A Guide to the Social Learning Group Type for Facebook Groups
One of the largest and most influential companies in the world made its first strategic move into eLearning, and hardly anyone noticed. In April 2019, Facebook introduced a social learning feature for Facebook Groups that allows any group administrator to format the content into structured units so that groups can author and deliver courses to members.
This small but significant enhancement to the Facebook Group functionality and user experience may seem incidental, but it’s all part of the social media kingdom’s master plan. An April 30, 2019, article on Bloomberg.com, said “Facebook Inc. unveiled a redesign that focuses on the Groups feature of its main social network, doubling down on a successful but controversial part of its namesake app — and another sign that Facebook is moving toward more private, intimate communication.”
Even Facebook’s detractors have to admit that the company is crafty—it makes mistakes, but it operates strategically—so the new social learning feature in Facebook Groups is not a random foray into eLearning or a McRib-style marketing miss. Almost certainly it is a carefully considered move into the social learning trend, enabling Facebook Group users to author courses in a quick and dirty way without intimidating them with too many features. It’s a beta test without being in beta mode. The social learning functionality in Facebook groups is not meant for eLearning professionals as much as for the average group admin with little experience in instructional design and course authoring who wants to teach something that can be accessible via a private or public group.
For several years, people have been using Facebook Groups as part of their eLearning, but not as an eLearning platform itself. The last time I taught my four-week Social Media Strategy course at Royal Roads University, I asked students to create a private Facebook group to share content and promote discussions. Course developers also publish media such as videos on Facebook groups for their students. Facebook has been observing this uptake in eLearning and has received many suggestions from users about new features they would like to have added to Facebook groups.
It makes sense for social networks to support social learning in a more integrated, responsive and fully interactive way. That’s what Facebook’s social learning features are beginning to do, and we can expect that as the functionality becomes more sophisticated, professional course developers will start using Facebook Groups more frequently as a course authoring tool and learning management system.
There’s solid, this-decade research that shows how social media can be highly effective in powering social learning. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) anticipated the rise of social media in the 2000s by proposing that people learn from one another through observation, imitation and modeling. Then in 2012-2013, social network analysis started emerging when researchers began to study people in online social communities such as Facebook as well as non-tech social networks such as clubs, families, friendship groups, hobby groups, professional associations and political parties.
How It Works
Facebook’s social learning format is easiest to use when setting up a new group, rather than trying to retrofit a thriving group. Facebook Help explains how the social learning options work:
A social learning group is like a regular group except:
- Admins can organize posts into units and change the order in which they appear.
- Group members can click I’m done to let the admin know they’ve interacted with the unit.
- Admins can view group insights and see details on unit and post completion.
Step 1: Create a New Facebook Group
After you login to your Facebook profile (you need one in order to create a group), select the Create link in the blue bar at the top (beside the Home link) and create a group by following the step-by-step instructions. You’ll be choosing whether to designate your group privacy settings as Public, Closed or Secret. After you make this selection, your group will appear will mostly default settings.
Step 2: Select the Social Learning Group Type
Here’s where you’ll be able to select the social learning group type. Go to the …More button and select Edit Group Settings.
Next, select one of four Group Types, then select the Social Learning option. If you happen to select the wrong one by mistake, don’t worry—you can go back to Edit Group Settings and select Change Group Type.
Step 3: Select the Options You Prefer
You’ll see two options for the Landing Tab—the main tab that appears when people see the front end of your group. One is for Discussion and one is for Units. A Unit is a way of dividing, ordering and structuring all your posts. You can create as many Units as you need in your group and the Units can later be re-organized, too.
Basically, the Discussion option lets Facebook organize the order of your posts, usually chronologically, so you might prefer to select the Units option instead so you can manually choose how posts are organized and ordered in each Unit.
Other options on the Group Settings page include a Description of the group (essential!), a geographical location (optional), tags (important for Public groups to help people find your group when they are searching by topic or keywords) and add Apps (not many available yet).
You can also link an existing Facebook page related to the group or create a new Page, select a limited number of colors to use for the group theme (design elements) and select a custom web address so that the URL is more human-readable when you share it.
Most importantly, you can add new Social Learning Units to your group and use the Instant Games feature to allow members to discover Facebook’s Instant Games and help gamify your social learning (a little bit).
After you create each Unit, do NOT select Make This Unit Optional as you won’t be able to follow the progress of members as they complete each Unit.
You will also see additional options to Show Progress (to the member who is taking the course), Allow Members to Share When They Complete a Unit (if you think this is an option members would like), and Re-Order Units (if you need to do so).
Back to the main Edit Settings menu—there are other standard group settings such as Chat Permissions, Membership Pre-approvals, and Posting Permissions and Approvals, which can always be altered later.
Don’t skip the instructional design process just because it’s so easy to set up one of these social learning groups. Even with a simple course in a Facebook Group, it’s important to plan and implement your course using instructional design principles.
Step 4: Launch your Group and Share it With the Public or Invited Members
As you can see, even a fairly junior league LMS provides many more options than what you’ll find now in Facebook Groups, such as scoring and weighting, but the Social Learning format is interactive enough to allow users to indicate when they have completed tasks in each Unit and then enable the Admin to see their progress. And Facebook’s Group Insights provides additional metrics about Group activities.
Those who want to be early adopters and try the Social Learning format in Facebook Groups will likely be rewarded for their efforts because Facebook will be eager to listen to feedback from admins and will most likely add many more social learning features over time. You’re also engaging the mighty engines of social media by having your course embedded in the world’s most prolific social network.
For more assistance in setting up a new Facebook Group, consult Facebook Help, which also provides help with the Social Learning format.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Johnson, J. C. (2013). Analyzing social networks. SAGE Publications Limited.
Facebook (2019). What is a social learning group and how does it work? Facebook Inc.
Prell, C. (2012). Social network analysis: History, theory and methodology. SAGE Publications Limited.
Scott, J. (2012). Social network analysis. SAGE Publications Limited.
Wagner, Kurt and Selina Wang (April 30, 2019). Facebook Unveils Major App Redesign With Focus on Groups. Bloomberg.com. Report this