Online education is set to stick around, at least ByteDance think so. Source: Shutterstock

ByteDance is shifting its focus to the online education market

  • ByteDance is taking a hit overseas with doubts over the future of TikTok
  • The firm is hedging its bets on the growth of the online education market

Chinese technology giant ByteDance was soaring high a few mere months ago. Its video-sharing app TikTok surged past 2 billion downloads, and hit a US$100 billion value amid a pandemic-fuelled spike in social media usage. 

But within the last month, things have begun to look a bit gloomier for the world’s high-value startup. The firm’s prize app – a key earner of advertising dollars from overseas – now faces a ban in the US over inflated security concerns, or a forced sale to a potential Microsoft, and things don’t look as good as they had done. 

As US-China disagreements continue to spill over into the tech industry, China’s tech leaders are seeing expansion opportunities taper, and must instead focus efforts and investments on securing their patch at home. Fortunately, Douyin – the company’s Chinese version of TikTok – along with news aggregator Toutiao, is generating the bulk of revenue. 

Nonetheless, the uncertainty is cause for diversity, and recent movements have suggested Bytedance is ready to commit wholesale to a current, emerging market that it’s betting holds a longer-term promise: online education. 

The Chinese tech firm has recently launched two apps. The first is GuaGuaLong English, which aims to teach two-to-eight-year-olds in China English, and GuaGuaLong Mind, which aims to teach children of kindergarten age mathematics. 

GuaGuaLong refers to the apps’ AI-driven tutor, a character which takes the form of a dragon and provides prompts and feedback to the user’s interactions. 

Byedance’s confidence in online education is evident in its registering of more than 200 GuaGuaLong trademarks over the course of the last two years, including those suggesting an expansion to coding and calligraphy, an important channel for the appreciation of traditional culture and for arts education in China.

ByteDance reaffirmed its interest in the education market in an open letter from founder Zhang Yiming, marking its eighth anniversary in March. 

“The online tutoring market is very hot recently, and many people ask about my company’s business progress […] the education business must have more fundamental innovations,” he said. 

Even before the pandemic, Research and Markets forecast the online education market as $350 Billion by 2025, but that projection is likely much larger now due to a digital learning migration. 

Flexibility, convenience, cost, and the elimination of a commute, are big draws for users of online education programs. But there is also the huge added value of online learning tech companies using AI to turn vast amounts of user data into personalized courses and training for individuals. When a student repeatedly struggles at one element of the course, for example, the platform can adjust the content to provide more detailed information. 

The benefits will continue to grow as AI and machine learning advances but, down the line, technologies like augmented and virtual reality – as well as the super-low latency power of 5G – will provide scope for new, immersive learning platforms.