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Best Practices | Using Facebook Groups to Increase Learner Interaction in Online Courses

The importance of student interactions and sense of involvement in online courses has been well documented. This article proposes building that learning community through the use of Facebook groups. As with any course discussion forum, proper instructions and guidelines should be clearly communicated with students, including how the discussions will be assessed and what the roles of the instructor and student will be in these discussions.

Private Groups

At first, some faculty and students might be hesitant at the idea of using Facebook for online class discussions because of the access to personal information. At a mid-sized southern university, higher education faculty (n=62) and students (n=120) were surveyed on their use of Facebook in education; only a small percentage of faculty (22.6%) and students (15.0%) believed that their privacy would be invaded by the use of Facebook for educational purposes (Roblyer, McDaniel, Webb, Herman, & Witty, 2010). To address this issue, Facebook gives the option to create private groups, where no one in the group will be able to access an individual group member's information, or see anything that they post outside of the group page (as long as the Facebook profile set to private). The only information that can be seen in the group is the individual's profile picture and name. Facebook has even created an additional mobile app (Groups) just for viewing and managing your groups without having to go into all of the other Facebook features.

Increased Participation and Online Presence

Research shows that anywhere from 85 to 99% of college students use Facebook, making it the most popular social media website for this demographic (Junco, 2012). Data collected by EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, sampling 36,950 students from 126 U.S. universities, showed that 97% of students who use Facebook reported actively engaging on the site daily (Smith & Caruso, 2010). Instructors of asynchronous online courses could tap into this pre-established daily interaction and apply continuous and consistent exposure to their content by implementing discussion boards in a Facebook group. Posts and comments made by instructors and student peers are seen every time a student visits their Facebook, with the option of also receiving an immediate notification on their phone after a comment is posted. This results in the students being involved in the discussions and reviewing content more often throughout the day or week. Students who would normally only log into their Blackboard course a few times per week to intentionally check discussion boards can now be connected with the course every time they pick up their phone or tablet. Instructors could also encourage students to use the "like" feature to acknowledge they've read an announcement or to show agreement with a comment.

Student's Perspective

Study results suggest that the use of social media can increase students' satisfaction and perception towards ease of learning, motivation, and levels of achievement (Suebson, 2015, Roblyer et al., 2010, Mazer, Murphy & Simonds, 2007 and Junco, 2012). After using Facebook, students were significantly more receptive to using it as an educational tool. Comparisons of pre- and post-test scores indicate that students thought it was beneficial in improving readiness for course assessments, and in enhancing their learning (O'Bannon, Beard & Britt, 2013). Facebook is more convenient for students to access throughout the day, usually on their phones, and provides a good means of communication.

Building a Learning Community

One best practice associated with online learning is the creation of an engaging and interactive learning community where students feel their peers and instructors are present and accessible. With a high number of individuals already using Facebook as a means of connecting with family and friends, educators can capitalize on this established and enduring relationship. Some instructors may choose to give students the option of staying in the group even after the course has ended. This could extend the professional networking and communication capabilities for the scope of their academic program or beyond, promoting the goal of creating lifelong learners who are part of an academic learning community and have a source for future support.

f you are interested in discussing how to use private Facebook groups to increase learner interaction in online courses, schedule a consultation an Instructional Designer.


O'Bannon, B., Beard, J., & Britt, V. (2013). Using a Facebook Group As an Educational Tool: Effects on Student Achievement. In Computers in the Schools. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from

Junco, R. (2012). The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement. In Computers & Education.Retrieved January 18, 2016, from

Roblyer, M., McDaniel, M., Webb, M., Herman, J., & Witty, J. (2010). Findings on Facebook in higher education: A comparison of college faculty and student uses and perceptions of social networking sites. In The Internet And Higher Education. Retrieved January 18, 2016 from

Smith, S. D., & Caruso, J. B. (2010). ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, Vol. 6. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, Retrieved December 16, 2015, from

Suebsom, K. (2015). Measuring Knowledge Transfer through Facebook of Higher Education Classroom. IJIET. Retrieved December 16, 2016 from