Mobile Learning Efficacy in Saudi Arabia

Introduction

Background of study

The introduction of technology in education has greatly improved the delivery of education to learners, as well as the outcome of learning nowadays. This can be attributed to the fact that technology has influenced the restructuring of education system and enhanced academic excellence. One of the aspects of technological improvement common nowadays is mobile learning, which provides an effective representation of the present approach of education technology, with its focus on ease of access and informality of learning. This essay examines the concept of mobile learning and its efficiency with a specific focus on the case of mobile learning in Saudi Arabia.

Over the recent years, Saudi Arabia has been experiencing a shift in terms of economic growth alongside continuous investment in various sectors such as ICT and education. Such a shift has seen the need to adopt learning approaches that are learner-centred such as mobile learning and distance learning model. Particularly, the country has had a lot of investments in the promotion of learning and teaching practices, which are aimed at the fulfilment of the needs of the students with respect to the demand brought about by technology and globalization. The increased access to mobile technology and its penetration among the youth has been high significant in the success of mobile learning in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the youthful population in Saudi Arabia form the highest number of social media users in Saudi Arabia.

Problem Statement

The advancement in technology has brought about numerous wireless devices that have enabled learning. According to Narayanasamy and Mohamed, (2013), the fact that mobile learning is enhanced by wireless, mobile and compact devices, at times it is descried as “knowledge in the hand”. Globalization has enhanced the rapid development of m-learning following the rate at which the global community has embraced the use of online platforms, as well as the openness that has been evident as far as access to technology is concerned. Individuals in Saudi Arabia have a high tendency of acquiring improved mobile devices every year. This can be attributed to the fact that new and better wireless devices are available each year. As such, Narayanasamy and Mohamed (2013) noted that such access to wireless devices has created and sustained a well-established mobile infrastructure, which has made it possible for m-learning possible to thrive.

M-learning has already become a part of objective reality within and outside the educational community. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the development of the education systems with respect to the needs of the learners and the compatibility of mobile learning faces a number of challenges. In spite of the rapidity of the incorporation of m-learning in Saudi Arabia as an educational practice, it is surrounded by a number of questions pertaining to its efficacy, cost-effectiveness and the ease of implementation.

Research Question and Objectives

With respect to the practical value associated with m-learning, this study seeks to examine whether or not the adoption of m-learning model has improved the academic outcomes in the context of Saudi Arabia. According to empirical evidence, a high level of activeness as far as the use of mobile technology is concerned is evident among the learners and thus, they are the most likely beneficiaries of m-learning.

Therefore, the primary research question that this study seeks to answer is: how effective is mobile learning in the improvement of the academic outcomes of Saudi Arabian undergraduate students?

With respect to the above research question, the study has the following objectives:

  1. To carry out an in-depth review of existing literature on the subject and single out the common points of concern with regard to m-learning implementation and efficacy.
  2. To establish the impact of mobile learning on student engagement, attitudes, and acquired competency.
  3. To find out the challenges associated with the implementation of m-learning practices.

Literature Review

Overview

The focus of this chapter is to provide an in-depth review of the concept of mobile learning with a special emphasis on establish how efficient the practice has been so far, as far as the academic outcomes is concerned. As such, the literature review takes consideration of journals and books dating back no more than five years whose coverage revolves around the most common issues affecting the implementation of mobile learning. The decision to use such recent books and articles was informed by the fact that mobile learning is a new phenomenon within the education sector. Specifically, the articles reviewed focus on the current status of m-learning in an educational setting; the acceptance by students as well as educators; its compliance with students’ educational needs; and its impact on students’ academic performance.

Current Status of M-learning

Mobile learning has become common in the educational sector (Paul & Elder, 2014). Beetham and Sharpe (2013) attributed such popularity to the fact that such an approach enhances engagement of students in class, while at the same time ensuring that they get the opportunity to expand their learning contexts. Mobile phones are some of the common devices that are used in mobile learning, followed by personal digital assistants (PDA) like tablets and similar devices (Wu et al., 2012). Reportedly, students use mobile devices for the purpose of assessing class notes, receiving assignments, turning them in, sharing tasks with classmates, as well as ensuring participation in group activities and web-conferences. The availability of smartphones and such related devices have enhanced m-learning since learners can use them for self-education (Zakaria, Jamal, Bisht, & Koppel, 2013; Bangert & Almahfud, 2014).

According to Badwelan, Drew, and Bahaddad (2016), smartphone use in Saudi Arabia is high. On a global scale, the region is ranked number three in terms of activeness in smartphone use. Such a high usage is significant as far as the success of m-learning in Saudi Arabia is concerned. Seliaman and Al-Turki (2012) noted that there are limited findings with regard to gender variability, as well as sampling size. Nevertheless, there is a high readiness to the use adoption and implementation of m-learning among Arabian students.

