With the increasing popularity of online courses I see a lot of business owners investing $$ into software and technology without actually finding out if their material is any good. Beta testing your course is an amazing idea because if it goes well you get to work out the kinks, improve your content, and walk away with testimonials and cheerleaders when you’re ready to roll it out at full price.
Heads up! This post contains affiliate links, marked with an asterisk(*). If you sign up through one of those links you won't pay anything extra (sometimes you’ll even get a discount or bonus!), but I'll get a small commission or credit that helps me to keep delivering this awesome free content to you! I only recommend tools that I use and trust. Read my affiliate disclosure here.
Why Not Host Your Course Permanently in a Facebook Group?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: if you’re going to use a Facebook Group to beta test a course, why not just host your course there permanently?
Well . . . you can . . . but keep these things in mind:
A Facebook Group is a space that Facebook is allowing you to borrow
Your Group is linked to your personal profile, so if you are suspended or hacked you could lose access to your group
Between posts, threads, units, chats, etc. group communication can get messy and hard to track for both yourself and your students
There are people who don’t want to be in a Facebook Group - they don’t want the notifications, they don’t want conversations in their newsfeed, they don’t want all of the other group members to be able to see that they are a student, they don’t want their friends to see they’re in your group
I advocate for using a Group to beta test your idea - so you can easily deliver your content without a ton of set up or $$ required and see if your course content is worth pursuing. Then when you’ve validated your idea you can start putting together something more formalized.
Just keep in mind that if your course topic is sensitive or controversial, a Group might not be the best option. For example, a beta course on how to use Trello to systematize your business is going to work fine in a Facebook Group; a beta course on how to overcome childhood trauma might be better suited for email delivery only, or you might have to invest in software that provides more privacy.
Social Learning group types have special post types called Units that can be found under the “Learning/Units” tab (if you don’t see this tab in your group it’s either because you don’t have a social learning group type or you haven’t set up a unit yet).
Think of units like modules, and the posts within them like lessons. This is perfect for courses because:
Members don’t have to search/scroll endlessly to find lesson info
You can keep your announcements for important or time sensitive info
Other great features of units:
You can rename and reorder the posts in a unit
Members can mark a post as ‘Done’, which you can track in your group insights to see who is/isn’t completing the lessons
The units section has its own unique URL, and each unit also has its own unique URL
You can set the units tab to be the default homepage for your group instead of the discussion tab
You can add/create event posts to go in your units to help members see an overall schedule if there are live trainings or group coaching sessions
You are probably familiar with the concept of pinned posts - Facebook Groups have these too, but unlike your page, you can have multiple pinned posts called announcements (whichever post you actually pin turns into the first announcement listed).
Announcements are perfect for the info that your students need to reference over and over again quickly i.e. links to external resources, links to group calls. To make things even easier, when you need to add info to an announcement instead of adding another post as an announcement simply edit your existing post to include it - better just to reference a single “here’s everything you need to know” post than to scroll through a bunch of announcements.
You can have group-only events that all group members are invited to as long as your group is under 500 people (and let’s face it, if you’re beta testing and more than 500 people are interested in it you just need to jump in with both feet and sell that shit!).
These are great for live lessons, office hours, group coaching, etc.
You can also use these simply to set deadlines for things, especially if your students have to complete an assignment or submit homework or feedback to you - just make sure it’s clear these are not events people have to attend and that you’re just putting them in there so they can get reminders about deadlines if they want.
Facebook Users can also export their Facebook events to their own calendars.
This may require some admin work or a tutorial, but what tends to happen is that people will have the same questions over again.
Encourage them to use the group search feature to look for answers before they ask a question. While we generally want to encourage people to post in our groups when it comes to courses seeing the same stream of questions being asked repeatedly is annoying and clogs up our newsfeeds.
If you group has tags (some still don’t), consider using them and encouraging your students to use them when posting in order to categorize topics. This can be incredibly helpful when used consistently, especially since the search function doesn’t work well if you try to type in more than a single word.
Encourage students to turn on all notifications for your group so that they don’t miss out on anything important.
Things That Don’t Always Work Well
If the nature of your course requires your students to submit homework (or it’s a condition of them getting free/low cost beta access), think carefully about how you want them to submit it.
What I usually see is the course creator making a specific post and asking all of the students to submit their homework in a comment with multiple replies to keep their homework consolidated. Makes sense, yes? Except...
Some people will be turned off/intimidated by having to show their work publicly (if this is something that makes sense for your course and you will do it this way no matter what platform you’re using then these are not your ideal students and it’s no big deal to lose them).
Some (ok, many) people will not read/comprehend/remember how to submit and so you’re going to end up with homework posts and comments all over the place, generating either a) extra work for you to hunt things down, or b) annoyance from your students every time you have to tell them they put something in the wrong place.
Some people just don’t get how to use Facebook, so they won’t know how to reply to their own comment to keep a thread together, or they won’t know how to look for specific posts when it’s not at the top of the group, or they won’t be able to figure out how to upload written homework, etc.
If you don’t need the homework in the group, then set up a standard form (and include the link in your pinned announcement post!) where people can submit each day/week/month/etc. Make sure the form includes a field for the lesson name or day so you can easily identify it when you get it. Use Google Forms or Typeform - as long as your form has a spot to ID the lesson and type or copy/paste their work in they will be happy.
If you absolutely need it posted to the group, here is my #1 recommendation: SIMPLIFY
Have students comment with their homework right on the lesson post (which you’ve helpfully organized into units/lessons!) and make the nature of the homework so that they can simply type or upload it right into one single comment.
All in All...
The experience your student has in your course is just as important as the material. If your material is stellar but you are so disorganized with how you deliver it that your students consistently have no idea where to go or what to do then you might have jumped on the beta bandwagon too soon.
Yes, they are getting the course for free or at an extremely low cost and need to be a little bit patient with you. But remember, you are going to be counting on these people for testimonials to attract paying students, so make sure that their experience is as stress free as possible. If they are too frustrated they are likely to give up and not complete your course, which means they can’t give a testimonial or will actually walk away with a negative impression.
I’m definitely not saying it has to be perfect, especially not for a beta course! But at least make an effort to focus on making things easy and convenient for your students, instead of whatever is most convenient for you.