, 2021). It can also be used on iPhones, Android devices, and desktops or laptops. WhatsApp is bandwidth-friendly, free to download, and familiar to learners across the globe, and many countries and telecommunication businesses have even included it in a lower-cost bundle for those who have to pay for individual data, making it accessible, affordable, and efficient for the use of learning.
- Increased engagement and participation: Studies have shown that the use of social media in learning keeps learners engaged and increases knowledge sharing between instructors and peers (Ansari & Kahn, 2020). The fact that so many learners around the world already use WhatsApp for social interaction makes it an easy transition to knowledge sharing and engagement for learning.
- Increased international awareness: For learners who do not yet participate in WhatsApp, learning this application can prepare them for more global interactions.
How to use WhatsApp for learning
For those of us who have never used WhatsApp for learning, how do we start? After downloading WhatsApp on an iPhone or Android device, or laptop/desktop, an instructor will need to create a group and invite learners to it. If there are multiple groups, for example, multiple sections of the same course, instructors can create communities where multiple groups can be organized and managed together in one space.
Once the basic groups and/or communities have been created, WhatsApp can boost learning in two ways: 1) as a simple communication tool, and 2) as a space where learning content can be shared.
WhatsApp is basically a messaging application that allows for various types of communication. It allows messaging between groups of 1000+ people and includes replies and emoji reactions to individual texts. Teachers have used WhatsApp for the following types of communication:
- Message-based question and answer: This can be done on an individual basis for teacher-to-student communication (and even comes with read receipts) or in the larger group for student-to-student/teacher interaction (which allows mention capability to single out specific students in a group).
- One-way announcements: This is done in the communities administration announcement tool which may not be available in all countries (option can also be applied in groups, where only a group admin can send messages).
- Group communication:
- Group polls
- Have students form groups and use WhatsApp for group collaborations
WhatsApp also allows file and media-sharing, which means learning content can easily be shared between students and teachers. The following types of media can be shared on WhatsApp:
- Documents (PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoints as long as the file size is adequate)
- Videos and images
- Voice messages/audio
It is important to note the WhatsApp platform is built for low draw on bandwidth, so it may force you to compress file sizes, such as compressed images, PPTs converted to PDFs and the PDFs compressed, videos broken into shorter parts, or documents converted into Google Drive files that can be shared as Google Drive links.
Of course, there are plenty of other messaging applications that can function in a similar way to WhatsApp. The current app leader for online messaging is WhatsApp, but regardless of the platform, using the most-used messaging platforms in a group is a great way to bring learning directly to the native space of many international learners.
[For those who need a downloadable PDF, here is an explanation of WhatsApp tools as of April 2023.]
Ansari, J.A.N., Khan, N.A. (2020). Exploring the role of social media in collaborative learning the new domain of learning. Smart Learn. Environ. 7, 9 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40561-020-00118-7 and retrieved January 20, 2023 from https://slejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40561-020-00118-7
Disha (2021, September 29) Whatsapp for education-A complete guide. Gupshup. Retrieved January 20 from https://www.gupshup.io/resources/blog/whatsapp-for-education-a-complete-guide
Phan, T. (2021, October 7). The world depends on WhatsApp. The Hustle. Retrieved January 20, 2023 from https://thehustle.co/10072021-world-depends-whatsapp/
Rollason, H. (2021, December 21). What countries are the biggest WhatsApp users? Verint. Retrieved January 20, 2023 from https://www.verint.com/blog/what-countries-are-the-biggest-whatsapp-users/ WhatsApp. (n.d.). Help center. Retrieved April 20, 2023 from https://faq.whatsapp.com/