(Not so) Duolingo

As part of EDTC 0560 course requirements, I downloaded the Duolingo App for Apple on my iPhone and decided to brush up on my French. Here’s a bit of a review based on my first week with the app.

Duolingo (/ˌdjuːoʊˈlɪŋɡoʊ/ DEW-oh-LING-goh) is a free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its language courses free of charge (Wikipedia).

Duolingo is a well-designed, engaging  app designed for modern consumers. The little owl mascot is appealing, too. It is much more visually interesting than the Gaelic program I used on my laptop six or seven years ago (free language programs have been around for a while, though mobile apps are more recent).

It’s a game, and I keep hearing about the potential of gamification in education. I’m not sure a student would get ‘lives’ in real world learning, but there is something about a game that makes it appealing to learners, so why not? On the other hand, I hope it means more than the box-ticking structure and awarding of xp that Duolingo presents. There has to be a more effective way to use gaming to teach a new language. For instance, I find watching a subtitled movie an interesting exercise in language acquisition….by the end I honestly believe I am translating in my head!

Effectiveness (for Test Takers)
Duolingo wants to be taken seriously as a language training application. A number of independent studies have been done around the effectiveness of the application around effectiveness, reliability, and the linking of the program to IELTS and scores, and Duolingo posts research findings and reports on its blog.

Effectiveness (in the Real World)
I have not made it very far up the lesson chain, but it’s starting to feel like deja vu all over again vis-a-vis rote repetition of unrealistic, non-conversational language. Elementary school all over again! The program phrases things differently than fluent language speakers do (formal vs conversational?). I keep thinking of a Francophone school friend who would shake her head in French class when asked if she could translate a phrase. There’s a reason 10 years of French classes didn’t result in my ability to speak French. There’s got to be a better way to acquire language in a useful way.

Adult Learning
I think the program would work well with young learners who do not require context and explanation in the way adults do. Why’d I get that wrong? What is the grammatical context?  Explain! At this point, I’m not quite prepared to say: “I for one, welcome our new robot language teaching overlords.”

CSAM Model

As part of a review of Collaborative Situated Active Mobile learning strategies: a new perspective on effective mobile learning, Robert Power (2013), I reviewed the theories, strategies, and reflective practices included  in the model.


Modern mobile technologies provide the opportunity for active exploration by learners of all ages. The CSAM model proposes that an engaging and appropriate level of challenge stimulates interaction, but not frustration, in learners. Grounded in learning theory, it puts an emphasis on interactivity on as many levels as possible between learners, content and authentic situations (Power, 2013).


CSAM is informed by models such as FRAME and learning theories such as Activity Theory, the Zone of Proximal Development, Flow Theory and Transactional Distance Theory.

Activity Theory – A system that connects contextual factors, such as individuals, groups, work settings, rules, and tools (Shambaugh, 2009) and enables learners to interact with materials.

Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) –  A model developed to facilitate the understanding of mobile devices as distance learning tools through a mode of learning that encourages learners to interact while temporally separated (Koole, 2009).

Flow Theory – A learning theory that focuses on what people can achieve when they reach an ideal state of engagement and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998).

Flow Zone – The state of learners who are engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging and results in a concentrated focus. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998).

mLearning – Learning across multiple contexts using personal electronic devices.

Theory of Interactivity – The interaction between learner-content, student-instructor, and learner-learner experienced in a distance learning environment (Moore, 1997).

Transactional Distance Theory – A learning theory that identifies the sense of separation is caused by the cognitive and physical distances between instructions and learners (Moore, 1997).

Zone of proximal development – Identifies the area of learning that occurs when a learner is assisted by a facilitator or peer with a higher skill set. (Chaiklin, 2003).

CSAM in the Context of Learning Theories

Power illustrates the four elements of the CSMA model and their basis in learning theory (right).


