By Tara Baumgarten

“Who’s the one who made us into study machines? School, house and PC room is all we have We live the same life and have to become number one.” - from 2013 BTS hit "N.O"

When most people hear BTS, they imagine crisp choreography, inventive lyrics, and one of the strongest fandoms in the world. Most do not imagine a platform for global learning. Yet, the BTS ARMY (Adorable Representative MC of Youth; the name of the fandom) is the most inventive, engaging, global, and effective collective learning platform in the world. And we -- those of us worried about education this fall -- have a few lessons to learn from them to make our students (and educators) succeed. This is the first post in a series of 3 mini-posts showcasing what we can learn from BTS and how we can apply these learnings to education this fall.

🤔Hang on, who’s BTS?

For those unfamiliar with BTS (but we really have to ask, how have you missed this global phenomenon? have you been living under a rock?), they are the globally beloved K-Pop group with an estimated 136M fan following, who have stylized themselves the BTS ARMY.

BTS have created an ARMY community that fosters passion, diversity, and creativity. Their lyrics inspire fans in unique and inventive ways. It’s worth noting that sometimes BTS lyrics even comment on parts of Korean culture that are typically left untouched in pop music as in their 2013 comeback single “N.O” where they ask, “who’s the one who made us into study machines?” Such lyrics have inspired ARMYs to fan projects and campaign efforts, many of which encompass multiple languages, cultures, and geographies.

It is no surprise that a group who rap about the glum reality of their own education in South Korea (just look at the drab, sterile depiction of a classroom in the music video above) have nurtured such a rich, creative community of learners. Truly, the ARMY platform is a prime example of learning in today's global, distanced world. While teachers, parents, and edtech entrepreneurs try to figure out how to build meaningful communities for remote learners this Fall, we think it would behoove us all to pull inspiration from something that already works so well.

👯‍♂️3 Principles of the BTS ARMY to Apply to Education Communities for Fall 2020 and Beyond

There are 3 principles the BTS ARMY exhibits that can be helpful for us to apply in the context of learning communities.

  1. 💜 Passion: embed learning in a topic you truly care about.
  2. 🦾 Diversity: ensure the community is made up of people who don’t all agree.
  3. 🎨 Creator Empowerment: a circular economy of creating and consuming content.

In this post, we’ll dive into Passion. Stay tuned for posts on Diversity and Creator Empowerment!

💜Passion


BTS is really good at inspiring love. What is it about these 7 young men from South Korea that attracts a global audience of millions? BTS members have advocated for many causes and their music reflects this, as does the way they choose to live their lives. The ARMY is motivated by a common cause that aligns with the core values of the band members.

This passion, catalyzed by fun pop music, is giving millions of people around the world the motivation and curiosity to learn more about Korean culture and the language. They say the fastest way to learn a language is to date someone who speaks it; the need to understand and communicate with one another is deeply motivating.

Similar to a romantic relationship, non-Korean ARMYs are inspired to understand Korean culture and language to better connect with the music. Subtitles on music videos with their word for word translations don’t quite cut it. Luckily, many Korean ARMYs flood the community spaces volunteering with more personal translations (often in real-time as content is shared) and tutoring. Many fans have created micro-communities in Discord to learn Korean or study related content. Other dedicated fans created their own classrooms with volunteer tutors, often with waitlists (see: ARMY Academics).

“I’m grateful for K-ARMY translators who offer in-depth explanation after each episode, and also ARMYs who make online Korean study groups.”

Big Hit, the entertainment company that houses BTS and other KPOP bands, has recognized this motivation to learn and hopes to capitalize on it as well. “Learn Korean with BTS” is a mini-video series featuring BTS introducing common phrases they use in Korean. The series is available in Weverse, Big Hit’s “home for the BTS ARMY” where BTS communicates directly with their fans. Maybe we’ll write about entertainment companies sneaking into the education space next time. 😉

How might we fuel learner’s passions in the pursuit of learning in a distanced world?

  • Embed skills in passion space: As a teacher, whether you teach writing or regressions, what is a niche (or not-so-niche) passion area you can apply the skill set to? If it’s BTS or some other musical group, are learners interested in writing fan fiction? Or can they analyze a graph of BTS twitter engagement since COVID-19 hit?
  • As a learner, how can you use your own passions and curiosity to learn something new? You’ll be more likely to stick with it, if it’s in a space you’re passionate about. If you want to build your skills as a writer, find something you’ve been curious about lately and start writing! Need to learn SQL for work? Find a dataset you’re interested in to make practice more meaningful.
  • One tactical tip for building (or nurturing) your education community this fall: allow flexibility for projects and problem sets to be solved in a context where the learner is passionate. For example: Maria Andersen has curated over 400 graphs on her instagram account, @graphsintheworld, to allow learners to solve the problem in a space they are passionate about (income inequality, climate justice, tech companies). Did multiple learners choose graphs in the same passion space? Natural affinity group!

Alright, that's it for now on Passion! Stay tuned for a post on what we can learn from BTS about Diversity and Creator Empowerment in a few days.


Tara Baumgarten is a learning experience designer, preparing learners for the future of work. Recent projects include: an interactive mobile course on coaching, microcredentials for 21st century skills, and a facilitator learning community. She's into startups, the metaverse, mnemonic media, antiracism, and competency based learning. Follow Tara on Twitter @TaraLifBaum to learn more!


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