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How Duolingo uses gamification mechanics to build a habit-forming app


  • Which gamified elements can build user habits

  • How to trigger users’ motivation with simple but effective gamification mechanics

  • How to keep your users engaged over time


Have you checked out Duolingo yet? It’s hands down the most popular language-learning app in the world, with a whopping 54 million people using it each month and a total of 98 million downloads in 2022. And it’s so much fun! The app uses well-thought gamification mechanics that make learning a new language feel like playing a game.

However, their expansion was not sudden.

Attracting users to your app may not be the most challenging thing in the world, but keeping them engaged and motivated to use your app more than just a few times, requires creativity and knowledge. And that’s exactly what Duolingo used to go the extra mile with their gamification strategy.


The premise was straightforward: Duolingo had to find a way to motivate its users to use the app daily in a fun and engaging way. Unfortunately, this was a difficult task, given the low engagement rate for educational apps.


Duolingo used simple but clever gamification mechanics to build users’ habits and increase everyday engagement:

1. Badges as a form of achievement

Badges are obtained by accomplishing different tasks in-app, such as gaining XP, learning in the morning, or inviting a friend to join the Duolingo app. Consequently, the badge feature triggers the users’ sense of reward linked to personal growth. This is also called intrinsic motivation and creates long-term engagement, in contrast to impulsive interest that comes from external rewards.

duolingo badges app gamification

2. The streak system

This gamification feature tracks the number of days in a row that a user completed a lesson. It all started from the hypothesis that if you repeat an action enough times in the same context, it will become automatic. Sure enough, this idea proved successful, resulting in higher app engagement and more frequent weekly sessions.

app retention example duolingo

3. A gamified design for unit levels

To help users master each unit, Duolingo decided to encourage them to become legendary on each level. By attaining the legendary status in each section, users can attest to their level of proficiency in the language they’re learning. This innovative approach not only motivates users to engage with the platform regularly but also enhances their learning outcomes.

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After implementing gamification, Duolingo saw highly impactful results!

By introducing the badges system, in-app purchases increased by 13% and the number of friends added increased by 116%.

With the streak system, thousands of users shared their achievements on social media daily, and there are 6 million people with a 7 days streak or more.

With the cracked levels and the progress bar, the users were motivated to repair the “cracked” levels and engagement metrics improved substantially.

If you want to keep your customers engaged over time, gamification is your perfect solution. Follow the example of Duolingo and employ effective gamification strategies to increase engagement and incentivize users to return to your app.