How to Make Smartphone Learning as Addictive as TikTok Using Gamification


In his TED Talk, Luis von Ahn argues that delivering high-quality education to the masses can fight inequality. He proposes using smartphones paired with gamification techniques employed by addictive apps to make learning irresistible. Von Ahn shares insights into Duolingo's methods, like streaks and passive-aggressive notifications from the owl mascot. He concedes TikTok may always be more engaging, but believes adding meaning can make up that last 10-20% engagement gap. Von Ahn's vision is a future where screen time enables equal access to education globally.

Timestamped Highlights

😄 Guatemala has better Mexican food than Mexico, just as Mexico is stricter on immigration than the US.
🎓 Von Ahn aimed to use tech to provide equal access to quality education globally and fight inequality.
🌎 They chose to first teach languages because the audience is massive, with ~2 billion learning, 80% tackling English as it directly boosts incomes.
📱 Reaching all economic classes meant building for smartphones as they're widely available compared to schools.
😋 On smartphones, addictive apps are like desserts. Learning must be desirable or people won't engage.
🔥 3 million+ Duolingo users have 365+ day streaks showing the power of gamification techniques like streaks.
🦉 Even the Duolingo owl mascot mocking people in passive aggressive notifications brings back inactive users.

Key Insights

Using Gamification Techniques Ethically: While streaks and notifications have been criticized in addictive apps, Duolingo shows they can ethically promote daily learning without spamming.
Competing with Social Media's Engagement: Educational apps likely can't surpass entertainment's engagement, but being 80-90% as engaging paired with internal motivation from meaning may suffice for mass adoption.
Fueling Inequality or Education: In poor countries especially, education often increases inequality as the rich access quality resources. But using smartphones for learning could provide high-quality education equally.
Gamifying All Subjects: Beyond languages, subjects involving repetition like math and science could become irresistibly engaging games advancing global education. Explanatory subjects may require good videos.
Notifications That Build Habits: Sophisticated AI found notifications work best 24 hours after last use. So instead of spam, well-timed reminders help instill educational habits.
Mastering Mobile Distraction: Despite pre-installed addictive apps, Duolingo attracted more US learners than all US high schools by skillfully directing screen time to education.
Engagement, Not Distraction: Social media often leaves people feeling they wasted time. So engaging learning, though not as addictive, provides meaning that closes the engagement gap.
This blog is a summary of a YouTube video "How to Make Learning as Addictive as Social Media | Luis Von Ahn | TED - YouTube" by TED