1.1 Background of the Study
Mobile learning (mlearning) is a subdivision of distance education that is still exploratory but not readily acceptable. Computers and the Internet software allow for convenient learning environment at home, but online learning means more than using fixed desktop computers. Advances continue to mLearning, which is learning anytime and anywhere through digital mobile devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or MP3 players for connectivity (Naismith, Lonsdale, Vavoula, & Sharples, 2005). Laptop computers are also a technological vehicle for mLearning to be connected based on desktop software for the larger screen.
Technological influences are changing in the way that society interacts and communicates. The embedding of computer technologies in everyday devices influences learning styles (Schank, 2002). Children, particularly those of high school age, build technological fluencies because of their continuous use of the devices as well as their extreme eagerness in using computer and mobile. Twenty-first century educational instructional designers need to be involved in the developmental processes for mLearning because they are trained with conscious understanding of how to use proven instructional design (ID) models, educational pedagogies, technology innovations, content analysis skills, and collaboration techniques. In addition, theories of learning must also be considered in the process of implementing technology into the language classroom. The tenets of the behaviorist model of learning have characterized most perspectives of traditional educational instructional models (Skinner, 1954; 1968). Behaviorism is a learning theory that accounts for the study of overt behaviors that can be observed and measured and is the most pervasive approach to teaching. Behaviorists view the learner as the receiver of knowledge without taking into consideration the actual ways that people learn (Good & Brophy, 1990). Lever-Duffy, McDonald, and Mizell (2003) state that “it is a passive process of learning, that is, one learns as a response to the environment, not necessarily because of any specific mentalactivity” (p. 14).
Teachers and researchers of second and foreign language education, as argued by Wang (2014), have endeavored to incorporate e-learning into language teaching since the 1960s. Although some attempts have been found to be of significant success, challenges and criticism of effective application of technology have been existed. In order to benefit from new media and informational technology in language learning and teaching, there has been a research discipline known as computer-assisted language learning or CALL (Liu & Wu, 2016) . Similar to CALL, Mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) has attracted the researchers’ attention in technology aided instruction that has been generated by the invention of the rapidly growing handheld devices (Wang ; Smith, 2013). In fact, both CALL and MALL instruction has paved the way for effective e-learning pedagogy for teachers to have effective teaching as well as for the learners to experience real-life communication and benefit from technology-enhanced instruction as well as online learning environment (Venkataraman ; Sivakumar, 2015).
Within the last decade, exposing the learners to online and technology-based learning has rapidly increased and attracted both teachers and learners’ attention (Warschauer & Healey, 1998). Online education may not be appropriate for every student, but at the beginning of the 21st century, students have been enthusiastic to take part in online courses and programs (Liu & Wu, 2014). These online courses and programs are becoming an integral part of the curriculum at many language institutions to probably facilitate the language learning (Wang & Smith, 2013). The dramatic increase in the number of online students is also demanding innovative online devices that are prepared to design, develop, and deliver effective online instruction. However, some language teachers seem to view online teaching as a cultural change for the language learning process as they argue that teachers who are eager in applying technology in their classroom and benefiting from online learning environment, need to reconceptualize their ideas about what is effective teaching and what is effective learning (Lau, Yen, Li, & Wah 2014).
Therefore, a clear-cut approach in researching online education in the language classroom is demanding to see how learners might be positively affected by being exposed to audiovisual activities in an online learning environment to possibly improve their speaking fluency as well as listening comprehension.
1.2 The Statement of the Problem
The present study is surrounded by challenges regarding the significance of technology enhanced instruction in language learning in one hand, and how the above-mentioned techniques can be applied in speaking fluency and listening comprehension.
First, research studies highlight the significance of applying CALL in teaching language skills and sub-skills. However, lots of research on CALL does not necessarily justify its use in teaching language skills and sub-skills. Although there might be some studies, which recognized the role of using computer instruction in vocabulary learning (e.g. Wang, 2016) or grammar (Corbeil, 2007), some issues regarding computer software and desktop apps seems not to be adequately considered, thus, paving the way for the present study to explore the impacts of CALL (through WhatsApp desktop) instruction on the learners’ development of speaking fluency and listening comprehension.
Second, research on MALL has been found to be promising for both language teachers and learners (Lei ; Gupta, 2010; De Jong ; Koper, 2010; Kapuler, 2013) since they are exposed to interactive learning environment and can benefit from a task-based language instruction. However, new recent mobile apps, such as Telegram or WhatsApp have not been sufficiently investigated, particularly on language skills such as speaking fluency and listening comprehension, which the present study aimed at.
