Informal learning refers to learning that occurs away from an organized and structured, and predefined classroom environment. Saudi EFL students’ perceptions of learning English through informal out-of-class activities are convinced and they are inspired about learning English through informal out-of-class activities. They are convinced by Out-of-Class informal activities because these are opportunities for students to learn with the freedom to find knowledge from their preferred sources. According to their perspective, formal learning channels have largely been established, such as schools, colleges, and universities; on the opposite informal channels have been ignored completely. However, in this research, we have found that students and educators have recently started to realize that informal learning can gain a great deal of information. It is a style of learning in which the students can set their goals and objectives (Conner, 2004).
Besides, moving beyond the curriculum of the traditional learning classroom expands the study environment of students, which helps them to explore new areas of interest, along with developing deep knowledge. Out-of-Class informal activities may include viewing videos, playing games, using social media, reading articles, coaching sessions, participating in forums and chat rooms, etc. According to Saudi EFL students’ perceptions, the Application of these activities cannot be denied because students are likely to develop the language learning ability that further work as a bridge between studying English and its usage, and Out-of-class learning activities make studying more convenient and engaging for both teachers and learners.
Some practical concepts may pose a challenge in comprehending but out-of-class learning activities could make it easier to actualize from the broader world perspective, where the learners have been found more engaged and motivated to learn as well as understand. Further, it has been found during research, informal learning involves students learning from field experiments as it does not require instruction or direction from teachers which make things complicated for students. Instead, there is self-instruction and direction in the learning process that allows students to play freehanded on their behalf, where the learner is more engaged and motivated to learn and understand. It is also concluded from the research students who belong to countries that are not English speaking environmental may tend to have the bad impression that they do not have access to an English language environment that is natural and authentic as they are immersed in their first language outside the classroom, where their exposure to English is limited.
In the same way, it is understood that literacy sponsors are critical in developing the learners’ linguistic capital and understanding of the English language. Sponsors influence other people’s literacy practices. According to Brandt’s perspective, sponsors who can be older relatives, teachers, supervisors, and other influential people, primarily shape the literacy practices of children and young adults. Concerning the influence of informal out-of-class activities on English language learning, there is some empirical evidence of improved academic performance, improved student English efficiency, and increased student motivation and engagement in informal out-of-class English-based activities.
Learning English has increasingly become a subject of discussion in terms of how it can be taught in a manner that is not only restricted to the classroom but evolves beyond it. According to English learners, the process of English learning should not be limited to the classroom; it may occur at any time and place. The qualities of out-of-class learning might be questioned; however, the determination of an individual to develop language skills outside the classroom is now being seen as a distinguishing factor in the quest to develop anyone’s second language.
2. Usefulness and Limitations of the theories and Methodology
Informal out-of-classroom activities have proved to be effective in learning the English language among EFL students in Saudi Arabia. Out-of-class learning activities are considered autonomous self-directed learning processes covering self-instruction and direction, natural, and self-directed naturalistic language learning as they do not require instructions and direction from teachers. In some cases, creating and engaging in out-of-class activities may not focus directly on learning the language while they are in that situation. They also promote a wide range of benefits for EFL students to improve their English language through out-of-class informal activities.
According to Hancock, (2018) learners who move away from home to study English or even move for work or travel are learning so quickly their English skills in comparison to learners who only learn in class, even compiling their major English degrees. Speaking a language publicly helps students move their theoretical knowledge, such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, from their ‘slow memory’ to your ‘quick memory (Landowners, 2002). I also found during my research survey, all the participants (16 out of 16) were involved in out-of-class activities related to speaking for various goals and purposes. Add to that; they were involved in different out-of-class activities in several areas: surrounding environment or educational environment, as mentioned in 1.1 Literacy Sponsors, speaking in public, online speaking practice, and private speaking practice (Ch-4, Table 8). So, on the behalf of literature and our finding result, we can say it’s a fact that speaking in public and private speaking practice helps to expose any gaps in your vocabulary and grammar.
