Have you been learning a foreign language lately? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve used Duolingo. Duolingo is a popular language learning platform that uses Gamification extensively, so we wanted to take a closer look at its Gamification, what we can learn from it, and what we think Duolingo could do better.
Duolingo has been around for about four years now, and they’ve developed quite a few different areas and features. The heart of the experience for most users is the lessons. Lessons are grouped in skills, and they gradually teach you vocabulary and phrases.
The home page expertly focuses you on your progress by indicating your progress and strength on each skill and showing the full tree of skills in your language course.
Because you have to practice language skills regularly to keep them fresh, Duolingo gradually lowers your strength on skills you haven’t practiced recently and lets you practice skills you’ve already achieved to keep them at full strength.
You get XP (experience points) for lessons and practice sessions, and you level up as you gain XP in a language you are working on. Whenever you level up or complete a skill you earn “lingots,” a kind of virtual currency which you can spend in a virtual shop.
Every learner can choose a daily XP goal according to the pace they want to learn at. Duolingo reminds you to meet that goal every day and encourages you to reach longer and longer learning streaks. Your current streak length (the number of days in a row on which you have met your goal) is shown right at the top of the website, and the mobile app uses daily push notifications to remind you to practice.
Another important part of Duolingo is the Immersion area, which lets you practice your language skills by translating texts in a special wiki-style, collaborative system. There are XP incentives for participating, and lingots rewarded for contributing new texts.
You can translate parts of the text (with optional help from machine translation) or proofread others’ translations, gaining XP as you go. The more experience you rack up in Immersion, the more XP you get for translating, editing, and rating others’ translations, ensuring the incentive stays relevant for the more experienced translators, whose input is especially important to the translation ecosystem.
Duolingo also integrates some social functions. You can comment on and discuss specific questions from lessons or specific Immersion sentences, and there are also forums for discussion between language learners.
You can add friends from your social networks and see what they’ve been up to on Duolingo in the Activity area, including their latest comments, new followers and followees, and levels gained. The site and app also feature a leaderboard of your friends, ranked by XP earned in the current week or month, or altogether.
Finally, the Duolingo website has an area called “Words,” which complements the lessons with a system of virtual flashcards you can use to practice vocabulary Duolingo hasn’t shown you lately, a sort of alternative to practice lessons.
Great content, great motivators
Duolingo features some excellent examples of Gamification. First and foremost, progress indicators. They’re everywhere on Duolingo, and they’re expertly adapted for language learning, with skills’ strength going down over time.
Another great thing is the regular email reminders. They make sure you won’t forget to keep practicing, and they’re highly personalized, always suggesting a next goal, such as a skill to learn or a level to reach.
Together with the social leaderboards which show you how you’re doing compared to you friends, these are some great motivators to help you keep coming back and learning.
Most importantly, Duolingo gets the content right.
The lessons are well-designed, drilling your skills with several different kinds of challenges. They don’t get too repetitive, and they’re just easy and fun to do. All the Gamification in the world couldn’t save bad content, but with great content like Duolingo’s, the game elements are just a complement to an activity that’s already fun and compelling. The game elements just help reinforce that process.
The empty trophy case
That said, there are a few game elements that could really be useful in our experience, and they could fit in great in the already-gamified Duolingo experience. Let us start with one of the most effective and popular Gamification elements out there: badges.
Duolingo does have some achievement tokens – the skills you’ve gained. They could be displayed on your profile page, and there’s potential for so much more.
One of the difficulties we’ve experienced as learners on Duolingo is how quickly you can stop practicing once you’ve broken your streak. Badges are an excellent tool for making people feel invested in a platform, and that could really help – if you’ve collected a dozen flashy badges, you’ll have a feel for all of the effort you’ve put into it, and as a result you’re likelier to stick around.
There is so much room on profile pages and there are so many ways Duolingo could effectively implement badges, we can’t help but make a few humble suggestion.
There could be a set of badges for completing 10, 50, and 100 lessons, or 5, 10, and 30 skills, adding an extra incentive for making progress with the lessons. There could be badges for gaining a certain number of skills or XP in one day or one week, which learners could gain multiple times and show off with pride, providing an incentive to spend more time learning every day or every week.
