Feature Friday: The Dashboard
Our portfolio company Duolingo did something interesting this week. They launched a new product by adding a dashboard to the existing product.
For those that don’t know, Duolingo is the most popular language learning app on mobile phones (and the web) around the world.
They saw many students and teachers around the world adopting the Duolingo app as learning tool in the classroom even though Duolingo was built as a horizontal product without any specific use cases in mind. So they thought that building a version specifically designed for schools would be a good idea. And the big new feature that allowed them to do that was a dashboard for teachers. The students use the same app they’ve always used and the teachers get a tool to help them understand, manage, and react to each student’s individual progress.
This is a great example of the consumerization of vertical applications and markets. There are plenty of companies that try to sell technology into schools and school systems top down. They build all the features to support schools day one and then attempt to get schools and school systems to purchase their product.
Duolingo was shipped as a free mobile and web app that anyone can use to learn a language. Teachers and students adopted it. And then Duolingo shipped a single feature, the dashboard, that makes the service way more useful and impactful in the classroom.
Duolingo is entirely free to use, including the new Duolingo for Schools. Duolingo monetizes its business by providing certification services like Duolingo Test Center. I wrote a bit about this freemium model in education last summer. I think its a powerful model when combined with a bottoms up (consumer) go to market approach.
I think this is part of the equation, but I don’t think we are entirely there yet when it comes to online education supplanting in person education. Duolingo can help you learn a language faster though-and can help teachers turn the classroom around so students don’t endure boring lectures during class time.
i agree and hope i didn’t suggest something else. i believe the answer in education is not to replace teachers, but instead to give teachers tools so that they can teach more and ideally in one to one settings. i also think project based learning vs lectures is really important.
Yes sir, agree with you. You didn’t suggest that. I think that people have that impression in general when it comes to MOOC’s, and other tech efforts to disrupt education. I don’t think education will be disrupted inside the system. The bureaucrats want to control it. That puts limits on innovation.
To a Twitter exchange (https://twitter.com/brookly… earlier this week, I think the key innovation is the hybrid model and flipped classrooms.Give students a “best of” set of lectures and readings on-line to do at home, and then use classroom time for practice.For languages, that means using classroom time for hands on practice speaking, listening, and writing, with grammatical study and exemplar dialogues (e.g. comprehension quizzes) done online.This is what we do at Relay Graduate School of Education – students do readings and watch exemplar videos of teaching best practices at home which leaves classroom (i.e., professor) time on campus for actual practice and coaching of teaching strategies and techniques.The model of 400 students sitting in person listening to a grad student do a lecture is what has probably passed to be replaced by lectures viewed on-line by various global experts in the discipline/subject at hand.
My stepdaughter (10 years old) was face-timing the other night with a classmate for several hours working on a project. First time I ever saw that happen (didn’t happen with my kids when they were that age obviously). She had two laptops. One laptop was the facetime the other was the project.I don’t know much about this area but I’m curious if anyone has taken the lead in facilitating this type of assistance from teacher to pupil or pupils.Would seem that one teacher could handle many pupils working simultaneously. Similar to how phone call centers juggle customers in parallel not serial.  You call them, they say “let me look up your records” then they pickup another call and put them on hold. I don’t know this for a fact, never read it, nobody told me, but it must be what they are doing. And it makes sense. Like multiplexing.
Have you seen this from MS Skype:* https://www.youtube.com/wat…She may soon be working with other kids in other countries on her homework.Can you imagine the teachers setting homework like “Write an essay on life in country X” and being able to see a friend in another country making their national dish / take part in a festival etc and getting the live translation?
It would be awesome to say the least.I remember when I first did business on the internet (1996) and had a customer in Indonesia.  In a previous business I only had customers in “center city”. Rare to get people (because of the type of business) that were 30 miles away. To me that was the coolest thing. When I stopped keeping track (late 90’s) I think I was up to 70 foreign countries. Now of course it’s no big deal. I also noticed how nicely I was treated by foreigners and the respect that they had for people in our country (at least the ones that I dealt with).This all is great. I thought “surabaya” was the name of a person, a woman, not a city.
Yup, the most wonderful thing about the Web and its technologies are that they bring people from different countries and cultures together and open up new relationships and experiences for everyone as well as produce the cross-pollination of ideas and approaches.Imagine that just 100 years ago we’d have had to travel weeks on a ship if we wanted to see someone in another country.
Brilliant bottoms up strategy, aka “surrounding the ghost” in sales speak.
I’ve never heard that. Care to elaborate?
Suppose you have a key decision-maker that you need to influence but you haven’t been able to get to them, or they aren’t supportive of your solution. So you identify who is around them and you work on influencing them or bringing them on board, and then it becomes easier for that key person to come on-board because people around them (who they trust) are already on-board (in this case it’s the students).