Another evidence of the behalf we can justify the importance of important out-of-class activities is video gaming, which is, an informal out-of-class activity. During my qualitative research, three out of the 14 participants mentioned video gaming as the most helpful activity in their language learning process. Video gaming was the activity that combined all the language skills that the participants were involved in. Two out of these three were the two Science Stream students (Talib and Mohsin), and the third was in the 3rd year in the English major (Hamad). Talib believes that video gaming is the most useful activity in learning and developing the English language. According to him, in contrast to the traditional teaching and learning methods in school, learning through video gaming is fun and entertaining as sitting in the class for 2 or 3 hours listening to a lecturer speak is boring and slows down the learning process. Meanwhile, these games trigger all of the English language’s basic skills as he explained: such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Informal out-of-class activities are useful tools that help facilitate and improve the English language learning process among higher education students; for example, during my research, I was able to find out that the third most useful activity to learn English is watching movies. Although all the 16 participants mentioned that they watched movies, only two participants believed that watching movies was the most beneficial out-of-class activity. It is assumed that everyone used his unique way of watching movies. It might not be beneficial to all participants in terms of learning English. In short, it demands more on how one utilizes the idea.
The role of literacy sponsors is also useful and critical, as we have discussed in the discussion chapter, their impact on learners, who learn English, especially through Saudi EFL Student perspective. All over the world, the family is considered the first institute that socialized the children in their childhood. Parents play the role of literacy sponsors and enable their children to understand the very basic and essential etiquettes of life—further, the circle of socialization increases to the schools and teachers who give proper and formal educations. After parents and family then come friends and colleagues who also play the most critical role in Saudi EFL students’ perception of learning English through informal out-of-class language activities as I have mentioned in the chapter- 4 Finding, the majority of the participants (15 out of 16) mentioned significant literacy sponsors because they had played an important role in English learning journey. They provided encouragement, support, and access to those activities that enable us to learn EFL.
2.2 Limitations of the Methodologies and research
Although I have given my best to design the Methodologies thoughtfully and carefully, some unexpected limitations can arise when regulating any type of methodology (Creswell, 2007). These limitations may include threats to research trustworthiness, which could come from the researcher, the research design, setting, or participants. I discuss possible limitations in these categories in this section.
I am a Ph.D. student conducting this research for my Dissertation. The quality of a study depends heavily on one’s research skills, and might it is affected by his personal biases. I confess I may have unintentionally influenced the results due to my own beliefs or experiences. During this time, my perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and experiences may have influenced my understanding, thoughts, and interpretations. While I paid attention to every single step I took in this study, I am a novice researcher who still has much to learn about conducting academic research. Besides, I may have affected my participants’ responses when I was present during data collection. They may have said what they thought I wanted to hear. They may have drawn positive pictures of situations that were not altogether positive. However, I believed that semi-structured interviews and friendly meetings might reduce the effect of my presence. In analyzing the data, I assumed that the findings were coded and shaped by the participants’ responses and not my bias.
I acknowledge that the Research design was limited to Saudi EFL students, the setting in which it was conducted, and to the participants who voluntarily took part. Because it is an introductory study that uses qualitative research methods, so, the results of the study are not generalized to any larger population. I also confess that might during the Data analysis process I might have skipped any important details. This study followed a thematic analysis of participants’ responses and experiences. Data analysis is a long process that includes many strategies and steps. This process is usually technical and tedious; I might have rushed or skipped important details. If so, limitations might occur. However, I attempted to do no practice that might cause limitations. I followed a carefully planned process and took care of all the details.
Another limitation of the study was the lack of research awareness in Saudi Arabia. During my research, I realized that the knowledge of students, about research procedures, is usually imperfect. While I was conducting qualitative research, I discovered that students were not familiar with meetings for research purposes. Research is not considered a part of the curriculum and research culture is not common among Saudi students. Therefore, rare information is available in the literature about the Saudi EFL context, particularly from and on students.
On the other hand, I also came to know that students rarely have the opportunity to express their opinions verbally in Saudi education. Usually, teacher-centered approaches and lecturing techniques play a role in limiting the student’s ability to share their experiences in more detail. Certainly, this approach directly affects the students’ participation in qualitative research and it could be considered a limitation to my study. However, I overcame such limitations by using probes in interviews to encourage them to expand their answers and provide more details. Finally, limitations exist in any research. The responses were candid and valid and provided answers to research questions. However, the limitations of this study are discussed to improve this research and to suggest further research.
