I’ve been using an app called Duolingo for a few months to learn Spanish. For the most part, I am enjoying the experience and look forward to some opportunities to use Spanish in school settings or while traveling. The app, used by hundreds of thousands of people, has become the most used one for learning a new language.

Duolingo is a game where you receive points (XPs) every time you engage and complete a task. As a beginner, you are placed in a league with other novices who hope to go to the second level, the third level, etc. all the way up to the highest league which is called, Diamond, a place where one plays to remain and not get demoted.

Not everyone succeeds in ascending to each level. You have to be in the top 5 or 10 to get promoted. So, in addition to learning a language, Duolingo wants us to get hooked on competing which, I’m guessing, encourages more engagement and learning. This is what some refer to as gamefied learning.

In the Diamond league, there are folks who regularly accrue 10-20,000 XPs. In addition to hours of time, this requires a knowledge of how to game the system. In my opinion, this switches the emphasis from learning to winning which is counterproductive.

That said, in order for me to remain in Diamond, I choose to do a little competing, too. I’ll admit it – I don’t want to get demoted, but I’m also totally fine about not winning. That’s always been my MO. I like to compete and win, but not if it’s going to tip the sport or game into something unfruitful or unfriendly. Been there done that and it ain’t pretty.

Instead, I show up every day and focus on the learning and the fun as my first and second priorities. I realize that my gaining lots of points means some people with less XPs will get demoted, but I didn’t design the game. Is this a rationale? Probably.

I’m curious if you have any thoughts. Or do you see this in other apps or areas of life? Are we hooked on competing and does it serve us?

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