You probably say “WhatsApp” just as often as you’d ask someone “What’s up”. Or may be even more. WhatsApp hardly needs an introduction. But definition wise, it is a freely available, user friendly, cross-platform instant messaging app that requires an internet connection to work. The app has become such a favourite with mobile users globally that it has fostered communication in many ways. All you need is a working phone number and an internet connection, and it seamlessly integrates all your contacts into your WhatsApp friend list. No user IDs, no passwords- just the benefits of messaging, at a fraction of the cost.
With so much emphasis on mobile learning, we can’t help but think whether this popular app has the potential to be a tool for workplace learning. And so, here we examine the utility of WhatsApp for learning:
The fact that it is already a favourite with most people because of the ease of using it may be the greatest reason to consider it for learning. Moreover, it is hardly affected by the phone form factor. Whether you have a high-end smartphone like an Apple iPhone 5S, a middle ranged smartphone like Sony Xperia C or an economical one like Nokia Lumia 520, WhatsApp works the same way for all. It could be used in the following ways:
Some researches have established that the app can be used for language learning, especially English. If communication skills are important for your organization, you can ping your employees with short learning videos or audios which they can watch as and when it suits them. Or may be text forwards which comprise of short questions to test their learning. However, the most deducible question that arises here is whether such assessments would be of any real value. In a chat app, how far will grading and feedback be possible? How will employees be acknowledged for their learning?
The group chat feature in WhatsApp currently allows a group to have 50 participants. Suppose you tie some incentive (any small incentive, capable enough to encourage employees) to participants’ posting of useful content on the group conversation that is relevant to the regular training that’s going on. This will turn your (may be) otherwise passive learners into active drivers of their mutual learning. Why can’t this be done on your desktop LMS? Well it can be, but again, user-friendliness wins everybody’s heart!
The possibilities sound good. However, there are some serious questions to the viability of this app as a medium of learning:
- Would employees be ready to compromise an app which was so far meant for leisurely messaging, for another learning platform? Would that be too much invasion of privacy?
- During the working hours, how would employees be accounted for- whether they are using WhatsApp for their personal messaging or for learning?
- This is an app which is already seen as a good enough cause for distraction at the workplace. Wouldn’t using it for learning put employees on their smartphones even more, affecting productivity?
The task before learning managers is to establish a trade-off between the pros and cons if they are to successfully use WhatsApp for learning. The situation looks far from favorable if you have to use it as one of the main platforms for learning. But, a dose or two of learning content (synchronized with employees work timings) delivered to the notification bar of your employees’ phones wouldn’t be unwelcome at all!