Group learning online – are Facebook groups having their day?

As of writing this article, I’m in no less than eleven Facebook (FB) groups – purely for my own learning. The social platform wins hands down over the traditional ‘business’ forum LinkedIn when it comes to groups. It’s all to do with volume and algorithms, apparently. FB groups work because more people are on there every day, they see their notifications, and that drives the engagement.

I’m in specific groups on the whole range of tech tools I use in my business, including groups for my email and web hosting platforms, as well as groups for specialist areas like Instructional Design. I even set up my own FB group, The Learning & Development Hub – something I wouldn’t have considered a few months ago. Many joiners find the group from a search – so that tells me something. Looking at the job titles of those that join, these are all people that have in-house roles. The idea that companies and professional associations can provide all the learning needs for their employees is changing. People will naturally go to the places where they can find what they need in the quickest time possible.


7 reasons why FB groups work so well for learning:


1. Fastest way to gain knowledge on something specific

Some of my newly joined groups are now my ‘go-to’ place when I have a question on how to do something specific, instead of a google search. The responders are usually other group members, rather than the host. So, it’s a classic example of peer-to-peer learning. Posting a question in a FB group is like crowd-sourcing your information. You’ll get a range of responses, which in our day of complexity can be helpful. You’ll see there’s no one right way to do things but loads of shared experience. These things can help you feel less alone. Quite often you get more than your answer – for example you may have been approaching the problem in the wrong way or asking the wrong question. So, you get more than an internet search could ever give you.


2. It’s all about community

FB groups are all about community, and communities are all about trust. A well-run group will have a host that keeps an eye on things to make sure there are no spammers or hawkers there. Plus, we’re all social creatures at heart, and after 20 months of lockdowns and working from home online groups can help provide a substitute for the water-cooler conversations and chance encounters that we’re not having any more. As well as knowledge and information, you can get encouragement and support from people you’ve never met, but by virtue of being in the same group, have something in common with.


3. Features

FB groups are incredibly versatile. You can screen your joiners in a variety of ways. You can add content and resources by using the Guides section, thereby having a free depository of useful information. You can make it searchable within the group by using hashtags for key topics. You can set up events and even livestream direct from Zoom. The possible uses and list of app integrations is growing continually.


4. No barriers to entry

With most FB groups there is no commitment to joining, and no barriers to entry, save maybe a couple of questions. You’re not signing up for anything or paying a subscription. You can turn off notifications if you don’t want them. You can be ‘invisible’ if you want, choosing just to browse and read other people’s discussion threads. You can leave when the group is not meeting your needs anymore. You can learn from other’s shared experiences without ever posting anything. This ‘ease of use’ equates to a perfect user experience. There’s no logging into a separate platform or having to purposefully remember to check somewhere. It’s all there, on your mobile device, as and when you need it.


5. People bring their real selves

This is a subtle but important difference. On LinkedIn generally, there’s a lot of posturing. You can tell this just by scrolling through the feed on any given day. People are into self-promotion, and there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But it’s not the same mindset as wanting to learn something. LinkedIn posts generally look carefully crafted. Facebook has more immediacy. It’s about the here and now – like with the status updates. As people’s Facebook identities are their ‘real’ selves and not their professional self, it’s easier for them to show up as open to learning. The groups in LinkedIn are filled with individuals and businesses promoting themselves, in overt or not-so-overt ways. Of course, this happens on FB too, but I feel FB is more of a ‘mask-off’ environment.


6. Individual versus Corporate

As a freelancer there are lots of FB groups to serve people like me. Many of these are run by other solopreneurs as a way of building a community of their ideal client and converting some of these into business leads. Of course, this model works very well. You get to see the person behind the business, get to interact with them as an individual, get to ‘sample’ their potential offerings, as giving added value is a key requirement of a successful group. In these cases, being ‘personality driven’ can be key. But the FB group phenomenon works in other instances too. Some big companies are utilizing groups as a way of meeting their customer’s support needs. I recently joined a group for users of the new course training platform that I have invested in. In their FB group, as well as my questions being answered by fellow-users, there are obviously employees who are ‘keeping an eye’ on things and jumping in with an answer or clarification of it is needed. So, the possible uses and applications are pretty huge, there is no ‘one-size fits-all’ when it comes to using a FB group.

One thing is clear, however – the principle of an individual rather than a corporate approach. For many years now there has been a shift in trust away from corporate entities, toward the cult of personality. Maybe this has been social media driven, but it is there nonetheless. We like to know the face behind the brand and have ‘real’ contact and connection points with a personality rather than the corporation. This has become evident in marketing approaches, but the same applies to learning. People learn from people, with their stories and personalities.


7. Simple is best

But FB groups aside, another of my key learning communities this year has been with a group of people I’ve never met, in a WhatsApp group. Yes, we’d all been through the same learning programme, and we had a ‘lead’ supporting us, but the group was mostly self-managed. In these busy times, as we all struggle to fit our learning and development in around so many other tasks, having an easily accessible community that we can check in and out of as it suits is appealing.

Companies should be encouraging individuals to build personal learning networks that work for them and be open-minded enough to realise that these may not all take place on their own platforms. And as for having an in-house platform, if it can do half of what FB can do, then you’re onto a winner.


Questions for learners:

Where do you go to ‘be yourself’ and learn from others? Do you give and share as much as you take?

Questions for learning leaders:

Do your learning programmes/communities have a social element? How is that working? Is it time to try something new?



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