Learn From TikTok: 4 Takeaways For Learning


Learning To Learn From Social Media Platforms

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard of or even experienced TikTok. It’s a more recent—well, maybe not that recent—addition to the social media space. It’s become the fastest-growing “go-to” social engagement technology young people are using to create and share short-form videos, about 15–30 seconds long, on any topic. Since its inception in 2017, TikTok has exceeded one billion users who actively engage with the platform in some way. Now, you may be saying it’s usually valueless content but within the noise, there are nuggets of valuable learning content. Let’s be clear, TikTok was never meant or even designed to be a learning platform, it’s meant for pure entertainment…and some say a waste of time. The latter is subjective, of course.

But please, for a moment, withhold your judgment. Let’s take a critical thinking journey together to consider what potential value TikTok may have to offer. The journey begins by asking: what makes it so attractive to and engaging for billions of users? What are the ingredients in their secret sauce that you can take away to apply to your learning efforts? Here are my four takeaways but there’s possibly more. If I missed some, please share.

1. Keep It Short

Brevity is the first thing that usually comes to mind. TikTok’s intent was to force users to deliver content in 15–60 seconds. In recent years, however, they’ve allowed users to deliver videos for up to 10 minutes. Even though 10-minute videos are available, why do the 15–60 second videos remain the most popular?

People come up with a myriad of psychological and societal reasons, and most are possibly valid, but the explanation is probably simple. In my humble opinion, TikTok users, both producers and viewers, are seeking out impact, conciseness, and immediacy. Learning purists claim no value is possible within 60 seconds. Granted, brevity isn’t applicable to every topic, but everything isn’t black or white. Being concise is always relevant. Learning encompasses the grey space where learning some topics requires length and some can get by with brevity. We can agree, however, that being direct is more effective.

2. Give It Purpose

Brevity doesn’t necessarily have to be 15–60 seconds, but learning must do something it often fails to do and that’s getting to the point. This brevity is brevity with intent. You’re probably still not convinced, but trust me, TikTok is full of educational content teaching people new things—whether it’s life hacks, how-to videos or simply demonstrating a new product. TikTok has been such a learning influence that the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok has over 7 billion views with over a million videos.

How’s this applicable to your learning efforts? Consider each time you suggest microlearning. This learning trend is meant to deliver bite-sized, easily digestible content that people can apply immediately in their jobs. It’s meant to be brief and provide a purpose. You may want to disparage TikTok but this microlearning content has been so popular for them that they’ve launched their own educational user platform. They’ve made it attractive and addictive by limiting the time, forcing you to focus on practical outcomes. When planning your next microlearning, consider how you break it down and then leverage short bursts of video to deliver key takeaways. But don’t discount the first few seconds and the first impression; these are the moments to captivate your audience and make it count.

3. Make It Enjoyable

Enjoyment is also another element associated with TikTok videos. You’ll certainly hear users say how much they enjoy watching these types of videos. Naturally, some practitioners will claim that “learning” is a serious activity and “fun” has no place when it comes to skilling people to their jobs well. Really? I bet you can think back to a moment you learned something in your life and still apply or remember it today. I also bet the person that taught it to you made it enjoyable too!

When I learned trigonometry my “hippie” math teacher taught us a really fun acronym to recall the ratios of the three primary functions: “Oscar Had A Hit Of Acid”. The first letter of each represented an angle calculation. Some learned “SohCahToa.” Either way, 40+ years later I can still calculate angles because my teacher made it fun.

4. Make It Social

TikTok also excels at social and user engagement. They leverage the opportunity for users to generate and share their content with others. This organic interaction is at the root of its success, like many other successful social media platforms. TikTok has made social video engagement so successful that TikTok-type shared content is now an accepted norm in our daily lives.

Practitioners, however, struggle to harness organizational social or informal learning. There are a variety of social or bureaucratic reasons for this, but it begs the question: if TikTok can harness this globally, then why can’t it be done within the confines of an organization? The reality is that informal and social learning engagement will always take place. People will naturally turn to others for guidance, coaching, and information. Those in Learning and Development (L&D) must recognize that with or without them, informal learning is taking place, and they must learn from these social media platforms.

Notwithstanding L&D’s existence, user-generated content through social media platforms is an accepted norm. If not TikTok, many of us use Google or YouTube to find solutions to our learning dilemmas. The only issue is whether the user is receiving valid learning, either from another person or from a social media platform. It’s time to discover how to facilitate employees’ sharing, documenting, and accessing this valued informal learning. You don’t want it to vaporize when they decide to leave the company.

What’s Next?

There is one issue that stands in the way of implementing an engaging social learning environment, and that is learning practitioners themselves. Unlike TikTok and YouTube, practitioners, possibly at the insistence of stakeholders, get in their own way and overthink the social learning need. Rather than leveraging its organic nature, many keep trying to formalize it and control the informal learning process. Please stop! It’s informal, not formal. It’s meant to be organic. Your role is to leverage it to the organization’s benefit and ensure it’s valid.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!


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