Using Facebook as an Online Learning Community: Meeting students on their own playing field

Written by: Dena Laney

Many tech savvy college professors have experimented over the past few years with using Facebook as a course management system for their online courses. Too often faculty members are frustrated with today’s available course management software, such as the ever popular Blackboard system which many colleges are under contract to use, and are looking for options that meet the needs of the social learning connection that college students desire.

There are many concerns that educational institutions have over the use of Facebook as virtual classrooms, or even supplementing face-to-face classes. These concerns often relate to privacy issues, potential for cyberbullying, inappropriate conduct between instructor and student, etc. However, this article is not intended to offer solutions for these inherent problems of social interaction on the Internet, rather it is to discuss positive experiences other educators have with using Facebook and how you can setup Facebook as an online learning community for students in your class.

In a recent survey, it was found that 73% of students aged 12-17 use social networking sites and that American’s spend over 25%  of their online time on social networking sites or blogs. These students are the next in line at the community college/university environment. They know social media. It is part of their daily lives — many through the use of smart phones are connected to their Facebook and Twitter accounts 24/7. Providing a door to the classroom, through communication between students and instructors, allows you to meet these connected students on their own playing field.

How to setup Facebook as an online learning community

Since Facebook is known for frequently changing their site features, it is important to note that this section is accurate as of February 2012. Many earlier articles describing how to set up Facebook as an online learning community will refer to inactive features within Facebook.

There are two options for setting up Facebook as an online learning community – creating a group or creating a page.

Pages are most frequently used by businesses, organizations, or celebrities. Pages allow for some interaction but they are publicly viewable by all, and are generally more one-way communication between the page and the person who “likes” the page.

Groups allow for privacy and membership control. Groups can be set up to be private and not viewable by anyone other than the members, or they can be open and viewable to the public, depending on how you as the administrator set it up. A group is the recommended choice for an online learning community.

The best way to use Facebook as an online learning community is by following these simple steps.

1) Create a professional Facebook profile for yourself as the instructor that you use only for your classes or other professional endeavors. Do not post anything that you would not want to be publicly viewable by the world. While it is okay to share some personal information, do not go overboard. Use your own personal Facebook page to share details about your life (and be sure to set privacy controls so that your students won’t stumble across information you’d rather not share with them).

2) Ask all of your students to add you as a “Friend” to their Facebook page. In order for you to add them to the class group, they must be your friend.

3) Create a group for each class that you would like to have an online learning community for.  Set the group as Closed.  The group and group members can be seen publicly but only members have access to the content and posts within the group. You can also select Secret if you would like, which blocks everything from public access, but most people opt for the Closed option. Type in the names of the students you would like to add to the group in the Members area.

4) You are all set and ready to start using Facebook as an online learning community!

Student – Instructor Communication within Facebook

A common feature in an online class is the use of an Announcements page upon longing in where the instructor can post important information, changes, and offer encouragement to students. However, this is one-way communication. What if a student has a question and requires an immediate response? Sure, there’s the discussion board buried in the site that someone would actually have to go and visit to see that a question was posted. What if a student could visit the Facebook group page and post a question — it’s likely that several classmates are also online (and on Facebook) and can respond quickly to their question. The student can contribute important information to share with the class as a whole, instead of announcements only coming from the instructor, which builds the community environment and encourages participation from all in the learning community. Take note of the interaction between English students and the instructor in the following example:

Yet another example from an active classroom group offers more inspiration on how a Facebook group can facilitate conversation. This particular class is a mobile application design class at a community college. Students enrolled in the course are also added to the Facebook group and can communicate with their instructor and other classmates. In this example, a student has posted images for their design ideas and has solicited feedback. The responses are a combination from classmates and the instructor. All five of the responses were posted within thirty minutes of the student posting their designs. What Blackboard-type communication board would elicit such an immediate response as this?

The design class group mentioned above also uses Facebook to post their final design images to the Facebook photo gallery allowing classmates to critique and provide feedback upon posting. The class also utilizes a feature that allows the upload of documents — the instructor uploads the assignment instructions via this feature.

For More Information

Join the Facebook in Education page located at . Although this group contains much information geared to the K-12 school environment, there are worthwhile conversations and links that can be relevant to the community college and university environment.


Barseghian, T. (2012, January 2). Students want social media in schools. Mind/Shift. Retrieved from:

Cerny, B. (2010, March 15).  USF Teacher uses Facebook in class. The Oracle University of South Florida. Retrieved from:

Drive Belonging and Engagement in the Classroom. Retrieved from:

Heppel, J. & S. (2010, July 24). Using Facebook in the Classroom. Retrieved from:

Walsh, K. (2010, August 11). Facebook as an Instructional Technology Tool. EmergingEdTech. Retrieved from:


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