By Indranil Sarkar
In an independent study conducted in 2012, researchers found that an average user of Duolingo, one of the most successful language learning apps with 100 million + users, learnt the equivalent of one college semester’s worth of content in just 34 hours. In comparison, Rossetta Stone which uses more traditional learning methods reached the same learning outcomes in 55 hours, scientifically establishing that Duolingo’s game-based adaptive learning approach was more effective.
Is this result really surprising? Is it just pure co-incidence that a platform that fits into an adult’s life, facilitates bite-sized learning on the go and makes the experience fun and practical has better learning outcomes? At nhance, we believe that this is the future of adult learning and Duolingo has taught us some important lessons that can be applied not just in language training, but also in learning business skills.
1. Understanding the barriers to adult learning
What are the barriers to adult learning? Knowles (1980) in an often-cited publication has identified five characteristics of adult learners. Adults: (a) Are autonomous and self-directed (b) Have accumulated prior education, experiences and knowledge (c) Are relevancy-oriented (d) Are more problem-centered than subject-centered (e) Are motivated to learn by internal, rather than external factors
2. How does Duolingo overcome each of the above barriers while teaching languages?
(a) Autonomous and self-directed asynchronous learning anytime, anywhere – Proponents of online learning have often discussed the incredible value of learning at your own pace. Whether you use Coursera, Udacity, Edx or any other learning platforms, you can learn when it suits you best. However, the delivery formats adopted by these platforms do not truly facilitate ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning. The videos are long (try streaming an hour long video on 2G in an Emerging market), the assessments require pen and paper to complete calculations and you need a significant block of focused time and attention to make progress. In comparison, Duolingo’s games are bite-sized, fun and allow people to use their ‘dead time’ (long commutes, breaks at work) to ‘feel productive’. The genius of the platform is that it doesn’t ask the user to alter their schedule to learn, it fits into their daily schedule and makes them feel good about learning.
(b) Platform is responsive to prior education, experiences and knowledge -As adults, we are terribly opinionated about what we know and how well we know it. The power of adaptive learning is that it gives users the freedom to skip lessons, test the knowledge that they may have acquired before and apply it to move ahead faster. The beauty of languages is that even knowing a few words and some context can help you tackle some advanced exercises. You may struggle and have to go back and revise the lessons but at least youfeel like your prior knowledge / education helped you in your journey.
(c) Learn what is relevant and useful – With languages, relevancy is much easier to tackle. A friend of mine took some Duolingo lessons in French before his trip to Paris and while he was far from being able to have a conversation, he knew enough to ask for directions, order food etc. Since everyone isn't lucky enough to test your knowledge with a native speaker or visit a country where a foreign language is spoken (we wish!), its easy enough to find online articles, audio or video clips which give users comfort that what they are learning is ‘relevant’.
(d) Problem-solving approach to learning – Duolingo’s game based platform structures learning as a series of problems or situations that users have to tackle / navigate. This application-based focus makes learning more real, prepares users to not just know a word, but be competent in its application in a real sentence or situation.
(e) Safe place to practice and learn – Duolingo provides a safe learning environment where mature adults want to learn and get better for intrinsic reasons. Their focus is primarily on improvement and competence, not on external factors such as the need to get credentials / certifications.
3. Can we overcome the barriers to learning business?
At nhance, we think of the fundamentals of business as a language. Business skills are a set of tools that prepare you to take optimal decisions both in your personal and professional life. In today’s world, knowing the basics of business can help you manage your money better, market yourself more effectively to potential employers or on a first date(!), and even streamline your daily routine and improve productivity by identifying and removing bottlenecks. Can we break down the barriers to learning business, just as Duolingo did with languages?
(a) Automonous and self-directed – Our approach to self-directed asynchronous learning is to view business skills through the lens of practical decision-making. Launching your own company? We can take you on a modular journey where you encounter a series of situations, digest bite-sized lessons and train yourself through application-based interactive games. A possible journey is one where you understand sources of capital, how to setup a business, generate profits, scale your business, evaluate performance and potentially sell your business. Similar to Duolingo, we fit into the business daily schedules of most professionals and make learning fun.
(b) We acknowledge that every adult knows something about business –Our game-based learning approach is meant to give users an opportunity to demonstrate what you know and apply business skills by solving real life problems you will encounter. Whether its starting your own company, or trying to market a new product as an employee of a large company, you will have the opportunity to utilize your existing knowledge and experiences to make better decisions.
(c) Making business learning relevant / useful – Business learners often have a variety of short-term / long-term objectives of learning business skills. Whether you want to succeed in an interview, start a new business, or get ahead in your business career, it is important to personalize these skills to cater to the user’s particular needs and end goals. At nhance, we personalize your learning journey by adding a combination of mini-business situations, interview tips career tips etc. delivered to optimize relevance and usefulness of these skills towards your desired end-goal. We give you a customized learning experience that has been created with your end-objectives in mind.
(d) Problem-solving approach to learning – This is an area where the potential opportunities in business are incredible. Everyday, there are new and exciting applications of business skills reported in the news around the world. As adults, we encounter opportunities to apply business skills throughout the day both personally and professionally and learn from individuals and institutions who are using these skills to make business decisions. How do we make users view their own worlds through the business lens?
(e) Learn for competency, not for credentials – Business education has moved from a credentials focus to competency focus over the past decade. With this continuing shift, it is even more essential for learners to be provided with a platform that can continuously track progress and learning, boost wavering motivation in the form of quick wins and achievements and arm users with practical business skills that can help them be more effective in their professional and personal lives everyday.