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Trends in microlearning: How effectively can you #LearnOnTikTok?

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TikTok: Virtue of Gen Z, vice of the Trump Administration, and newly declared educational  platform. How effectively can an app, notorious for its mindless dance videos, be used for valuable learning experiences?

A glance at TikTok’s website reveals the app’s self-declared mission: “To inspire creativity and bring joy.” However, since the unfolding of the covid-19 pandemic, which has left countless students learning from their living rooms instead of classrooms, TikTok has taken on a different task: Bringing education into students’ (and everyone else’s) homes. With the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok, the app has launched a range of funded educational content, produced by individuals and organisations who have been affected by the pandemic. The long-term goal is to establish a wide base of educators that will permanently make TikTok into a more serious educational portal. 

Fair enough, TikTok is hopping on the education bandwagon, but how effective can learning through max-60-second videos actually be? And how likely are learning videos to succeed on TikTok? 

TikTok Takeover?

The concept of microlearning, that is learning by consuming little snippets of knowledge on a regular basis, is no groundbreaking invention by TikTok. In fact, regular input and revision of particular concepts has been understood to be key to increased knowledge retention since the late 19th century. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus determined that, without regular input, over 75% of the newly learned content is forgotten after a week.


But even though regular input is essential for actually remembering previously learned content, it does not replace said previous learning. Formal learning settings allow for exploring topics extensively and provide learners with valuably in-depth knowledge that simply cannot be conferred in a short video. The same applies to corporate learning: Anyone who is familiar with the 70:20:10 model knows that although only 10% of knowledge is acquired in formal settings, those 10% make for an essential knowledge base. Once this basis is there, a majority of learning takes place in the everyday setting of the workplace. Just like FlowShare doesn’t replace software user manuals, TikTok doesn’t replace textbooks. Neither are the proper format for an all-inclusive learning experience. But both, if used appropriately, provide a very valuable addition to the learning process, through digestible nuggets of knowledge.

The Future of Learning on TikTok

Ultimately, whether #LearnOnTikTok becomes the (micro)learning platform that it intends to, depends on those that make use of it: If TikTok’s powerful algorithm learns from its users that they prefer educational content, then they will receive something to learn in return. But in that regard, TikTok doesn’t differ much from other social media platforms. Based on user interaction, such as likes, shares, and comments, the platform’s AI-powered algorithm can derive basic interests and make recommendations accordingly. TikTok’s unique selling point lies elsewhere: Recommendations of videos depend neither on the number of followers the video’s creator has, nor on the success of previous videos. 

This means that virtually any video can go viral, depending on nothing but its content combined with other users’ interests. What are good news for aspiring TikTok celebrities, are even better news––at least in the light of this post’s topic––for educational content creators: An explanation of Pythagoras’ theorem is just as likely to go viral as the next big TikTok dance.

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