How the trend of independent learning has prompted the use of alternative educational platforms
By Maija Baroni
With our previous routines recently interrupted by a global pandemic, many find themselves with too much time on their hands. An increasing number of people turn to online learning as a new hobby to stave off boredom and anxiety, while feeling productive in the process.
Considering most schools have shifted to partial—if not full—online learning, education through a screen is no longer a foreign idea. Rather, it is a reality students quickly adjusted to, so it is no surprise that some are choosing to learn outside their Zoom classrooms, using their own personal device as their teacher.
Since March of last year, online learning sites have seen an unprecedented surge in activity and memberships: Coursera, for example, has gained 21 million learners according to its 2020 Impact Report; a 353% increase from the same period the year prior. Similarly, Skillshare tripled its member sign-ups, and subscriptions to the celebrity-taught Masterclass site increased tenfold.
The platforms explored by independent learners are not contained to traditional learning sites. Instead, some are leaning towards platforms primarily used for entertainment, such as social media apps and YouTube.
Though YouTube is best known for its music videos, beauty gurus, and gaming channels, the site is no stranger to educational content. Famous channels like Crash Course and TED-Ed are even frequently used in classrooms. However, a newer platform is beginning to take center stage in the world of online learning.
TikTok, initially loved for its viral dances, has become ragingly popular over the last year. Aside its comedic or entertainment appeal, the app has seen demand for educational content sky-rocket, with BBC stating that the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok has been viewed over seven billion times.
Compared to ordinary education platforms, the unorthodox trend of learning through social media presents many benefits. The price, or lack thereof, may be the main selling point. TikTok, like most social media, is free. In contrast, the previously mentioned subscription sites cost anywhere between 99-200$ yearly, making them largely inaccessible to most young students.
TikTok has other advantages. For one, its videos are never longer than a minute, forcing educational videos to be concise, differing from the lengthy YouTube videos or online lectures from subscription-based sites. Another innovative characteristic is TikTok’s in-app editor, allowing creators to include effects, audio, filters and transitions. When used creatively, these tools result in really engaging and diverting content, making education that much more exciting.
The demand for educational content has not gone unnoticed by the app’s creators. This summer, BBC reported that TikTok was planning to commission hundreds of experts and institutions to further increase the platform’s academic value.
Nevertheless, significant issues arise when using an entertainment platform for learning. Typical of most media, the spread of misinformation on the app has been widely criticized. Many creators with no actual professional training have massive followings, further facilitating the possibility of false information. Even professionals can post content that might not be fully false, but offers questionable interpretations of factual data. Therefore, it is critical for creators to put data in context for the average user when filming educational videos.
Regardless, online learning offers many unique advantages. Apps and sites compile user data to feed into algorithms and lead users to content they are interested in, customizing their learning experience. Social media platforms are also incredibly interactive, allowing users to directly communicate with creators or other people interested in the same topic, and providing a fertile learning environment.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of all is accessibility; people can engage on their own time and at their own pace, allowing them to learn according to their individual schedules and needs.
Though the pandemic has brought a lot of unwelcome change, it allows us to make the most of what we have right now: time. Independent onlines learning creates revolutionary new possibilities for students, and it has the potential to change the future of education.