What We Can Learn From the Most Downloaded Education App in the World

With over 100 million registered users, Duolingo is the world’s largest online language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world for both Android and iOS devices. Named iPhone App of the Year, TechCrunch’s Best Education Startup, and Google’s Best of the Best two years running, Duolingo is mobile learning force to contend with. In this article, I’ll share five mobile design strategies used by Duolingo, and offer some insight on how you can apply similar strategies to your mobile content.


Learning a new language isn’t easy.  It requires time, persistence, and constant practice.  And while many of us have toyed with the idea of learning a second language – lets face it, most of us just don’t have that much extra time to invest.

Enter Duolingo- a mobile gaming app that makes language learning an easier mission. Duolingo offers bite-sized, personalized lessons that automatically adapt to each student’s progress. The lessons, available in more than 23 languages (including Klingon!) are  fun to complete, with questions and gaming challenges that incorporate listening, speaking, and translating tasks.  Duolingo is so popular that more than 100 million users have signed up to date – making it the most downloaded app in the Education category on both iTunes and Google Play.  In fact, more people now use the app to learn languages in the U.S. than in the country’s entire public school system.

So what is it about Duolingo that makes it so appealing?  Let’s break down its novel approach into five design strategies:

1. Mobile First Mentality

Duolingo practices a mobile-first mentality.  It is available on multiple platforms, including available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8.1. Because the lesson’s on your smartphone, you don’t have to sit in front of your computer when it’s time to learn. This makes learning more convenient and efficient – especially for learners on the go.

2. Bite-sized Lessons

Duolingo’s “bite-sized” lessons can be consumed in minutes, instead of hours. Duolingo breaks up lessons into mini-exercises that you can do while waiting for the bus, or standing in line. Chunks of time that were previously wasted suddenly become opportunities to improve your language skills. And it’s easy to tell yourself to do just a little bit every day.

3. Engaging Activities

Duolingo’s interface requires constant user attention and engagement. Interactive questions walk learners through lessons and reinforce concepts in various ways, like identifying words from photos or translating sentences. Users get immediate feedback and earn points when they successfully move through the content.  They can also track how far they’ve come, which encourages them to keep working and earn extra points.

4. Adaptive Content

Duolingo delivers personalized lessons that automatically adapt to each student’s progress.  The level by level curriculum can be compared to a tree-like structure. A beginner starts out at the roots, learning basics like vocabulary, and moves up and out through the branches to take on more challenging lessons like translation and pronunciation. As the learner progresses, the  tree  rearranges itself to suit each person’s learning style.  This adaptive approach to learning means that exercises and assessments presented to students are continually aligned to match their learning level and improve areas of weakness.

5. Data-driven Feedback

Duolingo uses the data generated by its 100+ million users to target learner problem areas and to constantly improve itself.


Interested in learning more? Check out the TED talk below from Duolingo founder Luis von Ahn.  Or try it yourself.  Duolingo can be accessed on the web or downloaded to your iOS or Android device.
[ted id=1295]

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