Harnessing Social Media as a Teaching Tool


This project aims to determine whether social media use is a helpful teaching tool for Saudi Arabia universities. The pandemic has forced universities to restrict access to their facilities and encourage students and teachers to use digital learning tools instead. Since it is currently unclear when it will be safe to return to the classrooms, the exploration of social media use as a learning tool can help educators and policymakers.

According to Akgündüz and Akınoğlu (2017), “the education system that needs to reflect the changes in all the sub-systems making up the society quickly is in an attempt to use the technologies based on the computer and the internet extensively and effectively” (p. 70). Although the researchers explored in the literature review point out the many benefits of social media use, such as it is closely linked with the students’ real life and the ability to promote learning of the current and emerging professions, some fields require the physical presence of students. For this purpose, this study incorporates answers from educators that specialize in medicine, which will allow assessing their perception and determine if social media use applies to this field.


Technology has provided people with unprecedented means of communication and information dissemination. With this, the approaches to education management in Saudi Arabia have not been appropriately adjusted to leverage the emerging technologies and digital tools that most students use daily to apply them to the education field. According to Statista (2021), there were 6.4 million students in Saudi Arabia in 2019. These millions of students rely on universities as a source of innovation and a place where they can acquire knowledge that will allow them to succeed in the job market. However, these institutions are slow to implement new technologies and teaching strategies, such as social media.

The nature of learning and gaining knowledge in the modern technology-driven world has changed. While a decade ago, the only way to be educated and get a decent job for a young person would be to enroll in a university program, today people use online earning, open online courses, and websites to gain competence. Moreover, people turn to social media to create learning communities to study the vocabularies of native speakers (Rinaldy Malik & Ashar Asnur, 2019). Hence, universities can benefit by integrating social media into their curriculums since students already use these platforms for learning.

Apart from the changing nature of university education, the pandemic has become a sudden disruption for people and governments across the world, requiring institutions to find ways to continue working while maintaining the social distancing rules and safety precautions. Education facilities, in particular, had to rapidly adjust to using online learning as their primary method of providing knowledge to individuals. Although it is important to integrate technology and innovate the teaching process, there are some obvious barriers to this, for example, the issue of media literacy and questionable reliability of the information posted online. The results of this study can enhance the understanding of the educators’ preparedness to use online media.

Literature Review

Some authors have studied already addressed the use of technology and social media in learning and defined the benefits, disadvantages, and best practices. The integration of technology into higher education has to be done with a consideration of the student’s attitudes and perceptions of a specific method or tool. According to Dunn and Kennedy (2019), higher education facilities have been adopting Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) for several years. However, not all TEL tools offer the same engagement for the students. The distinction between the usage of digital tools and engagement is important since educators may offer learners some advanced technology as part of their studies, but the students may be reluctant to incorporate it into their learning outside of the classroom.

Social media is beneficial for learners because millions of people use platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and others daily. Dunn and Kennedy (2019) conclude that engagement is based on intrinsic motivation and emotional, cognitive, and behavioral engagement with the specific tool. Higher engagement, as opposed to usage, was associated with better academic achievements. Moreover, “student-created social media activity was most predictive of grades” (p. 104). Hence, if educators use tools, such as social media, that the students are engaged in, the latter’s academic achievements will improve.

Daniela et al. (2018) also focus on TEL by surveying educators to determine their perception of technology in education. The results show that the majority perceive the role of TEL as essential for the future development of education. For example, TEL adds value to the teaching process and enhances the process (Daniela et al., 2018). Hence, the inclusion of social media can enhance the value of the education that universities offer.

The premise of this research is the idea that technology, when integrated into education, enhances the process and provides multiple benefits to students. A study by Chauhan (2017) supports this conclusion since the authors argue that “if technology is interwoven comprehensively into pedagogy, it can act as a powerful tool for effective learning of the elementary students” (p. 14). The metanalysis conducted by the authors shows that there is a medium effect of learning improvement for elementary students who use technology.

Students already use social media for learning and perceive it as a valuable tool. Williams and Adesope (2017) surveyed to examine the attitudes of Nigerian undergraduates towards social media. The findings suggest that students perceive these platforms as beneficial for learning, and most reported that it allows accumulating knowledge faster.

Despite this, Williams and Adesope (2017) report that local university administration pays little attention to social media and the students’ use of this technology tool, which should change considering the findings of this study. Moreover, Akgündüz and Akınoğlu (2017) state that social media-mediated learning has a positive effect on students’ academic results and their motivation. The authors compared blended learning with social media learning in their study of 300 students from Turkey and concluded that social media, as opposed to blended learning, enhances the student’s engagement.

