Winter Sunlight

A stray thought on learning and positive feedback

If you haven't used it, Duolingo is a language-learning site that's set up as a game, and a fairly fun one -- at least, it seems to work pretty well for me. You complete levels and earn points and rewards. After the year of French I took in 03/04, I started using Duolingo to keep me from forgetting it while I wasn't actively practicing it. But I got tired of it and stalled out after a little while.

I've started doing Duolingo's French course over again from the beginning, and I noticed something: they've redone the way that failure works, in a way that made it (for me, anyway) a lot more fun and rewarding to play. It used to be that if you got three wrong answers, you'd get knocked back to the beginning of the level and have to play it over again (plus you got a really unpleasant "failure noise"). But they don't do that anymore. There's no specific penalty for missing a question except that you get a few extra questions, focused on the word(s) or grammar point you got wrong.

And it makes the game SO MUCH MORE FUN and less stressful. I'm pretty sure the actual reason why I stalled out before is because I'd reached a point where I was missing words a lot, and failing to progress, and it just stopped being enjoyable. I noticed on the first couple of levels I played this time that I'd start to get tense after missing the first couple of words, and get super stressed on the next ones ... but then nothing bad happened, and I just relaxed and kept playing.

I mentioned this to my husband because he's an educator and it struck me as a useful data point regarding how people learn (or don't learn). It's just interesting to me because there is literally nothing whatsoever at stake in Duolingo, at least nothing at all that matters. There are no other people involved, so social stakes/embarrassment is not a problem; there's no grades, no money. The ONLY penalty used to be repeating the level (and having to listen to the failure buzzer), but just the repeated negative feedback of it was enough to tip me that little bit from "this is fun and rewarding" to "eh, can't be bothered".

But it's weirdly fun to get the little "happy noise" and points you get when you complete a level (once you've mastered a level, you get SPARKLES!), all out of proportion to the actual reward.

(... well, that and learning a language, obviously.)

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Oh that reminds me of that old educational software, Adi (might be French, I'm not sure. Adi was an alien). We had the one to learn English (very very basic. "give me the lorry" "give me the doll"). The animations of the animals whether you failed or succeeded were so hilarious that one way or another it was a lot of fun. OMG just thinking back of that monkey makes me laugh...
Heeee! :D Yeah, I think that making the process fun is a good way to help people learn -- kids or adults.
That's fascinating, and makes so much sense. Thanks for the tip about the site!
It's the most useful language-learning site I've tried, and it's all free! I feel like it's helping me a lot, at the very least helping to keep me from forgetting the words I already know.
That is an excellent observation about learning, and that way of language learning sounds really fun, actually. Too bad people who actually run educational systems don't pay more attention to things like that!!
Yeah, and in a classroom setting you have the additional problem that you have to motivate students somehow -- and grades are a great motivator! But I appreciate how much effort they've put into making this interesting and fun.
I completely agree! I'm impressed with their dedication to their users, even if nothing else were valuable about what they've done, you know?
Sounds like a fun way to learn, much more fun now they've removed the need to repeat the level. I can imagine that getting old really quickly - at least, I'd soon get fed up of it. Now the SPARKLES sound like a lot of fun and well worth completing a level for!! :D
This is really interesting. I attended a tech talk by the guy who created Duolingo one time while at a conference and he talked a lot about the decisions they made in this application to make the experience rewarding/useful/fun. It sounded to me back then that they're really approaching learning a language from a new angle and an interesting one, so I'm not surprised they kept on improving it. (He is the guy who invented re-captcha and he wanted to use lessons learned from it for crowd-sourcing learning a language...very neat stuff).
Ooh, that is fascinating to know! :D I think they did a really good job with it; there are a million different ways to approach teaching language to people, but I feel like Duolingo's method is the one I've found that is the most useful for my particular learning style (outside of a classroom setting anyway).
I've found it excellent, and very helpful! I think it's probably a lot more useful if you already have some grounding in the language and are mostly using it as a refresher, because they don't actually explain things all that well -- they kinda just drop you in. I think I'd be feeling more lost if I didn't already know a fair number of words and grammar points. But the actual interface for learning is really great.
That is a very astute observation and a keen reminder that my positive feedback is probably more beneficial to students in the long run than my criticism.
Yeah, it was fascinating for me to see the side-by-side difference in how I reacted to the negative-feedback version vs. the one that (mostly) only gives positive feedback -- the latter is much more useful and motivating for me! However, you do have the additional problem in a classroom setting that you have to motivate unmotivated people, and sometimes you need a stick to go with the carrot. XD Obviously I am just doing this for fun, so I'd rather have it be fun.
True true.

And I do have to point out mistakes in writing as well as praise the good stuff.

But I should probably do the latter more often than I do.
Ooh, I'll check this site out! I was just thinking that it'll be nice to try to refresh my German a bit, once I'm watching a german show now:)

I've been thinking lately how the future of news strikes me as more self-selecting than now, even, and with an AI running things, that could be curated even more easily and strongly. What I mean by "self-selecting" is that people may end up following types of news disproportionally, depending on their interest.

I think about this when I see the disparity between the things that blow up on my Twitter feed compared to whatever events are being reported by mainstream news outlets -- sometimes there's overlap, but sometimes it's COMPLETELY DIFFERENT things, because the things that matter to the niche of people I'm following might be very specialized. But I don't follow mainstream news outlets regularly, so the "large" events according to *my* consumption of news might be more accurately estimated according to what's "large" on my Twitter feed rather than on mainstream news. Because I'm self-selecting people who talk about things I find interesting, and Twitter also makes it easy for that to be self-reinforcing (where following people who talk about one thing ends up causing you to follow more people who talk about that thing), this ends up heavily curated toward my interests in a self-reinforcing way. I imagine the effect with an AI would be even more so: People start following news stories that interest them, and the AI offers suggestions of highly correlated stories, and eventually the news feed ends up highly correlated according to interest.

I imagine this effect has both positives and negatives -- it's positive because I'm getting a higher proportion of news I'm more actively interested in, but I suspect it's all too easy to end up in echo chambers where (1) one is not getting either unbiased or contrary viewpoints but only highly editorialized viewpoints in a single direction, and/or (2) one is ending up with a somewhat warped perspective of the world by simply not being aware of news events outside one's area of interest.

I'm a bit sleepy right now so I hope all that made sense.... ;)