The CSAM model places an emphasis on controlling the interaction factor in managing the transactional distance. CSAM strategies include:

  1. Foster social, content and context interaction to enable learners to work together to develop concrete understandings and skill sets in authentic settings in order to satisfy previously abstract learning objectives (Power, 2013).
  2. Utilize mobile technologies and learner interactions to increase the range of learning tasks that students can achieve either individually or in groups.
  3. Enable the balance of challenge and engagement to focus students on required learning tasks.

The selection of learning strategies requires careful consideration of objectives, learner needs and available instructional resources. A strategy’s effectiveness is measured by its fit with these elements and its support from established learning theory.

Reflective Practice

Collaborative Does the design enable students to collaborate?
Situated Is the activity situated in a realistic content?
Active Do the students have an opportunity to engage with the content?
Mobile Are students freed of the traditional classroom?


Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. Vygotsky’s educational theory and practice in cultural context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Koole, M. (2009). A model for framing mobile learning. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile learning and the delivery of education and training, 25047. Edmonton, AB: AU Press.

Moore, M.G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical Principles of Distance Education, New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 22-38.

Shambaugh, N. (2009). A Scenario-Based Instructional Design Model. In P. Rogers, G. Berg, J. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice, & K. Schenk (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Second Edition (pp. 1820-1827). Hershey, PA.

CSAM in Program Revision

The program I am revising is a face-to-face intensive that would benefit from an infusion of appropriate technology. There is currently very low tech in the programs, but cell phones and iPads are ubiquitous with this audience. Because of this, mLearning might be more beneficial than e-learning in this situation. In any case, technology will serve to enhance a face-to-face experience. The program structure already lends itself well to the CSAM model:

Collaborative– (learner/resources, learner/learner and learner/instructor) Participants and facilitators share resources and develop a reference library. Facilitators provide case studies and guidance to enhance rising leaders’ skills and knowledge.

Situated- (learning is situated in a real life professional environment to make the learning more relevant). Case studies and personal situations are part of the current approach.

Active- (learners are actively engaged in constructing their learning experience). Groups build responses to case studies which are presented to and critiqued by other learners.

Mobile– (mobile technology is integrated into the curriculum).  Participants and facilitators regularly utilize mobile devices in their  professional lives.

21st Century Teaching: The Cracks In-Between

“Teaching in the 21st century is a thing. Teaching in the 20th century is not a thing, nor is teaching in the 19th century, unless it is in contrast to 21st century teaching. I am aware of this because I entered both terms into Google and a university library search bars and nothing came up (except for a scholarly article on the feminization of teaching in Brazil in the 19th century, which may warrant a peak). Technological advances have made 21st century teaching a thing and has led to the connectivism paradigm.

My Catholic school experience in the 70s and 80s was definitely informed by an objectivist perspective. By the time I was studying art education in the late 1980s, we were studying Piaget and Vygotsky’s views on constructivism. The art classroom was the perfect place to encourage students to construct their own learning, and to grow rather than progress. Student-created work, group projects, and critiques were the norm, with a side of slide presentations, lectures and testing. And, while my science, math, and history peers taught subjects more prone to the transmissive instruction model of my childhood, my generation of teachers had moved beyond being sages on the stage(s) and were starting to engage learning in more progressive ways. We called ourselves guides on the side.

Objectivist: An objectivist educator believes there is one true and correct reality which can be known to humans by using the objective methods of science. Generally referred to as transmissive instruction, where knowledge is transmitted from teachers to learners.

Constructivist: A constructivist educator believes knowledge is not independent of the learner, it is constructed. Knowledge can be constructed in by individual learners reorganizing their experiences and cognitive structures, or by communities of practice through social interaction.

Connectivist:  Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the www and among themselves. A connectivist teacher guides students to information and answers key questions as needed in order to support students learning and sharing on their own.

