With their increasing time, scope, and frequency of use, internet technologies have started to shape the way people form and share content and their way of communication. Social networks, which are very popular among young people, are becoming prevalent due to their nature to meet the needs of individuals towards socialization. Their nature that focuses on individuals, started to shape users’ process of interaction and has become one of the important elements of the daily life. The high number of people joining social networks, which are defined as programs that ease the interaction between individuals and groups, provide various opportunities for social feedback and support the formation of tangled social relations (Boyd, 2003), show how immense the people’s need is for these networks. Within the framework of these needs, development of mobile versions of these programs that carry the social structure from real life to virtual environment and eliminate the time and space limitations, has become inevitable. This process, which started by commonly used web based social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in particular, began to be approached in different dimensions after the introduction of the messaging applications rooted in mobile phones and are specifically designed for mobile phones (WhatsApp, BBM, Line, etc.).
Though they differ structurally to some extent (Boyd & Ellison, 2007; Taylor, Lewin, & Strutton, 2011), it hasn’t taken much time for the social networks, which have become a part of users’ daily lives, to be used in education. Consequently, together with the individual and social effects of social networks, their usability and effects in education started to be examined by the researchers. The studies indicate that social networks have both positive and negative effects over different variables (communication, motivation, social interaction, academic success, etc.) depending on their purpose and form of use in education. It is seen that these tools, each of which has different features for learning aims, have potentials to provide cooperation, increase social interaction, interest and motivation, sense of belonging, academic success, student-student and student-teacher interaction, support learning anytime and anywhere, provide peer support, feedback, and allow for sharing of information in education. Apart from the studies underlining the positive aspects of using them in education, depending on their purpose and form of use, concerns towards privacy and security, losing attention, getting beyond the limits in personal relations, use of slang language, and negative effects on academic life arising from excessive use, have also been determined in the results of the studies.
The presence of positve and negative sides of social networks does not change the fact that these tools are rapidly becoming popular, gaining an important place in our lives, and starting to take their place in education. In recent years, instant messaging applications, which can be identified as mobile-based social networks, have started to become popular. Though there are a lot of instant messaging applications that can operate on mobile devices, it is seen that WhatsApp application is one of the most favored mobile based applications (see SimilarWeb, 2016; Statista, 2016). In their study, Church and de Oliveira (2013) emphasize this fact and state that WhatsApp has grown in popularity due to its benefits such as, being able to send real-time messages to an individual or groups of friends simultaneously, low-cost, and privacy.
However, in studies on the use of different instant messaging platforms in education, it is also determined that these applications have potential to increase learning (Smit, 2012), learners’ being active in their studies (Cifuentes & Lents, 2010), interaction between students on personal, school, and course related topics (Cifuentes & Lents, 2010; Smit, 2012), create sense of belonging (Doering, Lewis, Veletsianos, and Nichols-Besel, 2008; Sweeny, 2010), eliminate social barriers (Doering, Lewis, Veletsianos, Nichols-Besel, 2008), and increase students’ motivation (Plana et al., 2013). By the help of these benefits, which are also supported by the studies conducted on WhatsApp (Bouhnik & Deshen, 2014; Church & de Oliveira, 2013; Nguyen & Fussell, 2016), it is noted that the application can be a useful tool within the scope of learning anytime and anywhere, and collaborative learning. In this case, as such in Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, it won’t take a long time for WhatsApp to influence the learning environments as well as the social life.
The potential of the social networks when designed in accordance with the needs of science and information, is alleged to cause revolutionary changes (Zaidieh, 2012), and their influence on the educational environment is increasing rapidly everyday, especially with the help of the internet supported mobile technologies. This potential, which enables cooperative synchronous and asynchronous communication together with their multimedia support, and cover the features of social networks on a large scale, should not be disregarded. Recently, instant messaging has become a top-priority and popular for children (Cetinkaya & Sütçü, 2016; Harrison & Gilmore, 2012; Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, and Zickuhr, 2010), the studies on the effects of new generation instant messaging applications upon interaction between people and learning-teaching processes are very limited. On the other hand, the presence of evidence that support the fact that these applications have a great effect on the social development of young people necessitates the determination of their impact on their academic development and expectations. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to explore the effects of WhatsApp use for education and determine the opinions of students towards the process.