The English language has seen significant global growth in recent years. There could be seen as a growing population of English speakers among second and additional language users. In my recommendations portions, the very first thing which I will prioritize is that the learning of English need not be limited to the classroom. but the learning process should take place at any time and place without bonding to a specific classroom. Students are concerned about an approach to how English can be learned more effectively. After this research, I can say confidently that the qualities of out-of-class learning might be questioned; however, the determination of an individual to develop language skills outside the classroom is now being seen as a most convenient and distinguishing factor in the quest to develop anyone’s second language. So, English language learners should engage in watching television, cinema, listening to music, and interactions with peers as the main out-of-class activities.
During my research, a recommended perspective that I found is that we should take language, as a language not treat the English language as a unit or subject that students are compelled to pass to go to the next class. I found in my qualitative research “during students school years, one participant from each group in both preparatory year and the English major said that they treated the English language as a unit they were compelled to pass to go to the next grade”. When English was introduced to them at school, there was not enough encouragement and excitement for them to deal with this new knowledge. Further added by Aziz (from the Science Stream) Honestly, in the sixth and seventh grades, English for me was just something I needed to pass.
Finely, I would like to say, the Saudi government should pay special attention to teaching the English language and should retreat from all traditional methods of English teaching and learning. Most of the difficulties come from the teachers’ use of traditional methods that focus on face-to-face instruction inside the classrooms. These teaching methods do not fit the digital age (Alshumaimeri & Alzyadi, 2015) because they divide English into discrete skills and areas of knowledge, deal with skills in isolation, and dominate English teaching practices. Current students in Saudi Arabia require modern teaching approaches that are built on web-based materials (Mahib urRhaman & Alhaisoni, 2013). Most current Saudi learners are considered “native digital” students (Prensky, 2001) who live in the digital age and are surrounded by digital devices.
More broadly, I will recommend the Integrate out-of-class English activities with the existing learning environment, and modify out-of-class English activities into their teaching. Expose diverse perceptions through the voices of teachers and learners about their use of informal activities in English learning outside the classroom.
Identify some WbTs to use in the Blended English learning context, compare what they are doing with what they could be doing to promote language learning outside the classroom in web-based settings, and Encourage learners to facilitate their language learning by seeking opportunities to use English outside the classroom.
4. Directions for Future Research
My study elaborates on Saudi EFL students’ perceptions of learning English through informal out-of-class activities. Somewhere, its scope is limited in terms of setting and participants. Although this study explores a limited EFL context in Saudi Arabia, it paves the way for more exploratory studies. Besides, the way of learning out of the class informally requires more exploratory and descriptive investigations. I can say based on my literature review and qualitative research, in the Saudi EFL context, much further research is needed. In this section, I have provided some directions for Future Research and some recommendations for future investigations within this area. I summarize my suggestions for future studies in the following paragraphs.
As I have mentioned above, in the limitation portion, many important issues were not addressed. They might be explored in future research to achieve a fuller understanding of learning in a blended EFL context. Because this learning perspective is still newly emerging in many Saudi institutions, more studies will help to identify the characteristics of this context.
This context requires more studies that produce a more reliable understanding of current educational trends. Doing similar studies with different participants and in different educational settings across Saudi Arabia will increase the validity and reliability of this research. It will also reinforce the literature about the Saudi EFL context.
In particular, their perceptions of using specific informal out-of-class activities such as YouTube or watching movies will provide more insights into how and why participants of my study showed a strong preference for online aspects of their English courses.
Further, replicate this future study in the same location and participants can determine how this theory works after some time. Or future studies replicate in different locations or with different participants to compare and contrast the findings. On the other side, a future study could be conducted with random participants—no criteria for teachers or students—to see whether participants provided similar responses. Then, compare and contrast the findings with this study.
As I have mentioned in the research designs portion, a better research design could be used in future studies. This study may suggest some methodological changes to implement in future studies. In addition, from my literature review, I learned that studies in the Saudi context use quantitative designs and difficult language, while qualitative research and easy language are rarely used. Similarly, I have found that most of the studies have been conducted with male participants as In Saudi Arabia education follows a gender-based System. So, this future study might be replicated in any female setting. The number of female students who study English for academic purposes has increased. Therefore, future studies might investigate the needs and settings of female students in female institutions related to informal out-of-class activities.
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