Online learning is quickly gaining popularity in the world of education, but there is a unique type of online learning that is often forgotten. It's something a truly vast number of young people in Saudi Arabia spend their time using: social media. In a country which has the highest penetration of Twitter users in the world (The Economist), social media websites and applications provide an array of opportunities to connect young Saudis to the English language.
At the university level, Saudi youth are expected to have at least a basic level of English fluency in order to study all but a few majors. Given the ease of access to social media accounts across the globe, English language resources, and personal English teachers and tutors, one would anticipate that students in Saudi Arabia would have few issues with accessing, learning, and even mastering English.
Researchers have started to take an interest in the access of social media as a learning tool. One study by Ahmed and Hassan (2017) paints a rather bleak picture of the issue, though. The researchers polled students in the English department at one Saudi university regarding how much time they spend using social media applications and compared the amount of time spent reading, writing, listening or speaking English to the amount using their mother tongue, Arabic. They found that while Saudi students spend a significant amount of time using social media, very little, if hardly any, is spent utilizing English.
On the other hand, another study (Aifan, 2015) suggests a more hopeful outlook. Researchers found that not only do students find social media-based learning to be motivational, citing its ease of use, many went as far as to even suggest that educational institutions should provide training sessions to faculty encouraging the use of social media as a learning tool. Likewise, they noted that it should be integrated into teaching at the university level. Many of the participants in this study also felt that using social media makes communication easier and held a very positive attitude towards it. The study also suggested a strong preference for social media-based learning in comparison to traditional learning methodologies.
As members of the education community, surely we all know that we can do our best to guide students, but sometimes there are factors out of our control. Clearly, social media plays a role in students’ lives in Saudi Arabia, and research shows that it can come with a number of benefits to students. Research shows that in many cases, students even prefer it. However, as with any resource, it is only helpful if it’s actually used.
Andrea Mehringer is an American English language educator living and working in Saudi Arabia.
Aifan, Hanan Ahmad. “Saudi Students’ Attitudes Toward Using Social Media to Support Learning.” University of Kansas, 2014.
Ahmed, Sayed Salahuddin, and Abdulkhaleq Q. A. Hassan. “A Study on the Rationale of Social Media Use by the Students of King Khalid University.” English Language Teaching, vol. 10, no. 8, Mar. 2017, pp. 43–50., doi:10.5539/elt.v10n8p43.
“A Virtual Revolution.” The Economist, 13 Sept. 2014.