Duolingo Product Study


The primary KPI to drive up is user retention.
The secondary KPI to drive up is engagement, specifically time spent and frequency.

Value Proposition and Desired Impact

Based on literature, informal user research, and product reviews on mobile and web platforms, Duolingo users want to feel like they are in control of their learning. Duolingo users come from different cultural backgrounds, learning styles, and motivations to invest in learning a language.

With this in mind, how can we improve targeted, learner-centered goal-setting and personalized notifications to increase user retention and enhance learner engagement? Research on self-efficacy and motivation indicates that setting specific and measurable goals can help promote long-term retention, increase commitment, and foster growth mindset.

To encourage long-term retention, we want Duolingo users to set weekly goals to encourage Duolingo users to come back to the app multiple times throughout the week. This style of goal-setting encourages growth mindset and incremental progress, rather than discouraging users who skip one or two days. We can guide learners based on their prior experience using relevant goal-setting, and use their past sessions to create tailored notifications.

Target Users

New users: Foster user investment by prompting users to set an initial goal
Existing users: Remind existing users to revisit goals and follow through with their goals


Set weekly goals in terms of the number of lessons learned per week


In this use case, new users select how many lessons they want to learn every week during the onboarding process. Compared to daily goals of reaching 5-20 minutes a day, these revised goals are more relevant and meaningful for the student. Setting specific and relevant goals helps establish user investment early on, prompting users to spend time and effort interacting with the app that ultimately makes the experience more valuable to them.

Personalized Notifications

Introduce personalized, non-intrusive notifications.

We only have one chance to ask users to turn on notifications, so it is crucial to ask users to turn on notifications after there is substantial user investment, using a soft opt-in. After setting a goal, the user will be more likely to turn notifications on because they want to be reminded of their personal goal.

We want to improve notifications by making them customizable and meaningful.


Customizing notification frequency gives users control over their progress. With the soft opt-in, users can decide how often they want to learn based on their personal learning goals. In future iterations, the app can ask users if they want to increase their goals as they continue to use the app over time. The primary goal is to start with small, meaningful goals, and then encourage incremental progress later on.

In terms of long-term retention, the novelty of earning game rewards fades over time. Reminding users of their personal goals incentivizes learners to continue using the app. The app sends a meaningful message that reminds the user of their previous goals. Based on the personalization principle in e-learning design, incorporating a conversational style can enhance learning.

Using an informal tone activates a sense of social presence in the learner, which subsequently causes the learner to engage in deeper cognitive processing during learning. Additionally, content-related notifications can pique the user’s interest, encouraging them to click on the notification to keep learning. For example, holiday-related notifications are one way to help to promote transfer of learning and applying content to the real world.

What’s Next?

There are risks associated with how the goals and notifications are tailored to users. Different users will have different goals, and those need to be more heavily considered during the onboarding process. In next steps, I would conduct more user research to understand motivations of different Duolingo users to improve personalization, ensuring the correct features are delivered to the relevant audience.

The main insight brought forth in this proposal is to explore opportunities to enhance learners’ internal motivation of learning a new language, combined with external triggers. Different variations of the proposed tests can be done to balance intrinsic motivation through goal-setting, with extrinsic motivation in notifications, for both new and existing users.

Duolingo should continue to improve its personalization of goal-setting and reminders to keep users motivated to learn, and guide users to take control of their learning progress.


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Mayer, R.E. (2014). Principles based on social cues: Personalization, voice, and image principles. In R.E.Mayer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed., pp. 345–368). New York: Cambridge University Press. Summarizes how social cues such as conversational style, human voice, polite wording, and human‐like gesture can promote deeper learning.