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As per Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter’s definition of gamification, it works by using game elements to motivate the user. These methods include collecting points and losing lives, to ‘hook’ the user into continuing to learn languages through playing the game. 

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Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham touch on how “intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic rewards” in their book *Gamification by Design*. Rather than exclusively using external rewards to create motivation in players, it is crucial that the player’s internal motivation works alongside the rewards for the user to achieve the end goal. On the other hand, they state that we cannot rely solely on the player’s “intrinsic motivation”, because “we don’t get the desired results”, but rather if the motivation is created externally, then we go from “from hoping it happens to a structure and process for making it happen.” In other words, if we give the user an external motivator; competitiveness and rewards, and use it to enhance their internal motivation to learn, then instead of hoping the user reaches the end goal of learning the language, there is a system in place to ensure they actually reach it.

The goal is to bring out the competitive nature of the user. This competitive personality trait will “contribute positive in successfully learning” a second language. Nir Eyal suggests in *Hooked*: “there are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviours: the user must have sufficient motivation; the user must have the ability to complete the desired action; and a trigger must be present.” Bringing these “ingredients” together, and adding another; investment, comprises what is known as the Hook Model. The Hook Model creates habit-forming behaviours in users by bringing them through a looping cycle which consists of the three elements; a trigger, an action and a reward, as well as a final added element of investment.

We can apply this Hook Model to Duolingo; a gamified language learning app, to see a successful implementation, and therefore evidence of why the app works so well. I’m going to refer my own experience of using the app to learn the Irish language; Gaeilge, as well as French. For reference, I downloaded the app on to my iPhone 7 and used it over the period of several months.

To start, Nir Eyal states “a trigger must be present”. Duolingo sends out push notifications intermittently to remind me to log in and work towards reaching my daily target of ten minutes of activity within the app. I also had emails set up to come through once a week. These acted as reminders to score more points within the app, which was done by completing quizzes. These are examples of external triggers. 

Following this, “the user must have the ability to complete the desired action”. I logged on to the app and progressed through lessons and quizzes until at least ten minutes had passed. This is an easy action to complete and one which can be done at any stage within the day. I was then able to see the amount of time I had spent on the app, letting me know whether I can finish for the day or continue to use it for longer.

Thirdly, “the user must have sufficient motivation”. Duolingo creates motivation not only by reaching for the competitive nature within its users to achieve right answers, but by rewarding us. After completing a lesson, I am brought to a screen showing how I am progressing towards my daily targets, be it the length of time or the amount of points, known as ‘XP’. Alongside this, every time I complete a skill, I receive a badge which also shows the strength level. 

The final part to the Hook Model is investment. Typically this would come in the form of purchasing extra lessons, however Duolingo is a free app. Therefore, my investment comes in the form of the time spent using the app. The skill strength levels I mentioned previously will drop, so seeing that happen brings back the competitive, and sometimes perfectionist, nature and ‘hooks’ me into using the app again and improving my skills further. Signing up to their email list and participating in their community forums would be further ways to invest in the app.

Now that I have established that the Hook Model is implemented within Duolingo, we can see that they use other methods such as morale-boosting messages throughout the app to give the user the feeling that they are ‘winning’ the game. Bringing this into a real-life situation, this is mirrored in the traditional setting of a classroom; when students get the answers correct to written questions, they get ticks and praising comments. When students are working together to get to the correct answer in, for example, a verbal questioning session, teachers will encourage the students to keep going in that direction, therefore building momentum until the final correct answer is given. It is through this method of being motivated to continue playing the game, that the user will continue to learn the language. This can sometimes be a sub-conscious decision made when engrossed within the game. So not only is this a key difference, and benefit, of learning through gamification rather than a traditional textbook, but it is actually the beginning of a habit forming as noted in *Hooked*; “Cognitive psychologists define habits as, “automatic behaviours triggered by situational cues:” things we do with little or no conscious thought.”

Language learning apps depend on users reaching the stage of creating a habit out of learning, to thrive. In an article for TechCrunch.com, Masato Hagiwara and Burr Settles; two research scientists at Duolingo, wrote about the habits of successful learners. Using real data from Duolingo, they explored the type of habits successful users of the app made. This includes the length of time they spent learning per day, “most people who stick with language learning in the long run make sure to spend a few minutes practicing every day or two.” This speaks back to the ‘trigger’ that is present through the app’s daily notifications and email reminders, as well as “the ability to complete the desired action”; in other words, proof that the ten minutes a day recommended by the notifications helps to establish successful habits.

Similarly, Masato and Burr mention the importance of reviewing old material so the “knowledge will work its way from your short-term memory into your long-term memory.” We can relate this back to the Hook Model’s investment. Invest your time in learning new materials and revisiting old knowledge and skills, and it will pay off in the long run. Duolingo uses the skill strength meters to indicate when these old skills need to be revisited. This matches a technique done within a traditional classroom setting. Students will be taught skills over the course of a semester or the year, and will then revisit them, sometimes throughout other modules, or when revising for exams. This works in the same way to bring the knowledge from the student’s short-term memory into the long-term. So this shows gamified language learning apps using familiar teaching methods.


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