How Duolingo has gamified learning

The language app has 19 million daily active users, but what’s the secret to its success?

How Duolingo has gamified learning

Duolingo has risen to the top of the language learning market. With 19 million daily active users by August 2023, but how has the company succeeded where others have failed?

Sensor Tower has analysed the app’s performance and attributes the app’s success to the gamification of its elements with features which encourage consistent engagement.

Among these features are quests and limited-time activities, rewards in the form of animations and fanfare when players expand their streaks, and even additional chances for users to earn in-game currency by gambling on their streaks.

The introduction of these elements in 2022 led to a significant reduction in churn - 37%, compared to 47% in 2020. The number of power users - those that open the app more than 15 days a month - rose significantly over the same timeframe, reaching over 30% compared to 20%.

Among these gamification features is the introduction of the “streak” feature, incentivising daily app usage. By encouraging daily use, as well as offering a regularly updated leaderboard that lets users see their friends’ progress - and encourages them to congratulate each other for their progress.

Learn to win

This has allowed it to stand out in a crowded market. Sensor Tower notes that while users of other language learning apps are likely to use Duolingo as part of their efforts, committed Duolingo users are less likely to use rival apps such as Memrise and Tandem.

This strong brand loyalty allows Duolingo to put less of a focus on user acquisition, instead enhancing services for existing users, for example through the recent integration of GPT-4 (available to the public as ChatGPT) technology.

Usage of language apps tends to peak late in the day, with Duolingo leading the way with more than 25% of users using the app between nine and eleven PM. Sensor Tower notes that this suggests that Duolingo has successfully encouraged users to “adopt a habit of practicing language learning late in the day, possibly to maintain their app usages ‘streak’”.

The gamification has proven to be a hit with users, with 20% of reviews in 2022 and early 2023 praising the app’s fun-related aspects, compared to 6% of reviews of competing apps. Sensor Tower notes that this suggests that Duolingo is “well-prepared to navigate the challenges posed by the ascent of generative AI”, as it serves as both “a language learning platform but also an entertaining source.”

In other Sensor Tower news, the company found that 37 of July’s top 100 mobile game publishers came from China.


Staff Writer

Lewis Rees is a journalist, author, and escape room enthusiast based in South Wales. He got his degree in Film and Video from the University of Glamorgan. He's been a gamer all his life.