When reviewing the students’ perception of social media and its applicability to learning, Jamari et al. (2017) report that Facebook is the most popular choice, followed by WhatsApp and Instagram. Moreover, students view the integration of social media into education as positive. However, 57% of the respondents report withholding from adding their educators to their learning circles (Jamari et al., 2017). These results show that students are willing to integrate social media into their education but lack encouragement and guidance from their universities. For example, they are unsure if they can communicate with their professors via social media. These findings suggest that apart from integrating social media into the curriculum, but also some guidance on how to properly communicate with their professors via these platforms.

Awotunde et al. (2020) applied the Use of Technology and Unified Theory of Acceptance to determine the factors that affect the students’ attitudes towards using social media as part of their learning process. The factors that impacted the attitudes included the institution’s policies regarding social media and posts that students can publish online and the attitudes of the students’ parents. Another factor is the general social acceptability and the peers that affect the perspective of learning through social media (Awotunde et al., 2020). Hence, the applicability of social media for learning largely depends on the environment that students are in and on the policies of the university, which support the need to integrate social media on an institutional level.

Balakrishnan (2017) developed a Social Media Acceptance Model based on the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology to evaluate the willingness of higher education institutions towards adopting social media learning. The results show that although most respondents report high levels of intention and interest in social media as a learning medium, their actual rates of using these platforms are low. Because the students show a willingness to learn through social media, the institutions should support these students by providing them with resources for learning and guidance.

Abdulaziz Al Fadda (2020) focused their research on determining how different platforms impact the process of learning languages and the attitudes of learners. The researcher examined Snapchat and Instagram and used students who were learning English. People who used Snapchat as part of their learning experience or for recreational reading of texts in English were less enthusiastic about learning when compared to those who used Instagram.

Moghavvemi et al. (2018) focused on exploring the specifics of Youtube and how students use videos in their studies. The result shows that apart from entertainment, students search for academic information and learning materials on this platform. Moghavvemi et al. (2018) recommend instructors integrate videos from Youtube into their course material to enhance learning. Moreover, Youtube can become a complementary teaching tool.

While it is unclear, which factors impact the difference in attitudes, it is evident that not all social media platforms provide the same educational benefit for students and their motivation to learn. Moreover, Rinaldy Malik and Ashar Asnur (2019) interviewed students learning foreign languages and found that “students use a lot of social media in exploring vocabulary and increasing vocabulary mastery, learning as well as building networks for native speakers” (p. 166).

These findings imply that students already use social media a lot, and for some subjects, such as a foreign language, these platforms allow them to communicate, learn vocabulary, and build a community of learners. Based on the assessment by Rinaldy Malik and Ashar Asnur (2019), these students use social media on their own, without guidance from their schools or universities. This points to the fact that learners already apply social media as a tool and most universities fall behind in leveraging this medium as a way of enhancing the education process.

Social media was designed as an interactive communication tool, and this factor can enhance student learning. A survey by Ansari and Khan (2020) revealed that students in India appreciate the ability to use social media to communicate for interactive learning. Additionally, they use these mediums to communicate with their instructors to enhance their learning, for example, to ask questions or clarify information. Since this interactivity and collaboration is the basis of social media and its primary function, educators can use it to engage students in their studies. Irshad et al. (2018) argue that social media “facilitates in nurturing critical thinking, problem-solving approach and argumentation among university students” (p. 281). Hence, the nature of social media and the engagement it creates is beneficial for students learning and the development of their critical thinking.

The Rationale for the Project

Most studies on social media in education and the technology tools that can be used in an education facility were conducted in Western states and apply to that context only. According to Akgündüz and Akınoğlu (2017), social media has the potential to “enrich teaching, increase the success of learners, and benefit educational institutions by supporting teaching and assessment processes” (p. 71).

This project aims to contribute to the comprehension of what strategies and digital tools can benefit the education process by reviewing the social media tools that educators currently use. Moreover, since most studies in the field of education were conducted in Western states, this research contributes to the understanding of the education landscape in Saudi Arabia and the preparedness of local professors to integrate social media into their work. In Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states, the customs, traditions, and the general social outlook on education is different, which means that the results of these studies cannot be adapted and generalized.

The literature review shows that technology, as an essential element of modern-day higher education, is already integrated by universities globally. Most facilities view it as a way of adding value to what they offer to students (Daniela et al., 2018). However, the efficiency of these measures and their impact on the students varies. Moreover, not all the technology that universities use creates engagement for the students, which is essential for their academic success (Dunn & Kennedy, 2019). Despite being used by millions of people in Saudi Arabia and globally, social media receives little attention from educators, policymakers, and researchers.

