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Social Media and Microlearning Combine to Expand Access to Education Content

Since the start of the outbreak of COVID-19, 1.2 billion children in 186 countries have been affected by school closures. In response, schools have had to adjust how they provide access to education content. Many schools and teachers are adopting microlearning approaches and are using video-sharing platforms to host live sessions or to post short videos on the specific subject matter. Now TikTok is hoping to be able to tap into this market and is allocating $15 million of funding to support the development of educational content.

Why Does a Video Sharing Platform Want to Focus on Education?

There is no doubt that the use of video has had a profound impact on the way educational content is delivered and how students learn. YouTube has done more than most to change the way learning content is distributed. Its users watch, on average, 1 billion hours of video each day and an increasing amount of this content is aimed at learning. Between January and February of 2020, just over 300 videos were uploaded to YouTube with "remote teaching" or "distance learning" in the title. In March 2020 alone, that number was over 23,000. In turn, YouTube has spawned a range of educational video sharing websites, such as SchoolTube and TeacherTube.

TikTok has also seen demand for educational content on its platform increase since the start of the year - the hashtag #learnontiktok has had 9.4 billion views to date. Videos on specific content are also proving popular, the hashtag #mathematics has had over 320 million views, while #algerbra has nearly 70 million views and #spelling has over 124 million views.

TikTok is hoping to be able to tap into the growing appetite for microlearning and is allocating $50 million to its creative learning fund, which it announced as part of its wider $250 million commitment to assist with the impact of COVID-19 on communities and businesses. So far, the initiative has seen educators, education institutions, enterprises, and several celebrities upload learning material. TikTok is aiming to do something similar in Europe and is supporting this with $15 million in funding.

Microlearning has Leaped from Corporate Training to Education

Microlearning has its roots in the corporate sector to provide time-pressured employees with a way to consume learning about specific products, services, or corporate policies. The use of short, quick videos that focus on a specific topic allows for higher retention and engagement amongst students. Microlearning content can be consumed using different device types and either natively through an app or a browser with little impact on the experience. This approach has made it easier for employers to provide personalised training for staff and enables employees to access training through devices of their choice.

Microlearning has risen in popularity in classrooms thanks to the rise in the use of mobile devices in classrooms (which is set to grow 18.5% year-on-year globally in 2020, according to Futuresource’s K-12 Mobile PC Tracker) and the shift in focus from providing general access to education content to the needs of individual learners. The benefits of microlearning, repetition of key points or techniques, provide students with a degree of control over their learning and allows teachers to focus on providing students with content tailored to their needs.

TikTok is Not Alone in Targeting the Microlearning Sector in Education

While TikTok will be able to access a considerable installed user base, the app has been downloaded 2 billion times since launching in 2016 and has proved exceptionally popular with age groups in the 14-30 age range, it will be competing in an increasingly crowded market place with some well-established providers such as Khan Academy. Khan Academy has been around since 2008 and is used in more 190 countries by 107 million registered users, with nearly 20 million active learners a month. Khan Academy is a nonprofit organisation and works with tech firms such as Google and AT&T.

The sector is also attracting startups such as Zigazoo. Zigazoo, recently described as “TikTok for kids” by its founder Zak Ringelstein in an interview with TechCrunch, provides a platform where learners can access short videos and undertake exercises to test their knowledge and understanding, as well as making original content which can be uploaded and shared with other learners. Unlike TikTok, Zigazoo requires that the user's opt-in to being followed. The firm recently announced an upsurge in downloads to nearly half a million.

Monetising Microlearning in Education

There is a growing appetite for microlearning, the challenge for vendors is how to monetise this demand. While TikTok is still in the early stages of trying to monetise its user base, it currently generates revenues through in-app purchases, it will no doubt start to look at other ways including advertising, subscription, and monetising content.

It is easier to monetise bite-sized learning chunks through traditional advertising models than it is to develop subscription models that will appeal to budget limited schools. Going down the subscription model route would mean developing content in line with curriculums and then curating that content, but this approach is at odds with the wider approach taken by TikTok. However, there is concern about social media companies' use of personal data. TikTok could find itself facing resistance from teachers and privacy advocates if it looks to use the data it collects on students and their activity to provide targeted ads and other marketing activities. Monetising platforms that build a user base through a free to use model is difficult and it is extra hard when your content lasts for less than 60 seconds and can be easily replaced by another platform.

TikTok has indicated that, for now, its main drive is to support communities. The real test will come when the crisis has passed, and schools start to consider how the use of such platforms fits in with their data protection and child safety measures. In fact, there have already been reviews into how TikTok handles personal data by national regulators. TikTok has started to address these issues with the introduction of parental controls and restrictions on interactions between users under 16 years old.

The reality is that schools are unlikely to return to normal for some time but when they do, both teachers and students will most likely want to continue to use some of the tools they have adopted during the lockdown period. Platforms such as TikTok could, therefore, become more of a permanent fixture in teachers' digital learning toolbox if it can get the balance right.

To find out more about our range of Education Technology reports available, including Ed Tech Voice - Audio Visual Devices and Personal Computing in Schools, please contact Matthew Ledgerwood via

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Chris Pennell

About the author

Chris Pennell

Chris Pennell is a Principal Analyst for Futuresource Consulting, leading Futuresource’s research across the Connectivity and Services practice. His research focuses on emerging technologies transforming enterprises' use of AV solutions.

Chris's recent research covers areas such as the shift to IP-connected devices, the use of managed and cloud-based services, and the impact of Pro AV solutions on the Future of Work. Working with various vendors and end users has enabled Chris to explore and build knowledge of the innovative ways enterprises use AV technologies to address ongoing challenges. Outside work, Chris is happiest helping raise his young family and supporting his local Scout troop.

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