Duolingo and gamification


Learn a new language and peak the scoreboard!

One of today’s hot topics in digital media is the use of gamification. For everyone to be on the same level, gamification is using game mechanics in a non-gaming environment. The use is widespread, but in my opinion no one is as succesful as Duolingo.com.


Duolingo launched for the general public on 19 June 2012 supporting an array of languages on a totally add-free site. The site thrives on a crowd-sourcing model where each user-translated sentence contributes to translating a part of the web. This way sites like Wikipedia are aided in keeping the Spanish version on level with the English.

This idea could not stand alone, though. Duolingo needs people actually wanting to translate the material, and the obvious way to accomplish this is letting people learn a language while having fun doing so. Their way of doing this is simple but brilliantly executed through a variation of gamification elements.

Player types

As a user you progress while learning. Taking more courses awards you with points and let’s you move further down the skill-tree unlocking new courses.

This element plays on people’s  liking of achieving defined goals. Game researcher Richard Bartle labels this type of player ”The Achiever”, which is one of four cornerstones in game personas:

  • Achievers – like to achieve defined goals such as levelling up, gaining points etc.
  • Socializers – like hanging out with other people (either as themselves or role-playing a character)
  • Explorers – like discovering new parts of the world
  • Killers (also known as Griefers) – like to dominate and upset others

In a similar categorization Nicole Lazzaro, president of XEO-Design, divides gamers according to their emotional engagement and the level of seriousity:

  • Hard Fun – players who like the opportunities for challenge, strategy, and problem solving. Their comments focus on the game’s challenge and strategic thinking and problem solving.
  • Easy Fun – players who enjoy intrigue and curiosity. Players become immersed in games when it absorbs their complete attention, or when it takes them on an exciting adventure.
  • Serious Fun or Altered States- players who get enjoyment from their internal experiences in reaction to the visceral, behavior, cognitive, and social properties.
  • People Fun – players who enjoy using games as mechanisms for social experiences and enjoy the social experiences of competition, teamwork, as well as opportunity for social bonding and personal recognition that comes from playing with others
Duolingo points and scoreboard

Duolingo points and scoreboard

In an environment of self-learning Duolingo places itself in the field between Hard Fun and Serious Fun, where the user can strive for more points in combating your own (and to some extend other’s) skills and overcoming challenges. There is a surprisingly small amount of social integration in this gamification system. But somehow Duolingo manages to immerse the achiever-type-of-player in a truly rewarding educational experience.

With one million users they’re obviously doing something right.

Try it out for yourself at www.duolingo.com


Lazzaro, Nicole (2004) Why We Play Games:

Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story Abstract March 8, 2004


Bartle, Richard (2004) ‪Designing Virtual Worlds



2 thoughts on “Duolingo and gamification

  1. Pingback: Why Game Design Isn't Just For Engineers | Intelligent.lyIntelligent.ly

  2. Pingback: Social TV – Getglue.com | The Academic Lunchbox

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