The Project’s Usefulness

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way universities can teach their students. Face-to-face learning has become impossible, and instead, educators had to adjust and improve their digital literacy to have lessons online. Since this model has proven to be beneficial for students, universities may continue using web technology and tools as a regular element of their curriculums. As shown by the literature review, social media education receives little attention from educators, and this study can help understand how to integrate it and improve students learning. Moreover, it helps understand the applicability of social media tools for the fields that rely on students’ presence in the classroom, such as medicine or dentistry.


For this project, after the completion of the literature review, a survey was administered to professors at a Saudi University. The sample consists of 17 postgraduate and graduate educators from one university in Saudi Arabia. Surveys are a qualitative research method that allows for testing a hypothesis across the sample. In this study, 17 professors were asked to reply to 16 questions. The inclusion criteria for the sample were the following:

  • Must be a student at a Saudi University.
  • Must use social media.

The recruitment was made through emails, and all 17 respondents were included in the final assessment of the results. The results were collected and recorded through the Google Surveys feature. The questions were designed to seek information about the educator’s background, for example, the graduate level they were teaching or their specialty, and their use of social media. Each survey was sent out with a consent form, and no personal information was collected in the process.


The results indicate that most respondents use social media as an education tool. The participants were educators for undergraduate and postgraduate studies in information science, communication, and dentistry. 58% of the respondents used social media as part of the education process, and the most popular platform was Youtube. However, 41% reported not using any type of social media in their teaching process. The majority of respondents who do not use social media are from the Dentistry Department. The most widely used platform is Youtube, with 90% of educators citing it as their choice, followed by Facebook, used by 40%, and Twitter, with 20%.


The majority of educators who responded that they do not use social media as an education tool were from the school of dentistry. One potential reason for this is that this field of study focuses primarily on the practical aspects of work and requires students to observe and participate in real-life scenarios they will face after they graduate.

The findings support the results of the literature review since they show that the use of social media and the attitudes towards it vary. However, an important implication is that there is a correlation between the field of studies and the perception of social media usefulness. This suggests that some fields cannot benefit from social media, while others can significantly enhance students’ learning by creating better interactions between peers and communication with the professors via social media. The use of social media by education facilities has become a new development that helps address the safety measures of the pandemic, yet a large percentage of respondents do not use these tools, disadvantaging the students.


Critical Reflection of Methods

In general, this study provided some insight into the use and benefits of social media use for university education in Saudi Arabia. One disadvantage is the small sample size which consists only of 17 students, which can be subjected to bias or other issues hindering the quality of data.

A larger sample would help eliminate these potential problems and account for bias. In addition, the survey consisted only of close-ended questions, while adding open-ended questions would allow gaining better insight into the student’s prescription of the matter. Moreover, scheduling an additional semi-structured interview with some of the participants would also allow addressing this limitation. Another way of improving the sample is to include educators and participants from different regions of Saudi Arabia to test if the answers are consistent across different parts of the state.

Another limitation is the language barrier since this research focuses on Saudi Arabia’s education, but the surveys were conducted in English. This may lead to some inconsistencies and misunderstandings that can affect the results of the study. Moreover, some participants requested a copy of the survey in the Arabic language. Hence, the language barrier problem can be addressed in future studies if the research is written in Arabic or if the participants are provided with an option to choose the language of the questions they are comfortable with.

Critical Reflection of Findings

The inclusion of educators who teach Dentistry might have affected the results since the majority of the 41% of people who claimed not to use social media were educators from this field. Hence, a potential way of addressing this is by choosing non-random sampling methodologies to have a better distribution of respondents from different study fields. However, the results show a clear gap between the theory and practice, since although the literature review proves that both the attitudes of students towards social media and their intentions to use it are positive, the universities do not have guidelines and do not encourage educators to integrate these tools.

Bandura’s social learning theory implies that learning is a process that is linked to the outside environment of a person, rather than merely a focus on the cognitive effort (Alshoaibi, 2019). Moreover, people from a young age mimic adults’ and peers’ behaviors, which allows them to learn vital social skills and acquire knowledge. Social media allows one to watch the behaviors of others and learn from them. However, not many educators and universities apply this theory to create curriculums that would incorporate the use of social media platforms. Therefore, based on the results, the universities in Saudi Arabia should develop policies to encourage their professors to leverage social media.


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