Cool, thanks for the details. Yeah, pretty much a variant of solution selling but I had never heard the “ghost” term used.
It’s because the “big kahuna” decision-maker is often elusive and hard to reach, hence the “ghost” analogy.
Nice post. Re: selling into education — I recently saw a 12 page org chart (yes, 12 pages of bubbles and lines) of a well know (top 25) private universities “advancement” dept (fundraising dept). Someone in that dept mentioned to me that they tried to get everyone to switch from a pay-for (cloud) conference call system that costs $10k+ a year to a free one.Not a single person would switch over. That’s an internal pitch from a colleague to dial a different set of numbers + a pin code to save $$. No takers.
Not a single person would switch over.Exactly. But that’s also one of the reasons that anything that is easy can be easily snatched from you. If people are fickle they aren’t locked in to a vendor.Interestingly, a competitive paid system paradoxically might have had an easier time of getting them to switch?Why?Because if you charge for something you can then pay someone to sell (or market) it and educate customers on the reason to make a switch.Also many old timers believe “you get what you pay for” and so on.Plus not paying for something (like gmail for example) means there is typically no guarantee of anything and nobody cares as much if they lose the business (if you want to call it that). And the believe that “must be a catch” or “that will change and not be free forever”.Lastly, another issue is that 10k isn’t big money when it’s not your money. Meaning one of the major issues in companies is what is the personal benefit to someone saving the department $10,000 exactly? I run into this frequently when trying to buy things from companies meaning “pay them”.  Unless the dollars are really large, nobody has a vested interest in making a deal happen. What do they get for doing so? More work to do.Small company is different. There is an owner who pockets the money. And if an employee were to save them $10k or even $1k they would definitely be appreciated. I’m talking about things that they don’t sell as a product or service, meaning there is no compensation or pat on the back feedback setup for outlier events..
yeah. it was an anecdote — you point out the many influences and forces that go into it and I agree with you. The short of it is that there is pretty much an army of unmotivated ticket punchers that don’t want to be bothered with changes.
Old school systems to achieve the motivation to change used to be giving gifts to purchasing agents. You still see this in some catalogs. “Choose any of these gifts when placing your first order”.My first big contract, out of college, I got by making a visit to the secretary to the head of the hospital.  I found out that she liked all sorts of fancy paper in bright colors. So I walked up and gave her a fanbook of samples and told her to personally contact me with anything else that she needed. Known as “sucking up”.  Not taught in business school at least the one I attended. When they voted after the initial trial period if we should keep the contract, she apparently stood up in the meeting and gave her blessing “these guys are great”.  Point being she had a personal benefit to using us vs. the other alternative. Better to have the blessing of the right hand of the important guy than the important guy. (Ask Yoko Ono and David Geffen). But not really. Means “you are important and your business is valuable”. The action was much louder than saying those words. We also got the jobs done on time and had good quality. But what mattered to her was that she had someone personally accountable which meant one less thing to worry about.
Someone really smart once told me something along the lines of “emotion drives decision making.” Fear is a biggie and “one less thing to worry about” is fear reduction.
Here’s an interesting paradox. If “emotion drives decision-making” why is it that emotions aren’t included in any economic models — be they Nash’s, Friedman’s or Krugman’s?The only person who tried to include emotions was Stiglitz with his Happiness Index.Also, in code terms, why aren’t they baked into the systems that are supposed to help us make decisions, e.g. portfolio asset allocation, search engines, etc.
I’d like to suggest we all try and do part of our comments in another language in honor of Duolingo…ヅッオウリンゴがよくできましたね！！このページを見ると、USVも日本語のページが必要かなぁと思いました。 https://ja.duolingo.com/info
Maybe the Becker-Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago can translate their ideas into Arabic…
‘How can we get 100 million people translating the web to every major language for free’ – I love the origins of DuoLingo and the product! Waiting for Tagalog to be available so I can chat with my in-laws in their native language.
They saw many students and teachers around the world adopting the Duolingo app as learning tool in the classroom even though Duolingo was built as a horizontal product without any specific use cases in mind. So they thought that building a version specifically designed for schools would be a good idea.”they saw” That’s great. I would like to know (if they are reading) exactly how “they saw”.What was the exact feedback or discovery mechanism that led to that happening?
How is that adding a dashboard an interesting thing ? And how does it make a new product?
