Duolingo: Using gamification to enhance user engagement in the present

Clowning Around by Maria Shaw

Challenging yet fun

Last year in preparation for my travels to the French speaking part of Canada, I signed up to learn French through Alliance Francaise. Soon after commencing a classmate recommended that I also try the language learning app Duolingo Using Duolingo significantly accelerated my acquisition of beginners French. Although using it was challenging, it was also fun. As a former high school teacher I was intrigued that I had become hooked on what appeared to be learning using an almost childlike game that focused on rewards.

Screenshot DuoLingo Learn French
Learn French, Screenshot DuoLingo

Interestingly, Duolingo’s website states that as at September 2017, ‘200 million students are learning a language with Duolingo’ and that in its design ‘gamification is poured into every lesson to make language learning more fun and effective’ (Duolingo 2017).

Curiosity stimulated experiment

My intrigue motivated me to design, conduct and document via video a mini-case study to determine whether and or how much Apostol, Zaharescu and Alexe’s (2013) identification of the eight elements of games (as below) that are used in the gamification of learning, are used by Duolingo. I used this lens to determine how successful Duolingo was in its aim to enhance user engagement in the present?

Elements of games used in gamification
Created by Maria Shaw using Piktochart

Questions linked to the eight elements used in gamifying learning

The video case study includes footage of my 6 year old niece Claire and 10 year old nephew Noah using Duolingo to learn French. It also includes an interview with the children’s mother Angela on her observations on the children using the gamified app. The interview questions are designed to focus on the eight elements of games used in the gamification of learning through the Duolingo app to determine if and how successful Duolingo’s aim to enhance user engagement in the present is.

Background and context for learning French

The children were motivated to trial learning French through Duolingo as their Father is a native French speaker and coincidentally his French parents were also visiting Australia at the time too.  It should be noted that the children had only a few basic words of French before beginning to use Duolingo and that their French grandparents had only a marginal grasp of English.


I deliberately chose to film the children side on. I’m aware that this is an unusual view but filming the children front on didn’t show them using Duolingo on their iPads. Filming them from behind only showed their iPads and didn’t capture their personalities and or body language – that I thought was just as revealing.

I reasoned that as the video was not about how to use Duolingo and was about determining whether the program enhanced user engagement in the present, that filming both children side on where possible was the strategy most likely to achieve my purpose. The following video was recorded after the children had been using Duolingo daily for three weeks.

Achievement Unlocked, Duolingo Screenshot

Mini Video Case study on Duolingo’s enhancement of user engagement through gamification

Enhanced user engagement in the present

The content of the video proved my proposition that the gamification of learning in Duolingo is highly successful in its aim to enhance user engagement in the present. The children were highly engaged in using Duolingo and it enhanced their user engagement in the present in so many different ways.

Sharpshooter, Screenshot Duolingo
  • The children’s natural instinct to learn was supported and encouraged through Duolingo’s use of gamified feedback and rewards.
  • Their confidence in learning and using their beginners French significantly increased in a short time – which created a sense of mastery.
  • As Duolingo is free the children were not constrained in using it daily. This is very empowering for children as they don’t usually have a great deal of choice or say in how family resources are allocated.
  • The children’s fledging grasp of beginners French deepened their French grandparents’ engagement with their grandchildren in the present, enriching their relationships and creating positive memories for all in the present.
  • It has also facilitated an ongoing opportunity for Noah and Claire to communicate via their weekly Skypes with their grandparents who have now returned to France.
Games by Maria Shaw

What I learned

In making the embedded video I learned:

  • when you think you have enough footage recorded – double it.
  • drafting a structured pre-video script saves time, reduces frustration and hones my message.
  • conduct test recordings on lighting, sound and locations prior to filming to maximise recording conditions.
  • using standard filming shots is probably easier for an audience to decode.
  • film children when they are fresh – usually in the morning.
Jumpy castle
Jumpy Castle by Maria Shaw

(663 words not including diagrams, citations and captions)


Apostol, S Zaharescu, L & Alexe, I 2013, ‘Gamification of learning and educational games’ eLearning & Software for Education, issue. 2, pp. 67-72, doi: 10.12753/2066-026X-13-118

Duolingo 2017, What is Duolingo?, Duolingo, retrieved 30 December 2017, <https://support.duolingo.com/hc/en-us/articles/204829090-What-is-Duolingo-&gt;.

Faiella, F & Ricciardi, M 2015, ‘Gamification and learning: A review of issues and research’, Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, v.11, n.3, pp. 13-21, retrieved 16 December 2017, EBSCOhost.

Kim, B 2015, ‘The popularity of gamification in the mobile and social era’, Library Technology Reports, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 5-9 , retrieved 17 December 2017, EBSCOhost.

Kim, B 2015, ‘Gamification Examples, Definitions and Related Concepts’, Library Technology Reports, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 10-16, , retrieved 18 December 2017, EBSCOhost.

Leaning, M 2015 ‘A study of the use of games and gamification to enhance student engagement, experience and achievement on a theory-based course of an undergraduate media degree’ Journal of Media Practice, v.16, n.2, pp.155-170, doi: 10.1080/14682753.2015.1041807


Around the Bend by Evan Schaeffer (CC BY 2.0 – permission provided)


Duolingo 2017, Achievement unlocked, overachiever retrieved 24 December 2017, https://www.duolingo.com/

Duolingo 2017, Achievement unlocked, sharpshooter retrieved 22 December 2017, https://www.duolingo.com/

Duolingo 2018, Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free, retrieved 27 January 2018, https://www.duolingo.com/course/fr/en/Learn-French-Online

All other images used, photographed by Maria Shaw, January 2018

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