When a colleague mentioned that companies were using the social media platform TikTok for employee training, I knew I had to investigate. I am a 55-year old surgeon who has never used TikTok, but I was able to secure the services of two TikTok super-users (my daughters aged 16 and 18) who were able to bring me up to speed. In the name of full disclosure, I feel obligated to mention that our cat is named Charli after the superstar TikTok dancer Charli D’Amelio. Until recently, that was the extent of my familiarity with the social media platform.
Employee training via TikTok is being hailed as a potential solution to engage the young Gen Z workers (born in the mid-1990s and 2000s) who have grown up with access to the Internet and portable digital technology from a young age.
I got to thinking – what are some of the potential learning-science advantages of TikTok training? A few of the principles that could make this trend successful are very similar to those behind Qstream’s microlearning and knowledge retention solution.
1. Spacing: By breaking training content into 30-second to 3-minute video nuggets and delivering them over spaced intervals of time, TikTok training has the potential to take advantage of the spacing effect, a powerful cognitive-science research-finding that can significantly improve the long-term retention of the material.
2. Focused content: By forcing training managers to condense their employee training material into such small video fragment, the TikTok format forces them to focus on the critical content that they want learners to absorb and retain. This is stark contrast to longer training sessions (lectures, podcasts, etc.) in which no such pruning of extraneous content is needed.
3. Ease of distribution: Given that TikTok users spend on average 52 minutes per day on the app and 90% of TikTok users use the app multiple times a day,1 TikTok would appear to be a seamless method to get core training content in front of the eyeballs of young workers.
4. Personalization algorithm: TikTok uses powerful algorithms to tailor content based on what videos the user has previously viewed. In the future, it would be fantastic if TikTok worked to refocus these algorithms to generate meaningful, personalized learning experiences for users. Filtering out all of the crazy cat videos may be quite a challenge, though.
1. Lack of data on effectiveness: To date, there are no good data showing that employee training via TikTok is as effective as current methods. The potential benefits of TikTok training above will remain ‘potential’ until data exist showing that they actually generate improvements in learning and retention and job performance.
2. Ease of distribution does not equal user engagement: While your Gen Z employees will “see” your training video in their ‘following’ TikTok feed, it does not mean that they will actually watch the video. The average watch time per video view on TikTok is 3.33 seconds.2 This minuscule figure does not surprise me since it matches my daughters’ rapid pace of scroll-scroll-scroll on the site. I have a hard time believing that training videos are going to be watched for much longer.
3. Lack of meaningful analytics: Views of a video on TikTok are not a good metric of engagement. When a video is viewed for any duration on TikTok, it is counted as a view.
4. Possible alienation of your core workforce: While TikTok may have ‘potential’ for training of new Gen Z and the younger workforce, I as a 55-year old worker would prefer to have a root canal rather than be forced to become a TikTok user. While I know that sounds dramatic, I guarantee many in my age group would prefer not to receive training content in this manner as well.
In summary, I feel that the disadvantages – in particular, the lack of data regarding educational efficacy – of TikTok for employee training currently outweigh the ‘potential’ advantages. That said, I would love to change my mind. I encourage training managers to set up experiments and collect data to determine if in fact TikTok for employee training can be effective. In the future, I could see the adaptive nature of the app contributing to personalized learning experiences, but I don’t think we are there yet. Until that time, TikTok training remains just another untested bell-and-whistle.