Our Digital Voices: New Ways to Communicate

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New “instant” communication habits, ever growing sources of information, social media, and digital empowerment have changed the way people learn, communicate and relate to each other. Negative side effects include addiction to digital devices and exposure to information disorder and overload.

Promoting reflection on the different sources of disinformation, tools of communications and their contents lead to better assessment of the opportunities and the risks (control and oppression) related to such an overabundant landscape and empower learners to make better choices in their communication habits.

While mobile phones’ share of total internet time is increasing, most people around the world still use a variety of different devices to go online. Half of the time spent on mobile phones is used for social and communication applications (We are social, 2020). According to the Reuters Digital News report (2020), WhatsApp saw the biggest growth in 2020. Notably, a quarter of their sample used WhatsApp to find, discuss, or share news about COVID-19 in April 2020. During the pandemic, the WhatsApp released a guide on how to use the service in a responsible way. On the same page, a list of good practices shows that WhatsApp groups have been used to deliver remote digital learning in many cases, even in a refugee camp in Syria (Ashawi, 2020). Recent academic studies confirm that WhatsApp has been globally adopted as a learning medium during the pandemic, but instant messaging applications were tested in educational settings before as well. Other messenger apps with similar functions (Telegram, privacy-friendly Signal, Threema, etc.) have the same potential.

Case study: Instant messaging in education

Many studies reflect on the use of technology in education, drawing on the concept that “learning is a social act dependent upon interaction among people and their tools and technologies” (Doering et al., 2008). Jacobs (2006) argues that Instant Messaging (IM), in particular, should be viewed as a writing technology that builds skills needed at school and at work, such as “collecting, assembling, and distributing information”. Therefore, instant messaging technologies could be treated more consciously as digital tools in educational settings.

Pros and Cons of WhattsApp

(built on Cetinkaya, 2017)



Potential to provide cooperation

Concerns towards privacy and security

Increase social interaction and sense of belonging (Doering et al., 2008; Sweeny, 2010)

Unnecessary messages (Cetinkaya, 2017)

Interest and motivation (Plana et al., 2013)


Support learning anytime and anywhere

Exceeding the limits of personal relations

Provide peer support, feedback, and allow for sharing of information in education (Cifuentes & Lents, 2010; Smit, 2012)

Use of slang language

Potential to increase “unconscious” learning (Smit, 2012; Cetinkaya, 2017)

Educators’ sense of overload

Eliminate social barriers (Doering et al., 2008)

Negative effects arising from excessive use

Digital divide

Source: The Impact of Whatsapp Use on Success in Education Process

A common mistake is to consider IM as a synchronous tool when it isn’t: users do not share the same time and space, although a persuasive interface is likely to call the user to immediate action. IM and emails are then asynchronous tools, of little use for organizational/operational purposes, but useful for carrying on a debate as they are archivable and searchable, thus more open to critical evaluations across time (Trocchi, 2020). In fact, studies have found that usually IM does not work when used as a discussion group, although it works properly when used as an informative tool, providing explanatory texts with images (Cetinkaya, 2017). It’s not clear whether IM improved student-teacher interaction, as being on a peer level is sometimes uncomfortable for teachers/educators. When teaching with technology, educators should indeed adopt a stance as co-learners (Doering, Lewis, Veletsianos, Nichols-Besel, 2008) accepting IM conventions as informal exchanges, using emoticons and acronyms, etc.

Most applications have a form of “lock-in” in place preventing users from quitting them even if they are unhappy with their (usually unread) terms of service. However, interoperability is still the norm in electronic communication like email and telephone; in fact, people can call one mobile operator from another or send emails from one provider to another.


Valentina Vivona

Researcher at the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), a think tank focused on South-East Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus located in Trento (Italy).

handbook for Facilitators: Learning the Digital


This text was published in: M. Oberosler (ed.), E. Rapetti (ed.), N. Zimmermann (ed.), G. Pirker, I. Carvalho, G. Briz, V. Vivona (2021/22). Learning the Digital. Competendo Handbook for Facilitators.

Created in the frame of the project DIGIT-AL - Digital Transformation Adult Learning for Active Citizenship.





Learning the Digital

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