With respect to the findings of the studies reviewed above, it is evident that Saudi Arabia has a great potential as far as the success of mobile learning is concerned due to the high number of active smartphone users and a high percentage of young population.

M-learning Acceptance

One of the challenges affecting the implementation of m-learning is the resistance and acceptance rate. With regard to the assertions of Abachi and Muhammad (2014), any new technology’s success is affected by the level of users’ enthusiasm. The ‘Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology’ (UTAUT) framework has been commonly used in the estimatimaiton of the acceptance levels in a number of studies (Nassuora, 2012; Al-Hujran, Al-Lozi, & Al-Debei, 2014; Khan, Al-Shini, Al-khanjari, & Sarrab, 2015).

Such a high usage is based on the fact that it provides clear explanation on acceptance level by examining the correlation between the adoption success rate and the behavioural factors associated with each culture in relation to learning improvement promotion. Thomas, Singh, and Gaffar (2013) noted that the UTAUT model provides a platform to examine various aspects such as the perception of students regarding the effort they might spend on m-learning, alongside the resources needed by the society in the adoption and implementation of m-learning, as well as the associated impacts of such a learning model on the academic outcomes of learners.

On the other hand, there are researchers and scholars who use behavioural models to explain the correlation between the success rate of adopting m-learning and the rates of m-learning acceptance. A number of studies have showed that compatibility and control of m-learning affect its acceptance, adoption and implementation (Cheon, Lee, Crooks, & Song, 2012; Chung, Chen, & Kuo, 2014).

According to a study carried out by Park, Nam, and Cha (2011), which focused on qualitative assessment of the acceptance factors, the overall attitude towards m-learning is depended on the perception of students on the use of new technology, as well as the efficiency of their own performance. In support of this, Martin and Ertzberger (2013) pointed out that there is a high preference of learning through iPads among learners compared to the use of computer-based interactions. In spite of this, Sad and Göktaş (2013) noted that most teachers who are used to the traditional model of teaching consider the use of iPads and other handheld devices as distractors. For this reason, Gikas and Grant (2013) observed that the adoption and implementation of m-learning is adversely affected by lack of lack of institutional support and low acceptance rate. Despite the fact that Suadi Arabia had factors that favour the adoption of m-learning, low acceptance rate can significantly hinder its success.

M-learning Compliance with Students’ Needs

Instructors, lecturers and educators share a common goal of ensuring improved classroom practices, as well as optimization of the learning experience of learners (Carr-Chellman, 2016). In spite of this, the educational system in the US focuses on the standardization of the academic outcome of students, as well as tailor-fitting the individual learning experience. Such an approach has received a lot of criticism over the years (Ravitch, 2014; Reeves, 2011; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2014). As such, the M-learning model can be instrumental in the improvement of the learning situation, learners’ outcomes and experience due to its customizable capability based on the needs and demands of each learner.

The customizable ability of the m-learning offers a suitable approach to learners with learning impairments, difficulties or even special needs. Fernández-López, Rodríguez-Fórtiz, Rodríguez-Almendros, and Martínez-Segura, (2013) attributed this to the level of autonomy that such learners get through m-learning. Wong (2012) asserted that long distance learners are beneficiaries of m-learning due to the flexibility associated with this learning approach. In addition, mobile learning provides learners with a variety of applications that enable them to access their learning materials whenever needed (Lai, et al., 2015).

There are concerns over the possibility of information overload among learners attributable to the multi-task regime of mobile and computer-aided learning (Chu, 2014). Importantly, these conclusions were made based on formative assessment tests that retrieved the students’ feedback on net technology usage. In spite of this, Domínguez et al. (2013) pointed out that m-learning is quite effective as it takes into consideration various needs of learners in relation to their age and mental development. Such an approach is enabled through the integration of game in learning for the purpose of motivating learners, as well as lessening as associated stress. As such, it is evident that m-learning has a high potential of improving the learning outcomes of learners since it factors in their needs in relation to the learning styles, specific background, as well as their health.

M-learning Impact on Student Performance

Limited literature exists on the impact of m-learning on the performance of learners. Huang, Liao, Huang, and Chen (2014) attribute this to the fact that m-learning is a new phenomenon in education, despite the common knowledge that its application can be instrumental in increasing the level of acquired competencies, as well as improving learning efficiency in the event that it is used correctly across all ages and disciplines. For example, a study by Kiger, Herro, and Prunty (2014) indicated that m-learning improved the learning outcomes of third-grade children.

Burston (2015) carried out a meta-analysis to examine the impact of m-learning on learners’ performance and found out positive results for 15 out of 35 studies on m-learning. In support of this, Jones, Scanlon, and Clough (2013) pointed out that the adoption of m-learning in schools supports the inquisitive spirit in learners and therefore, leads to enhanced control and freedom over their learning process.