Last but not least, studies on MALL seem to be one-dimensional in that each issue has been investigated on its own without having comparative examination of one mobile apps in teaching two or more language skills to see which skills can be significantly affected by the technology of audiovisual instruction for language learners to successfully develop the target skill. Therefore, the present study attempted to take into account the effect of audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp on the improvement of Iranian lower-intermediate EFL learners’ speaking fluency and listening comprehension ability. Moreover, the study aimed to investigate the learners’ perceptions about audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp.
1.3 Research Questions and Hypotheses
The present study addressed the following research questions:
RQ1. Does audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp result in significant improvement in speaking fluency by lower-intermediate EFL learners?
RQ2. Does audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp result in significant improvement in listening comprehension by lower-intermediate EFL learners?
RQ3. What are the learners’ perceptions about audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp?
And the research hypotheses of the study include:
H01. Audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp does not result in significant improvement in speaking fluency by lower-intermediate EFL learners.
H02. Audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp does not result in significant improvement in listening comprehension by lower-intermediate EFL learners.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The present study can be of great significance in practice for learners and teachers in terms of teaching speaking and listening through online learning environment as explained in the following:
Learners are the first beneficiary of the study findings. Many learners appear to be worried about their speaking and listening ability in the process of language learning and put much value on the ability to speak fluently. Being taught through WhatsApp, learners can overcome their speaking and listening difficulties since they are exposed to practice and repetition as well as interactive learning environment since they are expected to express their ideas clearly without any source of anxiety they may be concerned with in comparison with the face-to-face instruction.
Teachers, who are always concerned with teaching language skills, can take audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp into account in order to take advantage of experiencing effective teaching by encouraging the learners to have more cooperation in a rather different technology-mediated environment. Such effectiveness demands both teachers and learners to be aware of how to apply technology tools in the classroom in order to get rid of possible difficulties participants may face during the class time.
Since institutes play a significant role in the language learning process and speaking and listening comprehension are highlighted in this process, the authorities can equip the institutes with the most common type of technology and experience technology enhanced instruction in the language classrooms and create an atmosphere for the learners to improve their knowledge of language skills and sub-skills.
1.5 Definition of Key Terms
The following key terms should be clarified:
1.5.1 Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL):
It is the field of language and technology study in which research is conducted and software solutions are developed in order to integrate instructional technologies and language learning practice. According to Jia (2007), Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) can be a cover term to include Computer-Aided Instruction (CAI), Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL), Computer-Assisted Language Instruction (CALI), Computer-Assisted Language Teaching (CALT) or even other teaching media involving high technology by means of the computer (Jia, 2007).
1.5.2 E-Learning: It is the use of information and communication technology (ICT), and electronic media in education. Essentially, e-learning includes all types of educational technology in teaching and learning. It can be used interchangeably with computer aided instruction (CAI), technology-enhanced learning (TEL), multimedia learning, digital education collaboration, mobile learning, virtual learning environment (VLE), virtual education, online education, Internet-based training (IBT), and digital education collaboration. E-learning can take place either out of or in the classroom (Banados, 2006).
1.5.3 Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL):
MALL, according to Valarmathi (2011), “describes an approach to language learning that is assisted or enhanced through the use of a handheld mobile device” (p. 2). The present study benefits from WhatsApp as a form of MALL instruction through mobile app to improve the learners’ speaking fluency and listening comprehension in an online learning setting.
1.5.4 Technology Enhanced Instruction:
It refers to the kind of instruction which students interact with computer-based hardware and software (Lei ; Gupta, 2010). The present study is aimed at using mobile enhanced instruction through WhatsApp to improve the learners’ speaking fluency and listening comprehension ability.
1.6. Limitations of the Study
The only limitation of the study was the fact that the current research investigated the female (according to the gender limitation of the institute) learners’ improvement in speaking and listening as the potential candidates of receiving audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp, while male participants can also be taken into consideration.
1.7 Delimitations of the Study
Concerning the delimitation of the study, first, the present study benefited from audiovisual instruction through technology with one technique i.e. MALL. In order to broaden our understanding of technology-based instruction, other possible existing computer devices and mobile applications can be taken into account for more reliable findings.
Second, since students’ levels of proficiency might be affected by their speaking and listening ability, the researcher delimited the participants to pre-intermediate learners. The present research considered participants who are at pre-intermediate levels of proficiency based on Oxford Placement Test (OPT). In order to widen our understanding of the effectiveness of technology-based instruction, a larger group of learners with different levels of proficiency can be taken into account to more reliably generalize the findings.
Finally, as qualitative methodology is more time consuming, the researcher only quantitatively investigated the effectiveness of audiovisual instruction through WhatsApp on the learners’ improvement in speaking fluency and listening comprehension. However qualitative methodology by interpretively analyzing the teacher-learner talk with the application of conversation analysis perspective can be adopted to see how possible improvements will be achieved through MALL.