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Virtual groups of educational and emotional support for families with special needs – study phenomena, methodology and tool.



Nowadays, we are observing a huge increase of children's chronic diseases and our idea of the project arose from the observation of families' behaviour when struggling with various health problems. The moment of the diagnosis puts family in completely new and complex position. Many of them put a lot of their energy on searching for information however, they feel lost in the darkness. Feelings of sadness, anger and hopelessness occur. Such families do not know how to cope with the new situation and where to seek support. In front of such people there is an unknown future, full of doubts and questions.

Citing part of the article from one of the portals for diabetics ( phenomenon of virtual support groups is showed:


"Among people who share the same difficulties, there is a special kind of bond. You can experience this by belonging to a virtual support group. You feel relieved - as if you came home from a long, lonely journey."


Families, which are dealing with some health problems among their relatives, seek help and support. More frequently, parents who look for some information use smartphone, tablet or other mobile devices for this purpose. Unfortunately, according to our research, there aren't any methodology or mobile applications on the market today, which are very simple, user-friendly (even for the elderly), and focused precisely on the functionalities and needs of ordinary families who are struggling with different problems.


During our a priori research and target group analysis we have found that people facing different problems tend to gather together on online forums or Facebook groups to exchange experiences and to have the sense of being a part of a community. What is important, more people start to use a wide range of applications on mobile phones because it gives the opportunity to access information easily and comfortably. However none of the applications can completely satisfy their needs.


After first observations and some interviewees, we have conducted an online questionnaires, which have been dedicated to the educators (moderators, administrators of forums and group or experts regarding particular topic).


In the research we have received answers from 485 respondents using forums or Facebook groups: 447 end users/ family members and 55 educators/ moderators as follows: Poland: 150, 122, 28; Turkey: 112, 19, 93; Bulgaria: 127, 113,8 (7 respondents skipped the questions), Italy 100, just end users (for educators they used different questions).


Below you can find answers for chosen questions:

What is the most annoying thing when you use Facebook group or forum:

-       the difficulty in finding the information or post I was interested in and I once read (52 % Poland, 52% Turkey, 13% Bulgaria, 10 % Italy)

-       some users pretend to be experts and give serious advice, despite the fact that they know very little about the topic (41% Poland,  41% Turkey, 35% Bulgaria, 25% Italy)

-       some users constantly ask the same questions (51% Poland, 19%Turkey, 35% Bulgaria, 30% Italy)

-        it is uncomfortable to use on my phone (27% Poland, 9% Turkey 17% Bulgaria, 15 % Italy)

-       I can't save the information which is interesting for me (25% Poland, 25% Turkey, 13% Bulgaria)


If you could, would you use a very simple, mobile application dedicated to families with special needs, where you could easily find and download some information and share your experience with others?

-definitely yes: 21% Poland, 48% Turkey, 35 % Bulgaria, 15% Italy

-probably yes: 32% Turkey, 53% Poland, 42 % Bulgaria,  70% Italy

-no: 4% Poland, 15 % Turkey, 2 % Bulgaria, 5% Italy

-the rest of the respondents chose answer I don't know or skipped question.


The research was undertaken in January and February 2016. Now we are conducting some more research among the educators.

The questionnaire results show that at least some of the problems, obstacles the educators face while working with adult learners can be overcome, and we believe that the projects results will be the answer to the educators' needs. The purpose of the methodology arose simultaneously with the need of the application, which will be a really simple way to help the educators (moderators, admins but also different specialists) who would like to moderate groups in such a way that the mutual (peer) informal learning will bring the best results and will be effective.


Online learning on forums from the educators and another parents is a vivid example of learning throughout life by advocating informal learning thanks to new technologies. Today, with social media and with the advance of various mobile devices, it can happen in a manner unconstrained by distance or time zones, which is definitely the biggest advantage and it is probably the future of learning.



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