There could be badges for mastering the basics of several languages to encourage the polyglots among us, and there could be badges for pursuing a single language course relentlessly for weeks or months to encourage persistence.
Players’ profile page shows their current streak length, but there could also be badges for first hitting a five-day streak, a ten-day streak, and so on, and the profile page’s “Achievements” area would be the perfect place to feature them.
Let us spend our lingots!
Another part we would improve was the lingot store. While we easily collected dozens of lingots from earning skills and running streaks, there aren’t enough ways to take advantage of them.
You can buy two “power-ups” – one which keeps your streak going when you miss one day of practice, and one which gives you lingots back for maintaining a seven-day streak.
You can buy some fun bonus skills to add lessons to your skill tree, but there are only two available in the languages we’ve tried out.
There are also some shop items which are available on web but not mobile, and vice versa. On the website, you can buy the Timed Practice feature, which gives you another practice mode for your review sessions – worth more XP, and available only on the website. The website also lets you pay lingots to take an extended quiz to evaluate your level in the language you’re learning.
On the mobile app, you can spend lingots to buy different outfits for Duo, the green bird mascot that cheers you on, but there are also just two outfits to buy.
This is another area with great potential. The concept of bonus skills you have to buy is great, and an excellent way to make the otherwise linear skill tree more interesting.
We would suggest adding more bonus skills, even simply moving some of the regular skills into the shop so learners have to use their hard-earned lingots to unlock these lessons. This could be used especially for skills which users find threatening – people are wired to assume that if you have to spend resources on something, it must be especially worthwhile, even when the spending is purely virtual.
Some of the bonus skills could also be made into “mystery skills” which learners have to buy to even find out what they’re about, adding a layer of intrigue and piquing learners’ interest.
More encouragement! More motivators!
Like we noted, Duolingo does a great job with motivators, and we find there’s room for even more.
When you complete a practice session, you are helpfully offered another practice session with a simple button. For some reason, when you complete a regular lesson, you have to go back to the lesson plan, breaking the flow.
On the other hand, more motivators will enable Duolingo to drive learners to review sessions. These are crucial for maintaining the skills you’ve gained, but the main reason we have found ourselves using them was when the next skills seemed intimidating and we wanted to stay in our comfort zone.
So on the one hand, Duolingo could do even more to encourage us to keep going for new skills, but there also could be more encouragement to review old skills. We believe even just friendly reminders could go a long way.
Another type of motivator which could fit in well would be mayorships – temporary status symbols based on competition.
For instance, there could be social mayorships, where you get to be mayor so long as you’re in the top 5% of your friends in XP earned. There could also be time-based mayorships, where the top 10% of all users in XP earned this week (or month) get to be mayor. (And of course, the two could be combined).
Getting a mayorship is a great reward for the hard work it takes to get there, and losing a mayorship can spur people on to make that extra push and study harder to take back their title.
Don’t let things fall off the map!
Another issue Duolingo could address is unevenly distributed Gamification.
Two examples of this were Words and Timed Practice. The Words section (flashcard memory training) is simply cut off from all of the Gamification elements, while the website lets you earn more XP for reviews by giving you the Timed Practice feature, which just isn’t available on the mobile app.
One crucial aspect of integrating Gamification is that once you have an incentive ecosystem, players tend to forget all about the activities which aren’t incentivized at all. The more something is incentivized, the more people will focus on it.
Cutting the flashcards out of the game means relatively few users will use them; giving web users more XP than mobile users will make people prefer the website (even though the mobile app is amazing for quick practice on the go).
Room for improvement
Again, Duolingo is terrific, and millions use it for very good reasons! Since we love it so much we really want to see them take more advantage of Gamification. It could do wonders.
One last thing we would suggest expanding on is the social. Duolingo already has social network integration, friends/follows, and social leaderboards, but social can be so much more.
Lingots could be awarded as an incentive for inviting or adding friends. There could be cooperative events where users form teams with their friends and compete against other teams together. Learners could challenge each other to a “duel” or “showdown” in which they compete head on to keep a streak going or rack up XP.
Features like this could drive whole new levels of engagement and truly help learners keep it up.
What do you think about Duolingo’s Gamification? Let us know in the comments!