Learning app Duolingo sets its sights on the language of numbers • The Register

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The developers of the popular language teaching app Duolingo are turning to math education.

Founder and CEO Luis von Ahn sees his company’s approach to education gamification as a way to deter kids from distracting social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, according to an interview with the BBC.

“But the problem with smartphones is that they’re a double-edged sword – they also come with disruptive elements, like TikTok,” he told the royalty-funded broadcaster.

“We started with language learning because there was a huge need in the world to learn English, which can immediately increase your earning potential, but we always wanted to teach other things” , explains Von Ahn.

Duolingo is a well-known tech brand, but it’s not exactly a giant. According to SEC filings made before its IPO in July, it generated revenue of $ 161 million in 2020 (and a net loss of $ 15.776 million) but claims 40 million monthly users and was downloaded 500 million times in the world. It operates on a freemium model – with “about 73 percent” of its revenue coming from Duolingo Plus subscriptions (the paid tier), 17 percent from in-app advertising and 10 percent from its “English test. and other income “segment.

The company’s language applications use extensive A / B testing to determine how different groups of users – by native language, for example – respond to different structures in the presentation of lessons. At the same time, the level of difficulty is maintained, so that students have about an 80% chance of successfully completing a task.

But the jury questioned whether the application of mathematics would be as effective as its linguistic counterpart.

Von Ahn told the Beeb: “The hope is that this is how [the new maths app] stands out – but it remains to be seen if it works. “

Others are more skeptical of the approach. Martin Hassler Hallstedt, educational psychologist at the Swedish University of Uppsala, said: “Duolingo is a popular platform with strong credentials, but it is not scientifically proven for mathematics.

Meanwhile, it is proven that not all math learning is about learning numbers. Swedish scientists have been able to show that spatial memory training tasks can influence math skills.

The study of about 17,000 children between the ages of six and eight suggested that maintaining a spatial representation was crucial when it came to moving on to math.

Regardless of the approach, there are plenty of opportunities to improve math education in the UK.

While on average UK pupils perform better in mathematics than pupils in many other countries, the gap between the weakest and the best performing pupils is larger than the Organization for Cooperation and Development average. economic development (OECD). According to a study by the inspector of schools Ofsted.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said: “For too many children and young people, mathematics is mysterious and difficult, and this has implications not only for their future success, but also for their self-esteem. self.”

In the United States, too, math education (sorry math) could do better. In 2020, a international study of adolescents ranked the United States 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries and economies. ®


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