When TikTok Becomes Your Teacher – Forbes India

Posted: February 17, 2020 at 6:47 pm


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Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur Thats a corolla? Where is a flowers calyx? If these terms take you back to diagrams in textbooks, you must be older than 25.

Chances are your biology teacher was syllabus-focussed and maybe even boring. Chances also are that your teacher was not dressed la Shah Rukh Khan in the 2000 film Mohabbatein as part of an elaborate video setup, to teach you what a corolla is in a 60-second video on TikTok.

In another video, Firdausi is inside what looks like the sea, with computer-generated images of fish swimming around. How do you tell if a fish has bones or cartilages by just looking at it? Firdausi explains with the help of animation, in just under a minute.

Firdausi is an associate professor at edtech company Toppr, which has a learning app for students from classes 5 to 12 and multiple entrance exams. In October, social media platform TikTokowned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance and famous for its short videosrolled out #EduTok, an e-learning programme for India, for which it has engaged content creators such as Toppr.

Is the #EduTok bet paying off? It could, and could signal the future of education too.

The exam includes logical reasoning, quantitative analysis and English vocabulary. The study material on Gradeup and TikTok is tailored for that, she explains. While Gradeup offers quizzes, Tomar also found tips and tricks to solve math problems quickly on TikTok.

Being on TikTok does not require heavy concentration and the interactive format is such that we can learn at any time, even when we are travelling. Every day, I get to learn at least seven to eight new words of English vocabulary, she says.

Tomar believes that given the information overload and various distractions, edtech apps streamline education, while platforms like TikTok add an element of fun. If we are moving toward 5G in telecom, why stick to just books in education? We have to speed up there too.

For an entire generation of students, studying is becoming less about textbooks and more about smartphones. Indias online education market is set to grow to $1.96 billion with around 9.6 million users in 2021, up from $247 million and about 1.6 million users in 2016, according to Online Education in India: 2021, a report by KPMG in India, and Google.

To keep students hooked on to their respective platforms, education providers are experimenting with test prep and lessons on social media channelsnot just TikTok, but also platforms like Telegram and Bigo Livethat host snappy videos, bite-sized formats, real-time online group studies, interactive quizzes and live streaming. This is a step further from long videos or image-based learning that were popular on YouTube and Facebook respectively. This is edtech 2.0, if you will.

Education vs Engagement For a generation hooked to content, how do you strike a balance between education and entertainment?

Its evolving and were figuring it out, says Shobhit Bhatnagar, CEO and co-founder of Gradeup. Not only must faculty members be subject matter experts, but they also have to have great delivery, screen-presence and creativity.

Teachers go through the equivalent of auditions at the time of hiring, giving demonstrative recorded lectures. Were working on building technology to help us here too, adds Bhatnagar. For example, the system should be able to quantify certain paramenters: The number of times eye-contact is made; how many times teachers ask interactive questions like Samajh aaya? [Do you understand?]

The difference here is that in a regular classroom, students have to stick around. Here, if they lose interest, they will open another tab, and head to another distraction, he adds.

To make sure they maintain the balance between education and engagement, edtech startups are investing in full-stack studios, equipment and media trainers, who have experience with TV shows and news.

Arshad Shahid, creative head of Toppr says a lot of their success is credited to this media team. It took them over two to three months of trial and error to understand what really clicks with students: Videos that explain concepts with informal language, interactive graphics, and references to films and pop culture. Earlier, we would spend 2 hours for one video. Now, after the script is ready, we can shoot within 15 minutes, says Shahid.

It is competitive and creates a lot of pressure on teachers. The media trainers see how teachers are performing on camera and train them on how to act, how to engage and create interaction, says Bhatnagar, whose Gradeup has four TikTok channels and eight Telegram groups, each with 10,000 to 15,000 followers.

Bhopal-based Pushpendra Dhakad, who runs a coaching class called Fly High Academy, doesnt have as sophisticated a set-up, but has 2 million likes on TikTok, and more than 350,000 followers. He is an #EduTok creator, but his target audience is not just students. I signed up on TikTok to take educational content farther. Homemakers, security guards, vegetable vendors, shopkeepers watch my videos, and I want to teach them basic, conversational English, he says. I teach common English phrases, pronunciation, the difference between American and British English, and so on.

