We may be seeing a breakthrough here, similar to that of the Khan Academy in maths. I’ve been using Duolingo for some time and recommended it to my son, who has a German girlfriend, and wants to pick up some basic German. People who have used it give it nothing but praise. The mix of exercises is good and, most of all, the commitment to practice, personalised practice, forcing you to refresh and strengthen your skills through spaced practice, is its real advantage. Apple named it ‘App of the Year’ in 2013.
Ever had to type in those annoying letters on a web form? That’s ‘Captcha’. Luis von Ahn, who invented this security technique, took his Captcha idea and used it to harness all of this global brain power to decipher failed OCR words, especially older faded text, with ‘Recaptcha’. That’s why you often get two words – the system knows one, not the other. Over 10% of the word’s population has helped digitise books. It’s a crowdsourced social good.
Duolingo was started by that same Luis von Ahn when he saw that similar techniques could be used for translation. People learn a new language for free but translate at the same time. Duolingo works as you ‘learn by doing’. You move on to learning with real content by translating real content. Duolingo combines the translation attempts instantaneously. This is being done for the likes of Wikipedia. So learners create value while learning. This is a great business model for education. One social good pays for the other.