Whenever I am getting to know newly hired employees during a training, one of the questions I ask them is what superpower they wish they could have. While the two most dominant answers are flight and invisibility, some of the other answers can tell you a surprising amount about your student. My answer to that question has always been to be fluent in every language. But alas, this is not a reality, and I am stuck having to learn languages. During my time as an undergrad at OSU I minored in Russian and not a day goes by that I wish I had more opportunities to practice the language and learn others. Fortunately, as the field of educational technology continues to advance, a wide range of tools now exist for learning languages.
One of the more interesting tools that has come to market for learning a langauge is Duolingo. This free platform offers a gamified approach to learning a multitude of languages on a variety of mobile and web-based platforms. In their own words there is “gamification poured into every lesson” and they seem to believe this approach leads to meaningful learning.
Recently they introduced Duolingo for Schools, which will open up the ability for teachers to track student progress on the platform. The idea is that this should aid teachers in establishing a blended learning approach to their curriculum. Research on blended learning has shown that it can offer incredible improvements in education. Admittedly, most of the work I have read on the subject is centered around adult learners, but it seems to be of great value for K–12 as well.
To aid with the implementation of this approach Duolingo has also developed a lesson plan for teachers to use. Additionally there is not a financial burden for a school to implement this approach. According to Duolingo this tool is “currently 100% free” and while that will never change they may introduce advanced tracking features at a cost in the future.
I mention this here as it is interesting to see Duolingo make a move into the K–12 and higher education markets, and it could be of value to langauge teachers. It will be interesting to see what progress they make in bringing on new users and what the monetization strategies are. For those interested in learning more about the program I recommend visiting their FAQ.
However, before I can close out this post I want to hit on two more points. First is the independent research that Duolingo references in their copy, which can be found here. Their copy suggests 34 hours of Duolingo use is equivalent to 1 university semester. I strongly recommend reading the research article they link to instead of just taking this at face value. The 34 hours is an average and the research considers only adult learners. It would be worth researching the impact on various K–12 groups and seeing if similar growth is accomplished there. Furthermore, there are some interesting points around motivation in the research and how that affected performance.
Finally, the last point I want to hit on relates to my concerns around the assumed socio-economic conditions of students. Duolingo requires access to either a mobile or desktop device with internet access. While it can often be difficult for many of us to admit, there are still many households and areas in which students do not have this kind of access. Teachers implementing these types of tools need to ensure their students are equipped with the necessary tools before implementing such a program.