In order for an educational product to be useful in a school setting, it has to provide transparency to teachers about the student’s progress. In its prior form, Duolingo tracked progress very nicely for the individual user, but did not allow one user to track multiple other users’ work. The dashboard turns what was essentially a fun toy into a powerful tool for teachers.Here’s the exact use case:You’re an 8th grade Spanish teacher and your students are pumped to use Duolingo. You’re excited, too, because they’re getting more practice with the skills you teach in class than they were before, and some of them are even accelerating beyond the classroom level. You have twenty kids in your class. And every night, you go home and tweak your lesson plan for the next day to make sure you are offering appropriately leveled instruction to each of your students. Prior to the dashboard, your planning is based exclusively on what you can observe during class and from homework assignments, which you grade one by one after they are submitted. Your students’ work on Duolingo, while doubtless helpful to them, is totally obscure to you. With the dashboard, however, you gain a nuanced view of each student’s strengths and weaknesses without needing to grade their work, saving you time and allowing you to plan and deliver the most appropriate and effective lesson possible each day.In my experience as director of data for a Commonwealth charter school district in Massachusetts, transparent and well-designed dashboards were essential for online educational products to add value for our teachers.Cheers,Nat
Thanks Nat. Wonderfully put.
Duolingo monetizes its business by providing certification services like Duolingo Test Center.They need to also, if they are not doing so already, figure out a way to get money (for a product, feature or service) from the school districts. Districts are, as we know, sticks in the mud. Consequently getting a foot in there means you don’t have to worry about a competing product easily snatching that revenue.
I wonder if this approach will be the right approach for the healthcare environment as well.As healthcare providers turn to focus on the customer, it would make sense for them to integrate with the consumer apps. The disconnect between what is being done in the healthcare sector (top down fully-featured often unwieldy systems) and the user experience consumers expect is quite huge.
It’s not the right approach but it’s “an” approach.Healthcare is analog and nuance. Involves making decisions based on weighing facts and circumstances. Involves discussion with someone knowledgeable “health care professional” after weighing all the variables, hopefully, carefully.
As healthcare providers turn to focus on the customer Aww, man you lost me. Healthcare providers focus on what they can bill ( as do most companies ). Some things can be done for idealistic / charitable reasons, but without money to drive them, the type of consistent, long-term commitment will not be there.( yes, there’s some language in the ACA to help providers take care of the patient’s health and move away from fee-for-service, but the incentives are not great – hence this falls under the “labor of love” category )But let’s give the topic some play : what do you mean by “integrating with consumer apps” ? I presume you mean integrating with fitness, diet apps. Maybe. If I were a conscientious doctor, I’d want to link to a nagging app that reminds you that now is a great time for a jog which you’ve put off for 3 days already. When you get back into my office that app is going to help me score you on what a weak-willed health loser you are. Sound like a popular app ? P.S. People with fitness apps are not the ones who need them.
I do agree that they focus on what they can bill, but that attitude has been changing significantly for the exact reason you mention below. Insurers are starting to put tremendous pressure on providers to improve overall outcomes, forcing providers to focus more on overall patient well-being.
It would be interesting to see Duolingo’s uptick this Q1. over the past 10-15 years I have seen the same tropes in terms of NY’s resolutions being marketed on tv:stop smoking.lose weight.get a date online.get your finances in order online.fix your brain: learn a language online.Just last night watching a 2-hour special on Caligula on H2 I saw at least one commercial for each of these.
I really like the idea of selling bottom up via consumers. That said, I’m also really surprised that a testing service would have the growth prospects to become VC-backed. Really? Especially since it seems to be more of a “vitamin” and less of a “pain killer.”
read this posthttp://avc.com/2014/07/free…the incumbent in the foreign language testing market, TOEFL, is a very substantial business
Fred, i have taken TOEFL, The cost was for the test at a location. Will Duolingo be online from anywhere or they will build the test centers? Am sure the cost of test centers , staff, infrastructure is pretty high. If Duolingo is able to provide all that for 20USD then its a great deal.
it’s going to be all online, i believe, utilizing some neat technology they have developed to deal with the cheating issues that, to date, have required onsite testing
It would be interesting to see how they cut through bureaucracy(Most US MBA schools mandate TOEFL, ) and convince the colleges that unsupervised testing is better than supervised testing. Am sure Prometric and TOEFL lobby hard as well. If they succeed it would be great! its such a pain going to test centers. the drive,the parking etc.
That’s going to take a lot of time and effort. That’s the sales function
Agree.Good luck to them. Liked the app. Saver during my LATAM trips!
