MORE FROM KrASIA

TikTok maker ByteDance refocuses on education apps back home in China amid trouble overseas

The company behind TikTok is using its knowledge of the endless scroll to experiment with online learning apps.

Photo: Tuchong

ByteDance is having a rough year abroad. Its star app TikTok is being targeted by authorities in India, the US, and beyond. Facing headwinds overseas, the company is now looking to bolster its status back home with a focus on one particular area: online education.

ByteDance recently launched two new learning apps in China.

Xuelang offers one- to two-hour livestreamed classes for elementary to high school students. Professional knowledge courses are also available for adults in topics like sales.

Qingbei Xiaoban, on the other hand, focuses on small online classes. The teacher of each class is responsible for no more than 25 students. The goal is to offer more specialized attention to each student, according the app description on Apple’s App Store.

Over the last couple years, ByteDance has built up an army of online education products. To set itself apart from better established rivals, it has tried to draw on its experience building entertainment apps like TikTok. The secret sauce of these apps relies on an endless scroll of targeted content picked by AI algorithms.

One example is Tangyuan English, launched a year ago.

When the app first launched, the platform offered English tutoring videos in a vertical format, Chinese tech news site 36Kr reported at the time. The video section pulls English-language videos straight from Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. It also reportedly uses AI to analyze and grade users’ spoken English.

But that’s not all. The app now has a chat function called “practice spoken English” that works like Tinder or Chatroulette for language partners.

Users are required to upload real pictures of themselves—animal or celebrity photos won’t do. Once their accounts are approved, they’re asked which gender they’d like to be paired with (you can select both). After that, they’re presented with profiles that they can like or dislike. Alternatively, users can just choose the “instant chat” feature and be paired up with a random stranger in a video call—apparently to practice English.

Tangyuan is an outlier. Most of ByteDance’s education apps are less adventurous. One of them is the one-on-one English tutoring app Gogokid, a competitor of the more widely known VIPKid.

ByteDance aggressively promotes Gogokid on Douyin with the help of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, the platform’s brand ambassador. But not even enlisting the help of one of China’s most recognizable film stars has helped Gogokid gain significant ground. The platform reportedly laid off at least half of its employees last year. The company said it was bringing its staff numbers into a “normal range.”

kr asia community

Read this: ‘ByteDance will need to accept misunderstandings for a while,’ says Zhang Yiming

Another recent addition to ByteDance’s suite of education services is GuaguaLong. This platforms targets kids between the ages of two and eight by featuring an animal in its tutoring videos. ByteDance also heavily promotes this platform, with ads appearing on some of China’s most popular reality TV shows.

Despite the new products, ByteDance still doesn’t have any education products that have achieved the level of success of TikTok or Douyin.

Competition is fierce on the education market, with several competing apps already focusing on small class sizes. Some of them arrange classes with as few as two to six students per teacher, according to a report by PwC.

ByteDance is also competing with existing products, primarily Yuanfudao and Genshuixue, which also offer livestreamed classes for a variety of subjects to students in different grades. Genshuixue owner GSX Techedu went public in the US last year. The company has since been fighting accusations of fraud by short sellers, denying all allegations.

While none of ByteDance’s services have helped it pull ahead, the market still doesn’t have a clear winner. Some analysts think that ByteDance is well-positioned to catch up in online education because of its strengths in livestreaming.

In a speech last month, ByteDance senior vice president Chen Lin suggested a more important factor is the company’s “strategic determination” to make it work. Chen said the company is prepared to invest “a huge amount” of money in education without expecting it to be profitable for at least the next three years.

This article was published by Abacus News