Great On-boarding case study – Duolingo

Duolingo was created by professor Luis von Ahn to help people around the world learn new languages for free.

They managed to get 112.4 million users within 3 years of launching without spending a dollar on marketing !!!

The MAIN reason for their success is that they have created a ground-breaking product

that answered the Game-Changing-Success-Parameters of the relevant customers.

they were well aware that It’s hard to stay motivated when learning online,

so they made Duolingo so fun that people would prefer picking up new skills over playing a game.

The second thing that contributed to their success is an AMAZING on-boarding experience.

their on-boarding experience is a masterpiece with great UX and based on great Game thinking.

I have been monitoring Duolingo on-boarding over the last 3 years and it was very interesting to see how it is evolving

becoming better and better, optimized with A/B testing and adapting new technologies

let me show you what’s so great about it Step-By-Step

So you can also implement it on your own product on-boarding:

Step #1

value proposition

The Home page is Super simple,

the value proposition is super clear : “Learn a language for free. Forever”

in the bottom you can see some of the most popular languages

(and you can use the arrows to verify in case you want to learn other languages)

the earth hero picture does 2 things:

  1. Send an unconscious message about internationalaity that reinforce the value proposition.
  2. Focus the user on the value proposition and the Call-To-Action

the Call-To-Action is straight to the point: “Get Started”

(They have done extensive A/B test and it was the big winner)

Step #2

choose language

There is no registration form !!!

This guys are good – they know it’s still not the time…

The user is not hooked yet.


again, it is very clear to understand what to do in this screen,

No need to think, going into auto-pilot mode,

Anticipation is growing – dopamine levels are rising 🙂


Also notice the change to first person “I want to learn…”

It gives the feeling of control and ownership over the experience.

Step #3

set a goal

They KNOW that the hard part is getting users to return !

so they use the perfect moment when the dopamine levels are highest

to let the user set a personal goal for itself

his own commitment that will be transformed into an internal daily triggers.

a few important points:

  1. they start with a positive reinforcement in the title : “Great….”
  2. The goals seems easy to achieve ! in compare to 2-3 hours of traditional language learning sessions.
  3. 20 minutes = “insane”, so if I choose 10 min I feel great with myself.
  4. there is a default (10 min ) – great no need to think too much…
  5. the image of the Vietnamese building ( I’ve chosen to learn Vietnamese ) is both setting the right mood and also shaped like an arrow, focusing the user on the goals selection.
  6. In earlier versions the goals were set in “xp points” = the number of points a user get in a session, but they soon realized that it is unclear, it makes the user mind switch to the analytical system, and that the actual way users measure their commitment is by minutes ( concluded with users interviews!)
  7. in an earlier versions, they asked the users to put his email in that stage ( after some testing they split it and moved it to the next stage and changed email to notifications – coming up)

step #4


in the PERFECT moment when anticipation is the highest,

they ask the user to allow daily reminders.

and they are making a very strong connection:

They use the cognitive dissonance pattern ( people want to do what they said they will do)

“Choose ALLOW to receive a daily reminders to keep up your daily goal!

and the arrow is great – leading the user to the exact place

(if you’ll click “no thanks” they’ll catch you later as we will see)

step #5


The more they will know about you, the better experience they can deliver

and they are very focused – asking the most important question

answering is very easy and clear

and in case you know a bit of the language – you don’t need to try to explain anything – just perform a short test and they will do this for you.

step #6

progress bar

Now you immediately start getting value (learning).

only 2 minutes since I started and I’ve already translated a sentence from Vietnamese

(of course, it was NOT alone…it was by hovering the words…)

but the feeling they create is amazing.

3 important points to notice:

  1. the progress bar

progress bar

Initially they had this one:

progress bar

every correct answer one more green

every wrong answer – you loose a heart

when you loose all hearts – you need to start over

but from customer research ( This is so IMPORTANT to do)

they discovered that people really feel sad when they lose a heart…

so they embraced a pattern from slot machines: In slot machines the algorithm let you win more in the beginning to get you hooked)

so the current progress bar – has no marking and the way it  functions:

  • every right answer – it fills ( more green)
  • every wrong answer – it’s less ( less green)
  • but the trick is that positive answers push it to the right MORE than wrong answers pushing to the left!

2. The character of the owl

The Owl character is creating an emotional connection with the user.

It is a wise choice because owl represents wisdom.

Also, it is positioned in a smart way, as if he is telling you a secret ( half hiding behind the bar)

3. positive reinforcement

Great positive reinforcement as soon as you give the right answer: icon + text + color + sound

a great way to create motivation is by giving users a sense of progress by breaking things down into smaller steps to create a string of small wins like Karl Weick the psychologist said:

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win Click To Tweet

That small win is the 1st in a chain that will make the user a better version of himself.

Step #7

What a PERFECT score (10/10) 🙂

and I’ve met my daily goal!

This is how you give someone to feel AWESOME

and this is exactly the time for….

Subscribing to my blog so you’ll never miss a post

It’s also the time for the user in our on-boarding to…

Step 8

NOW – after they:

  1. Gave the user real value ( you actually know some of the language you wanted to learn)
  2. Gave the user fun experience.
  3. let the user create his own internal & external triggers that will bring him back ( goals & daily reminders)

Now they offer to create a profile for the so IMPORTANT cause: to save the user progress.

This is one of the fundamental stages of each habit-forming product,

During the lesson they let the user invest into the platform:

  • He invested his time
  • He invested energy ( learning)
  • he was just rewarded with 10 xp points !!!

and now in order to save his own investment ( otherwise it was all for nothing)

he WILL create a profile.

Some points:

  • The hero image of this page was A/B tested many times, in older versions it was a safe – this image of a smiling human seems to be the winner
  • If you choose to create account later – you will go back to the dashboard – and even if you close the session – you already allowed them to send you browser notifications – and you have committed yourself to a daily training – so you WILL be back 🙂

Step 9

sign up

a very optimized form !

  • the friendly emotional awl character is there…
  • Big fonts
  • only 3 fields
  • very clear main Call-To-Action ( with 2 secondary CTA’s)

This form was optimized by some A/B testing.

the optimization resulted with the following changes:

  • they had a top field of :”I want to learn <Language>” – they trashed it
  • They had a username field – trashed
  • changed the label “full name” into :”name”
  • made the 2 secondary CTA’s less obvious so the main one will be more dominate.


Step #10


Finally I see my dashboard, packed with options 🙂

now they give the user the feeling of control with free exploration

and the great thing about this exploration experience – you can’t make a mistake…

everything you do…is great

Last thing…It’s GREAT

Gamification at it’s best!

They have a store that you can buy cool stuff with a virtual currency.

Just like any successful game.

You get the virtual currency simply by being a good student…

the more you engage with the platform,

the more virtual currency you get ( remember investment – more reasons to return)

What’s Next?

I hope this review was valuable for you!

I’ve tried to keep it short & fun and write about the little things that make the BIG difference.


If you haven’t done so yet, You’re most welcome to join other talented professionals – Subscribe and never miss a post:

and feel free to share 🙂