Duolingo – an example of a “platform revolution” in Education.

     The disruptive power of collaboration through orchestration


Two months ago I started refreshing my German using an app called Duolingo. Since then I’ve become a big supporter and clearly I’m not the only one :  after only 4 years, 120 million people across the world use the free Duolingo app to learn a new language doing about 6.5 billion exercises every month.


Why has Duolingo become the largest language education platform in the world ?

At the first level I could talk to you about the obvious drivers for it’s success which made me totally hooked :

  • it’s ease of use anytime/anywhere/any device (cloud and smartphone centric),
  • it’s intelligence to detect the things I really struggled with using big data, and of course
  • it’s engagement ability through gamification that kept me using Duolingo every single day since two months (talking about creating adoption of a product) !

And yet this does not explain the real disruptive nature of Duolingo. Some  App’s I use  are successful for the same reasons but are not so disruptive. Why ?

Duolingo – an example of a platform revolution in Education.


A word we tend to see a lot when we read about digital disruption is the “the power of a platform strategy.” The authors that first coined that word even wrote a book about it.  “The platform revolution” is  a comprehensive recap of what makes a platform so disruptive often referring to the same examples Uber and Airbnb.



Summarized, a platform strategy creates and orchestrates an ecosystem of individuals that are both contributor, producer and user of the content of the platform.

Two notions are key :

  • While users enjoy the value of consuming content  they enrich the content and thus create value at the same time for other users.
  • We speak of a network effect as the more people are in the ecosystem the more value is created for the ecosystem.


The now famous paper napkin drawing by the Uber founder simply illustrated that vicious circle dynamic (linking more taxi drivers with more demand).

But rather than illustrating the platform again with Uber, let’s focus on Duoligo


Duolingo, unseen scaleability enabled by users co-creating the language platform

That vicious circle dynamic is what makes Duoligo so amazing as it’s proper user community is actually using the platform but at the same time building the content to make a full language course, TOGETHER. This way in just a couple of years it has been able to create 66 different language courses across 23 languages; with 22 additional courses in development. This way it is very likely that Duologo will one day come out with a West Flemish (my personal dialect) language course !

Duologo insipired by CAPTCHA

you have to see that  TED VIDEO


Before launching Duolingo, it’s founder Luis von Ahn had already demonstrated the power of massive-scale online collaboration : he invented reCAPTCHA, which is the text you type in to show the website you are human. You may not have realized it  but you were actually helping to decipher / read the letters of a scanned ancient book. At a ratio of 100million words a day this is the equivalent of 2.5 million books a year !

In the same video, van Ahn explains how Duolingo uses the same platform capabilities to create massive scale online collaboration.


As a digital optimist I hope this post will not only make you understand the dynamics of  disruptive digital collaboration but will also demonstrate that there is still a bright future for solving unsolvable problems marrying a digital platform with the scale of human collaboration.