This Company May Hold the Secret to the Future of Education

20 Jun

Guatemalan Luis von Ahn, Co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, and inventor of CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, speaks about ‘The Beginning of New TIME: Key 2, Capture’ during the opening ceremony of the Seoul Digital Forum in Seoul, South Korea on May 21, 2014.
[ Jeon Heon Kyun—EPA ]

By Victor Luckerson

It was just 18 months ago that we were living in the “Year of the MOOC.” Massive open online courses—MOOC for short—were supposed to revolutionize the way people learned and deliver high-quality education to the masses. But the idea faced a tough 2013. The co-founder of Udacity, an early pioneer in free online education, admitted that his company initially had a “lousy product,” while studies showed that hardly any students were actually completing the courses offered by such services at all.

Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and CEO of language learning service Duolingo, says MOOCs make little sense for the digital world. von Ahn runs what is arguably the hottest educational tool online at the moment, but he’s also a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Even he admits that lectures, especially delivered via webcast, can be pretty boring. “You take a lecture that’s not all that great and put it on video, it’s actually going to be worse,” he says. “Typically, the things that succeed the most online are the things that are better online than offline. Think about email versus mail.”

von Ahn believes he has developed a platform that can indeed be better online—and on smartphones. Duolingo, which turns two years old this week, offers bite-sized lessons in French, Spanish, English and several other languages for beginners and intermediate-level speakers. Users learn vocabulary words, grammatical structures and even proper pronunciation by speaking into their device’s microphone. The service guides students through a battery of challenges, awarding points and badges for correct answers. Users can compete with friends who are learning the same languages.

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Posted by on June 20, 2014 in MOOCs in the News



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