Yoda: Duolingo – Free Online Education Makes Money

03 Economy, 04 Education
Got Crowd? BE the Force!

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The Cleverest Business Model in Online Education

A startup called Duolingo taps the power of crowds to make learning a language free.

A startup called Duolingo taps the power of crowds to make learning a language free.

Tom Simonite

MIT Technology Review, 29 November 2012

Learning a new language is tedious and demands a lot of practice. Luis von Ahn doesn’t want all that effort to be wasted. In fact, it might be a gold mine.

Von Ahn, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is the co-creator of Duolingo, a free language-­learning site that turns students into an online workforce. His software uses their answers to simple exercises in a translation service that he expects to charge money for.

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It’s clever stuff: an education that pays for itself. That achievement is important as education moves toward being given away online (see “The Most Important Educational Technology in 200 Years”). Teachers and universities are now running into the same problem journalists and movie studios have faced: how will they make any money if the content is free? No matter how cheap it is to pipe information across the Web, producing lessons and coursework is still demanding and expensive.

Duolingo, which launched in June, has raised $18.3 million in venture funding (see “Startup Has Language Learners Translating the Web”). It offers English lessons for Spanish and Portuguese speakers and lessons in Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese for English speakers. Around 300,000 people now use it each week.

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