How to make learning as addictive as social media: Insights from Luis Von Ahn’s TED Talk

Posted in News & Press  ·  23rd June 2024

In his TED Talk, Luis Von Ahn, co-founder of Duolingo, reveals how he aims to make learning as engaging as social media by using similar psychological techniques that keep users hooked on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

Key points

  1. Background and motivation: Von Ahn’s upbringing in Guatemala and his mother’s significant sacrifices for his education motivated him to create accessible learning opportunities.
  2. Choosing foreign languages: They chose language learning due to its immediate impact on income potential and the large global demand for English.
  3. Mobile accessibility: Recognizing the impracticality of building physical schools, they focused on smartphone-based education, accessible to a vast population.
  4. Engagement techniques: Duolingo employs methods like streaks and notifications to keep users motivated. The streak feature, for instance, tracks consecutive days of use, incentivising continuous engagement.
  5. Freemium model: Duolingo’s business model offers free education, supported by ads and optional premium subscriptions. This setup allows for wealth redistribution, with well-off users subsidizing education for those in poorer regions.

Our perspective

We find this TED Talk truly inspirational. From humble beginnings and a significant sacrifice by his mother, Luis Von Ahn has created a globally recognised brand and app. The freemium model that he and his team have developed, where wealthy users fund free access for others, is nothing short of genius. This approach underscores the profound importance of education and demonstrates how passionate entrepreneurs can drive global improvements.

Von Ahn’s work also offers valuable insights into human behaviour and psychology, particularly learning habits and game theory. For instance, the effectiveness of streaks in maintaining user engagement is supported by research on habit formation, such as the study by Lally et al. (2010), which found that it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Additionally, the use of gamification in education, as studied by Hamari et al. (2014), shows significant increases in motivation and engagement.


Luis Von Ahn’s TED Talk highlights the incredible potential of using addictive techniques from social media to make learning both engaging and accessible. By leveraging these strategies, platforms like Duolingo can revolutionise education and offer equal opportunities for learners worldwide. This is a superb example of how education can be a powerful equaliser, driven by innovative thinking and a deep understanding of human behaviour.

For more insights, you can watch the full TED Talk by Luis Von Ahn here.


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