duolingo case for applause

You couldn’t make it up; the very same day we blogged about Duolingo’s language learning app Apple announced ¬†it be the free iPhone app of 2013. Duolingo, which has been downloaded 10 million times from the appstore, has been recognised for it’s considerable contribution to mobile language learning. Ironically, our blog post flagged up an issue with the speech recognition that we noticed through demoing the application; it doesn’t work. Still… free’s free and the UI could pretty much write the book on “sticky” learner experiences.

Having said that … what are they basing that accolade on? Numbers of downloads?¬†Surely not. Brain-meltingly addictive Candy Crush was the most downloaded free app of 2013 (as well as being the highest earning app, a testament to the effectiveness of a well-thought out freemium strategy). [Note from eltjam: if you’re considering downloading this app to see what the appeal is, make sure you’ve cleared your schedule for the next eight hours…]

Is it it’s language learning methodology?¬†Doubtful, as it seems to be utilising fairly recognisable/traditional activity types: gap-fill, multiple choice questions, sentence ordering activities etc. It’s not¬†immediately¬†obvious that new ground is being broken.

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Is it the quality of learning that it promotes?¬†Maybe, but I don’t know how Apple would be in a position to assess how competent and confident Duolingo’s learners are. However, in a post¬†back in the first half of 2013¬†we discussed the report produced by Duolingo claiming that learning through their platform enabled learners to cover material quicker than those learning in college classrooms. The contributing factor, it emerges, is learner motivation; a learner will feel more engaged and eager to apply their effort if it’s being used in a learning framework that is fun, rewarding and provides clear evidence of their improvement. Who knew? Even so… I’d be very interested in seeing how a Duolingo learner differs from a classroom-/teacher-developed learner. What can they do that ‘traditional’ learners can’t? Is there a noticeable difference in their learning skills? Are they more competent when it comes down to it?

What is the reason behind Duolingo’s chart-topping status? Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the first language learning app that is getting serious traction. Its methodology is far from disruptive, its speech recognition is weak and the objectives of the company itself are far from promoting effective learning, so it must be the fact that it’s free, fun and finger-pleasingly well designed.

10 Comments

  1. This is more or less what I concluded about Duolingo too – the fact it’s fun and addictive made me study where I would have done nothing otherwise. I did give up though but that is more a testament to just how little I want to learn Spanish than the app itself. A little bit of motivation and it would carry on working.

  2. This is more or less what I concluded about Duolingo too – the fact it’s fun and addictive made me study where I would have done nothing otherwise. I did give up though but that is more a testament to just how little I want to learn Spanish than the app itself. A little bit of motivation and it would carry on working.

  3. I agree with @ Rachel and @Jennifer. I had no idea what it was going to be like to learn language with an App. I wasn’t expecting that I would jump to B2 with my Spanish. I probably won’t. But wasn’t expecting to be made so at ease by a learning tool either. The way it disguises learning behind a fun, easy(!) game, like learning is a walk in the park, how it brings to mind many games I had played before with progress feedback conceptualized through a journey/path (here egg-chicken theme) and the red hearts that add challenge and motivation to get it right. Even though the activities are repetitive, the level of difficulty seems to build up at reasonable enough pace to keep me interested. I’m not sure I am hooked but I am definitely enjoying it and the key is probably a combination of all the above: low-level, challenge element and a tangible evidence of progress as immediate reward.

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