Recently ETS( which administers TOEFL) was rejected by UK MBA schools due to fraud and TOEFL scores are no longer accepted as proof of English language ability for overseas students needing visas.http://poetsandquants.com/2…
It’s sort of the classic tale of make things that people want to use. Once enough of them use it, the existing incumbents and bureaucracies are forced to integrate. If you do it right, they WANT to integrate.Think about how enterprise was only the domain of Microsoft and Macs would NEVERY have been seen. Then enough CEOs and other Executives (and of course the rank and file) switch to iPhone and iPad at home that Apple products start to get heavily integrated into these organizations because the CEO doesn’t want to carry two phones and prefers an iPad to a Thinkpad when traveling.Same thing here and elsewhere – love the point about the connection to healthcare too from Sebastien. I think you could see some similar things in energy (my personal field) though I’m close enough to the weeds that it’s easy to get lost in the details.
I completely agree. Trying to engage schools top-down has some big problems. In my experience, the majority of schools are risk-averse and are not early-adopter types who are interested in beta-testing an unproven product. There’s also a budgeting disconnect between the teachers in the classroom and how tools/products are purchased school-wide. So getting in as an already-proven, used, consumer product is way more effective.
Excellent to see a consumer product get ground-up interest in schools. In ed tech, free apps adopted by teachers can get often get better traction than a top-down decision from district or school admins that require getting everyone on board, training them, enacting culture change, etc. See Remind 101. Then the school/district might pay for it to unlock other features like better access to data, hence the dashboard.In some cases vendors succeed in schools in spite of themselves. Apple does very well with schools by doing some things great (hardware) and making other thing really hard (global app administration, student data management) and miss an opportunity to get even more love.Dashboards are a big deal in ed. The inBloom initiative failed partly over an absent communications strategy and strong parent opposition. Now Clever is mostly alone in this space. The next killer app is the dashboard that gets data via API from different services so it’s not held captive within a single app or web platform.
Excellent to see a consumer product get ground-up interest in schools. In ed tech, free apps adopted by teachers can often get better traction than a top-down decision from district or school admins that require getting everyone on board, training them, enacting culture change, etc. See Remind 101. Then the school/district might pay for it to unlock other features like better access to data, hence the dashboard.In some cases vendors succeed in schools in spite of themselves. Apple does very well with schools by doing some things great (hardware) and making other thing really hard (global app administration, student data management) and miss an opportunity to get even more love.Dashboards are a big deal in ed. The inBloom initiative failed partly over an absent communications strategy and strong parent opposition. Now Clever is mostly alone in this space. The next killer app is the dashboard that gets data via API from different services so it’s not held captive within a single app or web platform, and navigates the data privacy concerns in the right way.
Ok, did anyone learn a few words in a new language on Duolingo like I just did? Now I know how to say “I am a girl / boy / woman / man” in Swedish. HURRAH!
I love Duolingo!
I’ve been working on a sort of parallel product that is similarly trying to “disrupt education” (this is a bad way to phrase it for many reasons, it’s more like “enhancing education”). This idea is a great one and reminds me of when I first discovered that IMDB makes money by selling premium services to the movie industry. I think this is going to be the trend moving forward for freemium education.Traditional LMS systems coupled with standardized tests are really good at tracking micro-improvements with individual students while simultaneously really bad at helping to evaluate teachers and classrooms. Teachers are very nervous when it comes to new ideas like MOOCs, flipped classrooms, and other online educational resources because they see them as threats to their jobs. The truth is most tools don’t even come close, there is something about personalized human interaction that is irreplaceable. That’s not to say that online tools can’t enhance the educational experience by enforcing lessons taught in classrooms or making it easier to learn concepts through practice and repetition.The learning systems of tomorrow will instead be tracking students throughout the course of their educational careers. We’ll know that little Johnny is improving 5% year over year at Math and this is 7% better than the national average. Further, we’ll know that Mrs. Stevenson’s students are consistently learning at a rate of about 2-5% better than they previously performed in the same subject, even though she doesn’t have the best passing rate in the school. In this way not only do teacher evaluations become much more meaningful but we’ll also be able to pinpoint specific areas of struggle so that course correction and intervention happen sooner. I think these ideas are worth building and I think students and educators alike are more than willing to pay for these types of educational advantages.
Duolingo is a good site for learning languages. I started using it recently and it seems to be one of the better web apps I’ve used.
I’d just like to relate an anecdote about Duolingo : I was hanging out with some of my friends, who happen to be pretty young ( freshmen ) ( don’t go there ) and they were chatting along breezily about…Doulingo ! A lot of young people really want to learn new languages ( I myself do not use Duolingo – after 3 years of French in college I need something at a somewhat higher level so I watch Star Wars : the Clone Wars in French; it helps me improve my vocabulary and the translation is pretty good so I can get up to speed on what expressions are currently used ) and my friends gathered an impromptu set of people who also wanted to see how the app worked ( or maybe they were just interested in talking, IDK ). So this is actually an app with some traction. Can Fred build a moat around it ? IDK, but my move would be to turn it into more of a news / conversation platform for francophiles.