Similarly, Singapore-based live-streaming network Bigo Live, made a $100 million investment in India last year, and is focussed on Indias rural communities. Last year, we hired over 200 qualified teachers who were able to teach English and soft skills such as Excel, PowerPoint and elementary Photoshop, says Mike Ong, vice president (government relations), Bigo Technology. We have significantly grown our strength in India; from 200-odd employees last year to 1,000 now.

Baby Steps The first wave of e-learning took off with YouTube and Facebook, where viewers watched long-form videos. In this next generation, the focus is on real-time, short-form and condensed learning. However, experts say that while such tools can aid in driving engagement and delivering single concepts, for in-depth learning, long formats works better.

This where Telegram has gained ground. It works and looks much like WhatsApp. However, a Telegram group can have up to 2 lakh members, whereas WhatsApp groups can have 256 members at most. Telegram also has quick file-sharing features so that files dont need to be downloaded and can be accessed from the cloud. Edtech companies are seeing reams of textbooks and answer sheets digitisedand often piratedon Telegram groups.

The way we look at it, you cant stop the piracy, says Abhishek Patil, co-founder, Oliveboard, an online platform for entrance exam preparation, with 6 million registered users. So instead, were working on building our own presence on Telegram, creating videos and e-books. We see that a large section of students is using Telegram specifically to study, versus TikTok, which is a mix of entertainment and education.

Hadia Khan, 19, a biotech student at Allahabad University, is one such student. On Telegram, each group has more than 15,000 members, so there are a few hundred active users at any given point, she says. If I get stuck at a particular question, I can post my query and someone will help me out in real-time. Its like group study, but online.

Khan signed up for an annual Oliveboard subscription since it is cheaper than coaching classes. I realised that on Facebook groups, there are many trolls and irrelevant comments, she says. But on Telegram, theres almost no spamming, and the administators are quick to delete anything unfit.

Stepapp gamifies the learning process for math and science from classes 6 to 12 in the CBSE and ICSE curricula; students can earn virtual currency and real scholarships too. Parents can get real-time reports of their progress. Ive been working on it for 10 years, Tyagi says.

With children, weve long believed that they can either play or study. Here, they can do both. Youll have concise concepts at your fingertips and a revision bank, all while feeling like you are playing a game.

Stepapp, like Oliveboard, uses TikTok and Instagram as marketing tools to draw students to their apps. For Toppr and Gradeup, too, the function of the social media channels is to build branding and visibility, to go where the students are and incentivise them to come to the main platform.

Relative to Facebook and YouTube, these platforms are still in the early stages in terms of getting actual outcomes, says Bhatnagar. We still havent learnt enough about them to make big investments, so just about 3 to 5 percent of our marketing budget is allocated here. Most of this is to understand what kind of users we can acquire and what return on investments we are getting. As our learning and the quality of data we can get from these platforms as advertisers rise, so will our focus here.

Facebook and YouTube continue to lead the charge in edtech, but newer players are seeking alternative avenues. On YouTube, students can get MIT lectures free of cost too why would they come to me? asks Tyagi. Thats why we didnt want to get into that space, and instead, build our own.

Fast forward Will we see a world in which students no longer need to go to physical classrooms?

There are many things that technology cannot do. A students writing skills cant be improved remotely, and technology cannot shape his or her personality, says Tyagi. However, theres a lot that can be done with technology, and we cant ignore that.

When the internet was first adopted, there was a hue and cry about it replacing books, says Narayan Ramaswamy, partner and head-education, KPMG in India. Even at work, many things are discussed on Telegram, WhatsApp or Facebook groups. You cant rely on the internet for entirely factual information, but you cannot do without it. Similarly, social media is a part of the students life, and if we want to proactively engage with them, we need to be present on social media too.

If the platforms lead to productive learning, theres no harm, Ramaswamy adds. Individual students can find the most effective processes for their learning. We should not control these things. However, colleges or education providers should not rely on them too much, else their offering will become diluted.

(This story appears in the 28 February, 2020 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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When TikTok Becomes Your Teacher - Forbes India

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February 17th, 2020 at 6:47 pm

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