By Andrew Fayad, CEO of ELM Learning, a creative agency focused on designing custom multimedia and digital learning experiences.
Love it or hate it, there’s just something about TikTok. The social media equivalent of an earworm, it has an uncanny ability to get in your head and, before you know it, you’ve learned the latest dance, can’t stop humming that trendy song or started using the latest slang — even if you don’t have a TikTok account.
As an educator or trainer, it’s easy to dismiss TikTok as yet another competitor in the battle for your learner’s attention, but think about it: If TikTok has the ability to teach users everything from complex dances to gardening tips to beginner French, it can be used for learning just about anything. Harnessing the power of TikTok means understanding how content does (and doesn’t) work on the platform and understanding more about microlearning as a delivery method. If you think about TikTok as a friend rather than a foe, you might be surprised by how your learners respond.
How Educators Are Using TikTok
When most of the world ended up at home in April 2020, educators were among the first to figure out how to adapt. With students learning from their living rooms, teachers had to find ways to maintain the community, collaboration and connectivity of their in-person classes with laptops, tablets, phones and varying degrees of internet connection.
It’s not surprising that it spawned a movement: #LearnOnTikTok has around 7 billion views and millions of videos, many of which have been created by educators.
Whether it was encouraging students to create group projects on the platform or using TikTok to answer students’ questions or even describing an assignment, being limited to short snippets of information almost immediately became a strength rather than a weakness. With TikTok capping content at three minutes (though most videos are much shorter) educators were forced to create micro-lessons that were easily digestible and highly watchable. What’s more, utilizing the buzzy social media platform meant they were bringing content to the apps their students were already using, making information that much more accessible.
TikTok as an educational tool was so influential in 2020 that the social media giant rolled out its own learning initiatives in November 2020, including a “Learn” tab and pledging $50 million to an educational creator fund. While it may seem like just another trend, opting out of TikTok as an educational tool could mean missing out on making digestible, accessible and engaging content for your learners. Take a page from savvy educators and see how TikTok could become a vital tool in your training arsenal.
Learning Strategies For TikTok
If you’re thinking about utilizing TikTok as part of your education strategy, remember that any content you create needs to be short and succinct. Here are five simple ways you could work TikTok into your existing efforts.
1. Social Learning Opportunities: If your training suffers from a lack of peer-to-peer interaction, utilize your TikTok account as a social hub. Invite learners to “duet” your videos with their reactions or thoughts and post them. Create a specific hashtag and ask learners to update their own content and encourage commenting among colleagues. It can help mimic the social learning aspect of the traditional in-person classroom so learners feel less isolated — no matter where they are.
2. Invite Active Learning: A 2019 Harvard study found that learning is more effective when students are active participants in the process. Skip the long PowerPoints and dry lectures, and instead use TikTok as a way to encourage a more active role for learners. TikTok’s creation platform is easy to use and a great way for learners to become content creators and influencers in their sphere. You could ask learners to record a 15-second snippet of what they’ve learned after a module or have them watch and react to a quick TikTok you’ve created.
3. Explainer Videos: Need to distill information down into something more digestible? Use TikTok as a platform for creating explainer videos for everything from new safety protocols to customer service best practices. The short-form video format will essentially force you to keep it short, sweet and extremely specific, making it a great way to disseminate information in a fast but engaging way.
4. Product Or Service Education: If you’re rolling out a new product or service and need your learners to become experts, TikTok’s visual platform can be one of your greatest tools. You can use TikTok to create product education training that involves visual aids like diagrams, quick tutorials and highlights. These TikTok videos also make for great on-the-go sales tools so learners can become influencers and educators themselves, with product info right in their pocket, ready whenever they need to demonstrate a service or help a client explore a product.
5. FAQs: If you find yourself answering the same questions again and again, consider making a TikTok FAQ video. You can ask learners for their most common questions and create a quick, digestible list of answers in three minutes or less. Then you can share the video with your learners as often as you need.
We know that learners love self-paced, autonomous learning experiences, but they can be isolated by strategies that keep them inside their prescribed training box; even as they crave connection and engagement. If your learners are going to be surfing TikTok in their spare time anyway, take a cue from the innovative educators of the last year and take your content to the learner rather than the other way around. Doing so makes TikTok less of a distraction and more of a delivery method. There might be a bit of a learning curve as you master the platform and its content, but if there’s anything that TikTok has taught us over the past year, it’s that you can consume a ton of information in just a few minutes (or less).