The 21st Century Teacher
Fast forwarding to the 21st century, learning can happen any time, anywhere, on any topic, and with any learning style. Technology is integrated into learning and connectivism  emerges. In his chapter on pedagogical differences between media, Bates (2015) identifies five media: text, audio, video, computing, social media. His identification of differences between the media is worth the creation of a chart to keep for posterity’s sake:


Is there anything missing from the types of technologies that Bates discusses?  With the speed of technological change, I imagine an article such as this would need to be revisited fairly frequently for tools updating, but his categories are strong. I do wonder whether the inclusion of a mobile learning category might be appropriate, as it seems to be moving towards a unique experience (m-learning) with opportunities for constant interaction, bite-sized learning, and geo-location sensitive learning. He does a great job differentiating between the five media when there are so many overlaps between them. Learning does not happen through the use of any screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-12-06-09-pmsingle media, or through any one domain. It can’t really be attributed to any one aspect of a learning environment: it happens in the cracks between these places, and the best thing that teachers can do is to provide opportunities for students to construct learning, through the deliberate choice of media. I feel like Bates is on it. He includes a scale that places media on a teacher control – learner control scale as broken down along objectivist, constructivist, and connectivist lines (see above).

Choosing Media
Deliberation in choosing media is a point Bates makes as well as the folks in COFA Online (2011).  According to them, issues to consider before choosing a technology for online teaching are:

  1. Pedagogy before technology (fit for purpose)
  2. Benefits of starting with something simple
  3. Importance of providing technical support to students

All Fun and Games?
Technology is fun and engaging. Knowing its pedagogical purpose, however, is critical when integrating it into a teaching environment. As the folks in COFA Online (2011) argue, knowing why you are going to use a technology is key to its introduction. 21st century teaching offers unique challenges and rewards thanks in part to the contribution of educational technologies. Teachers are so much more than sages on stage(s) or guides on the side. Reflecting back on a post by classmate Jim Hounslow (2016) in an earlier course about the many sides of the teacher in a connectivist environment, I illustrated the multi-faceted role of the 21st century teacher:

[Jim’s original sources were Master Artist, Seely Brown, (2006); Network Administrator, Fisher, (n.d.); Concierge, Bonk, (2007); and Curator, Siemens, (2007).]




Rahimi, A, Ebrahimi, N.A., Contemporary Online Language Education Journal, 2011, 1, 89-103. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/4696067/Constructivist_vs._objectivist_learning_environments

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning2(1), 3-10

Bates, A. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning, Ch. 7

COFA Online (2011), Learning to teach online: Considerations when choosing technology for teaching.

Mobile (M)-Learning

I viewed a vodcast in which Rob Power discussed the difficulties in defining mobile learning and why mobile technologies are important in teaching and learning with International Association for Mobile Learning President Dr. Aga Palalas.

One of the ‘bad raps’ e-learning has been burdened with is that it is merely the transference of face-to-face learning to an electronic format; an interaction with technology.  Mobile learning, on the other hand, was never intended to imply mobile technologies; its unique pedagogical advantages and characteristics are not based on the technology. Instead, as Palalas points out, technological tools enable or mediate mobile learning. John Traxler supports this view by suggesting that definitions and descriptions of mobile learning are rather techno-centric, not very stable and based around a set of hardware devices, which serve to draw attention to mobile learning’s technical limitations rather than promoting its unique pedagogic advantages and characteristics.  Notably, Traxler points out that m-learning can provide learning to individuals, communities and countries that were previously too remote, socially or geographically, for other types of educational initiative. A recent example – For the past 3 years, UNESCO has been working to provide advice and guidance to governments and other stakeholders seeking to leverage increasingly ubiquitous and affordable mobile technologies for learning http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/themes/icts/m4ed/.

Items of interest from the class discussion forum on the topic:

  • Your device is an access point. The information you found on Google is the supporting resource that you accessed, because the device enabled you to. The mLearning encompasses why you needed the information, how you accessed it, and then what you did with those resources. (Rob)
  • Posted by Angela (via Gutierrez):




John Tranier, International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 1(1), 1-12, January-March 2009. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/171500/Learning_in_a_Mobile_Age

Karla Gutierrez, Understanding The Difference Between eLearning and mLearning, 2015. Retrieved from http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/difference-between-elearning-and-mlearning