I’ve been meaning to dig deeper into the gamification aspect of Duolingo for a few weeks now, but I’ve been finding it also takes a lot of time to simply describe what I have been doing each week. So I’ll try to keep this summary brief:
- I have continued using Duolingo, hitting a 30 day streak, making it into the Ruby league (more on that later), and just generally using it as my daily, baseline learning activity. It’s been an easy habit to maintain so far.
- I watched another episode of Spanish for Beginners, this time about mastering the verb “Ser.” I found it less useful than the first episode; it is maybe challenging because my progress in Duolingo and the video series don’t match up at all so they feel a little disjointed. I don’t regret watching it, however.
- I mentioned offhand in one of my classes that I was trying to learn Spanish and one of my students who speaks Spanish as their first language got really excited and wanted to talk with me. I was able to say “I need help in Spanish” and she replied “I can help you.” I was definitely flattered by their generosity.
- A colleague of mine overheard me practicing with Duolingo over the lunch hour and said two of the educational assistants she works with speak Spanish as their main language. She volunteered to introduce us and said they would be happy to practice with me. Looking forward to it!
- Lastly, I started playing with an Open Education Resource from MERLOT that someone shared with me in the chat last class. It’s a nice way to be exposed to actual native Spanish speakers. I’m trying to remember who shared it with me, but I appreciate it!
All in all, an exciting week! And with my committment to Duolingo unwavering, I’d like to unpack why it is so easy to remain consistent with. As someone who has, at times, struggled with commitment to things like the gym and meditation, I believe Duolingo is designed in a way to maximize interest. In essence, it’s gamified.
Gamification, for those unawares, is the process of adding game elements to something that’s not a game. Wikipedia has a surprisingly thorough article about it. The article lists some of the various game design elements that are common in gamification: points , leaderboards, badges, avatars, and performance graphs, to name a few. I will explore how these appear in Duolingo.
Duolingo uses a system of XP to track progress. You earn XP by completing an exercise, and bonus XP for getting streaks of answers correct. This XP is used to determine your ranking in each weekly league. The image to the right shows that I am in first place in my league for the time being.
As mentioned, Duolingo uses a series of leagues to track your progress. Each week, your XP is tracked against similar but randomly selected players. If you end the week in the top 10, you get promoted. If you end in the bottom 5, you get demoted. So far, I have been promoted every single week through bronze, silver, gold, sapphire, and now ruby. This incentivizes your progress each week, especially since the top 3 finishers get lingots, the Duolingo currency (I’d need a whole other post to explain the nuances of that system). However, the quality of competition also goes up with each league too. It’s like I’m in my own little English Premier (Soccer) League!
Duolingo has a set of achievements that are easy to unlock initially, but increasingly harder as you progress. I most recently unlocked an achievement for using the app for 30 consecutive days–no small task, in my opinion. Those who follow me on Twitter would know I was pretty excited about unlocking it. The Champion task shown in the image is definitely the hardest to achieve, as it requires unlocking and getting to level 1 of all 159 (!) skills in the course. I have achieved the Big Spender one, but a glitch has prevented it from registering properly. I sent in a help request because it’s annoying me and I’m pretty dedicated to fighting such battles.
Duolingo does have a system of avatars, as my last photo demonstrates. However, it seems that the majority of users don’t upload avatars, nor do they have any real impact on your progress. As far as I can tell, you can’t even message other users, so the value of avatars is minimal compared to other circumstances I have seen them used in, say, for example, on Twitter.
Duolingo presents you with a pretty basic performance graph, but only on the desktop version of the app. It’s something I wish I could have the raw data for because I like analyzing data, but it’s an interesting thing to glance it. It certainly shows that there are days that are more productive than others.
So there you have it. It’s pretty clear that Duolingo is indeed gamified, and I am far from the first person to write about it. In my experience, the gamification has helped me stay more committed to learning, and has been a net benefit. That said, many of Duolingo’s own users are critical of the system, and I do think it is always worth assessing whether gamification is adding value to a learning ecosystem, just like a teacher themselves would. If additional learning isn’t happening, it probably isn’t worthwhile. Am I being too black in white in judging it as such?