One features of m-learning is the ability to enhance learners’ collaboration. For this reason, it becomes easy to predict the supportiveness of m-learners, especially in an informal setting. In spite of this, Hsu, Hwang, and Chang (2013) asserted that there is need for personalised learning for the purpose of enhancing high learning outcomes through m-learning. Personalizing learning ensures that the needs of all learners are catered for (Yen, Lee, & Chen, 2011). Due to the fact that m-learning approach ensures effective combination of time-space contexts, Kearney, Schuck, Burden, and Aubusson (2012) asserted that it can be easy to predict the learners’ outcomes. For this reason, m-learning can be considered to be an effective learning approach across all learners’ settings and all age groups.

Research Methodology

Overview of methodology

The primary focus of this study was to examine the efficacy of m-learning in the improvement of learners’ academic outcomes. As such, the mixed-method experimental design was used. It included formal and summative testing of a developed m-learning intervention in Saudi Arabia to assess the learners’ outcomes. The relationship between learning outcomes of the learners and their knowledge of the use of mobile learning technologies and attitude towards this method of learning was investigated. The sample size comprised of 36 learners from who data was collected through the use of interviews and questionnaires.

Limitations of the study

The study had a number of limitations. First, the research used a small size of the sample, which may or may not skew the results in such a way as to make causality impossible to predict. For this reason, further studies on this subject should focus on the use of a large sample size to enable generalisation of the findings. Secondly, the study was limited in terms of time. Since m-learning is a new phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, it is more likely that leaners are yet to adjust to the mobile learning concept for them to be in a position to provide comprehensive comparison between the traditional learning approaches and the m-learning model.

On the other hand, the reliability and validity of collected data was limited to the efficiency of interviews and questionnaires as data collection instruments. However, simple and clear questions were used to ensure that every aspect of m-learning was captured.

Findings and Conclusions

Introduction

An in-depth review of existing literature on the subject of m-learning was carried out. According to the literature review, this learning model is new and greatly improved the outcome of learners in many parts of the world. However, empirical evidence indicated that the adoption and implementation of m-learning is faced with a number of challenges.

Impact of mobile learning

The survey results showed that mobile learning has adverse impacts on the learners’ acquired competencies, attitudes, as well as on their engagement. Majority of the learners surveyed reported that their academic outcomes had improved following the implementation of m-learning. In addition, most learners had high perception towards mobile learning, which increased the acceptance rate of this mode of learning. This can be attributed to the fact that majority of people in Saudi Arabia are active users of smartphones.

Challenges associated with the implementation of m-learning practices

In spite of the fact that mobile use is high in Saudi Arabia, the study found out that there are numerous challenges that affect the adoption and implementation of m-learning in the region. There are high concerns on connectivity and technology among learners attributed to the fact that the local network providers are unable to sufficiently serve the high population in Saudi Arabia.

The acceptance rate is low due to traditional cultural norms whereby religious and cultural groups are yet to accept new technologies such as m-learning. In addition, there is an increase in the demand for education in the region implying that a lot of capital has to be invested in m-learning facilities. The study found out that some institutions do not have the necessary devices to facilitate effective mobile learning. As well, lack of enough labor and capital is a challenge to the implementation of m-learning in Saudi Arabia since all universities should have qualified instructors and the right infrastructure to enable m-learning to take place. As such, learners expressed concerns over the need for improved m-learning systems.

Conclusion

According to the objective of this study, the literature review provided a number of aspects to explain the efficiency of m-learning in the academic outcomes of learners. The studies reviewed indicated that technological advancement has been instrumental in the growth and popularity of m-learning. As such, empirical evidence suggests that m-learning is currently gaining popularity in the field of education in different parts of the world. The fact that m-learning is delivered through hand-held devices has made it effective due to the fact that there is an increase in the rate of mobile use in the world. In addition, the customizable applications associated with m-learning have increased the efficiency of mobile learning since it can be used by all types and age group of learners. Nevertheless, the acceptance, success in adoption and implementation is influenced by cultural and developmental factors. In the case of Saudi Arabia, M-learning has proved to be efficient as it enhances collaboration among learners as well as ensures autonomy of learning and equal access to learning materials whenever needed.

Contribution to Knowledge

The study has provided an in-depth analysis of the concept of m-learning specifically on its efficiency, impacts and challenges. This was done through a review of past studies and combination of primary data on a selected case in Saudi Arabia. For this reason, the results and findings from this study are highly instrumental as an addition to the existing literature on m-learning. Particularly, the study is highly significant since it focuses on the case of Saudi Arabia where limited studies have been carried out in the past. This can attributed to the fact that the study highlights the efficiency, impacts and challenges associated with the adoption and implementation in a region experiencing a shift in economic growth and education systems. As such, the findings from this study can be used in explaining the concept of m-learning in cases of developing economies.

In spite of the significance of this study, it was evident that the reliability and validity of the results and findings were affected by a number of limitations such as the choice of data collection instruments and sample size. As such future studies should make use of large samples of data to enhance precision, accuracy and generalizability of results.

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