Why Facebook Adopted Social Learning: How to Set Up a Social Learning Group on Facebook

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.

Source: Facebook.com  

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.  

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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).  

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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. 

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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).

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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. 

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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

How Our World Can Beat Plastic Pollution

In the world of tomorrow, plastics will certainly call the tune.”

That statement from a 1950s documentary on the new age of plastics is worse than ironic; it has become tragic. Back then, the promise of plastics for the world of tomorrow was about replicating everything that used to be made with natural products and creating cheaper, plastic versions of them instead. Even pianos. Or art! In many ways, that’s what happened, but the most insidious yet seemingly harmless proliferation of plastics in the last 70 years was not about the products themselves, which were often cheaper and more durable versions of what had been made in the past. The real scourge of plastic on our Earth and its ecosystem is not as much the plastic products we use and re-use, but the plastic packaging we use and dispose; we are using durable, multiple-use petroleum-based material that never fully degrades in the environment as disposable, single-use garbage. It’s the plastic water bottles and pop bottles. The plastic straws. The plastic solo cups and other disposable beverage containers. The hard-shell plastic around our household appliances and electronic products. Our excessively packaged processed foods. Even our fresh produce, where berries are sold in plastic baskets, salad mixes are in sealed plastic bags and cucumbers are shrink-wrapped.

During different periods in history, people often become collectively aware of a deadly social, environmental or political issue that captivates society, propels a movement and transforms ordinary people into activists inspired to change the status quo – slavery, child labor laws, addiction, fascism, racism, nuclear proliferation, homophobia and global warming, for example. Ever since the Paris Agreement set out clear goals for participating nations to reduce carbon emissions, a new issue has been seeping into the collective consciousness and motivating individuals to change their behavior and governments to ensure that industries stop contributing to the problem. Plastic waste in our oceans, our landfills and even in the food and water we consume has become one of the most pressing issues of 2018. Stories about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch swirling in the Pacific, microplastics found in our bottled water and even a pilot whale that died near Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags have received an unprecedented amount of media coverage, considering that the issue is not at all a new one – it’s been around for almost seven decades now. Yet this year it has been galvanizing social change from schoolchildren, who recently participated in a plastic bag cleanup in their communities, up to governments, who are beginning to enforce a ban on disposable plastics such as bags, straws and cups, in the first stage of a cultural change that may eventually lead to bans or restrictions on other disposables such as water bottles or unnecessary packaging of foods and other manufactured products.

Today, to help us reflect and act on the United Nations’ World Environment Day with its #BeatPlasticPollution theme, here are a few massive NGO- and government-led initiatives announced in 2018.

The world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle was unveiled in Amsterdam today as pressure to curb the world’s plastic binge and its devastating impact on the planet continues to grow. With nearly 700 plastic-free goods to select from at one of the branches of Ektoplaza, a Dutch supermarket chain, the aisle gives shoppers the opportunity to but their groceries in “new compostable bio-materials as well as traditional materials” such as glass, metal and cardboard. –  Feb 28, 2018, CNN World

The Ocean Cleanup …expects to bring 5,000 kilograms of plastic ashore per month with its first system. With a full fleet of systems deployed, it believes it can collect half of the plastic trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – around 40,000 metric tons – within five years. –  April 20, 2018, Fast Company

The UK is set to ban all sales of single-use plastics, including plastic straws and cotton swabs from the country as early as next year…plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges the country faces. – April 25, 2018, Forbes

A year after Kenya announced the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags, and eight months after it was introduced, the authorities are claiming victory – so much so that other east African nations Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit. – April 25, 2018, The Guardian

Vancouver will become the first major Canadian city to ban plastic drinking straws, as it reduces its reliance on disposable single-use items that end up in landfills or incinerators. The straw ban, which takes effect in the fall of next year, is part of a suite of waste-reducing policies adopted this week…” – May 17, 2018, The Globe and Mail

San Diego is considering a ban on polystyrene food containers that, if passed, would make it the largest California city to do so…More than 116 cities in California have banned the product over concerns about ocean pollution and marine life health, according to the Los Angeles Times. –  June 2, 2018, The Hill

On 30 May, Chile became the first South American country to approve a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags, garnering congratulations from around the world for its efforts to beat plastic pollution ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June…The ban will come into force in one year’s time for major retailers and in two years’ time for smaller businesses. –  June 2, 2018, UN Environment

Find out what you can do on World Environment Day and beyond.

“If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.”



Contentology is a neologism I created in 2002 to describe a digital communication theory that calls for a more deeply integrated approach to content strategy. In my Contentology.com blog that I was writing back then, I defined it as “the science of content”:

Contentology blends disciplines such as information architecture, information design, usability engineering and “Webitorial” writing. Simply put, it’s a methodology for planning, developing and organizing information. 

Source: Contentology.com, June 6, 2002

Contentology is about these things: The meaning, the vessel for that meaning, the channel for that vessel, and the people who exchange the meaning using vessels and channels. It’s not just about words. Words are symbols that can have varying presentational qualities. They are imbued with subtle layers of meaning, but their meaning can also be manipulated.

It’s not just about visuals, either. Graphic designs are simply another vessel for carrying meaning, whether overt (as in a financial chart) or subliminal (something that provokes an emotion or a reaction, like a photo of a mother and her child, or an image of the World Trade Centre in New York).

And in a multimedia environment like the Web, it’s also not just about audio, video, animation, software downloads, chat, IM or any interactive features. They, too, are either vessels of meaning, or channels to carry that meaning. 

Remember the definition of the word “content” from its Latin roots of “contentum” and “continere” – that which contains meaning, not meaning itself. Content is, by definition, not just something you drop into a vessel, but both a vessel and the idea within it. In other words, you cannot separate pure meaning from its container…

Source: Contentology.com, June 2, 2002 (URL unavailable)

I wanted the idea of Contentology to be as open source as possible so people would start thinking and talking about it more, so in 2003, I submitted the term to the Internet definitions in NetLingo.com, which describes it as follows: 

Contentology integrates research, knowledge and skills from all fields that focus on analyzing, developing, and designing or structuring content. Areas of interest include electronic publishing, information design, user experience design, Web design, information technology, etc.
Source: NetLingo.com

I’ve been encouraged to see that in the last 17 years, the concept of Contentology has grown wings and that in the era of social media dominance of the web, people are finally talking about online content as something that is fluid, repurposeable and able to create a powerful dynamic depending on how it is being used. The 21st century is indeed becoming the Age of Content.