TikTok’s educational content trial: Everything you need to know

Chris Stokel-Walker
Learn on TikTok new vertical

TikTok is testing a new feed this week that prioritizes educational videos for a select number of users in the UK and Europe.

The educational content feed is being tested on a small number of users, TikTok confirmed, though it declined to say how many would encounter it in day-to-day usage.

The roll-out of the test comes five months after a similar trial in Canada, where users were given two different ways to discover the educational content-focused vertical.

One way users in Canada found out about the additional feed was through a small lightbulb icon in the top left of the app. Another alternative that was tested in Canada included a third line of text at the top of the screen next to the “Following” and “For You” indicators. That text appeared to the left of “Following” and simply read “Learn”.

TikTok learn feature
The feature can be accessed via the lightbulb button in the top left corner of the app

In both instances, pressing on the icon or text led users to educational content selected by TikTok.

“In our recent comparative study of TikTok and its sibling platform, Douyin, we noticed a trend in parent company ByteDance’s response to controversy with dedicated and localized social justice or educational campaigns,” says D. Bondy Valdovinos, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology, who has studied TikTok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin.

“TikTok has faced a tumultuous year internationally with new bans and several threats of bans and in recent months has also launched a campaign eponymously titled TikTokforGood,” he adds. “Launching the educational feed now would certainly fit with past trends.”

The app has promoted its educational prowess in recent months. In the UK, it launched its #LearnonTikTok campaign in June, signing up Cambridge University, English Heritage, and others to the app as part of a $15 million investment across Europe “to begin seeding a whole ecosystem of educational content”.

Some of those content creators would not necessarily be considered educational in the traditional sense of the word. Emails promoting #LearnonTikTok to prospective partners highlight MTV UK, Delish UK, and former X Factor contestant Stacey Solomon as current educational partners.

Solomon, a Z-list celebrity in the UK, is classed as education for “sharing life hacks and helpful tips around the home”. She has posted three TikToks since June: one where she makes a smoothie, one where she made a display from pebbles gathered on a beach holiday to Sidmouth, a Devon coastal town, and one where she does the Bop-It challenge with partner Joe Swash, another Z-list celebrity.

Internal documentation, obtained by me, defines educational content on TikTok as “any video that promotes learning new skills, habits or information. This type of video content typically feels inspiring and actionable to users.” Videos using the #LearnonTikTok hashtag have been seen 37.6 billion times.

At the time, TikTok’s managing director in Europe, Rich Waterworth, declined to tell me how much of the $15 million budget the app was spending on its launch partners.

However, subsequent reporting by me for The Times found that TikTok had invited UK universities to a digital meeting in June, where it offered commercial partnerships to Russell Group universities to join the app.

TikTok would provide £5,000 in free advertising credits to educational institutions in exchange for them posting at least two videos a week for a minimum of 10 weeks.

“Like YouTube before it, the platform is maturing and courting wider audiences,” says Valdovinos. “Part of the challenge in that process is demonstrating how the platform can be used for more than just entertainment media.”

A playbook TikTok provides to those it signs up to its #LearnonTikTok campaign highlights the importance of educational content to the app’s future. “Educational Content is an important and growing category on TikTok which we will be actively promoting using the #LearnonTikTok hashtag to inspire creative learning for our users,” the playbook explains.

“TikTok is engaging partners to make educational content to help us grow the ecosystem of useful content on the platform.”

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