Duolingo learning path

The Duolingo Learning Path – What It Is, How It Works

If you want to be successful with Duolingo, then you need to understand the learning path.

Duolingo introduced it back in 2022 and it received A LOT of backlash. Despite this, Duolingo held firm and the learning path is now a firm fixture of the way Duolingo delivers its courses.

I wrote a long-ass review on the learning path when it came out, so feel free to give it a read if you’d like to see all the pros and cons and how it differs to the old tree.

It’s fairly self-explanatory, but it’s still worth breaking it down and going over all the little aspects in detail. A lot of users get caught up in the other parts of the app and end up neglecting the path — which is a big mistake.

So, in this article, I’ll give you a simple breakdown of the learning path. By the end, you’ll know what it is, how it works, and how to get the most out of it.

Let’s jump in!

What is Duolingo’s learning path?

The learning path is Duolingo’s way of delivering its courses. It’s basically a fancy way of describing a curriculum: it’s broken down into sections, units, levels and lessons.

To properly understand the path, the first thing to do is to unpack its main components:

Sections

A section is basically a chunk of the path. It’s a collection of units that, depending on the course, is aligned with the CEFR.

In the Spanish course, for instance, you’ll find the sections are labelled with their corresponding CEFR level. The Spanish course has sections that range from A1 (lower beginner) all the way to B2 (upper intermediate).

Each course has a couple of bonus sections at the end. One is filled with personalised practice levels. The other is called Daily Refresh, which updates daily with random content from the course.

On mobile, you can view your sections by tapping the floating header above each unit on your learning path.

Units

All sections are made up of a series of units. Units are usually organised by theme, containing roughly 10 corresponding levels of content.

Units usually come with a supplementary guidebook, which contains useful information about the unit. In the popular courses, these guidebooks will contain in-depth explanations on important concepts and vocabulary in the unit. On the less popular courses, they will just contain example sentences from the unit.

Levels

A level is essentially a stepping stone along your path. It’s marked by circle, which can have a variety of different icons. These icons represent the nature of the level, and can include:

  • Star – standard level
  • Dumbbell – personalised practice
  • Trophy – end of unit review
  • Book – story level
  • Headphones – radio level
  • Speech bubbles – roleplay

As you work your way along the path, you will also come across reward chests, which usually contain either gems or XP Boosts.

Standard levels and personalised practices contain a series of lessons. Once you’ve completed these lessons, you will be able to proceed to the next level.

You can also return to your completed levels and either review them (worth 5 XP) or complete the legendary version of the level (worth 40 XP).

Lessons

Finally, each level is made up of at least one lesson. Standard levels and personalised practices usually contain a series of lessons, whereas end-of-unit reviews, stories, radio and roleplay levels only contain one.

A standard lesson is usually made up of up to 17 questions, which target different areas of learning. These can include:

  • Translating
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Pronunciation

There are a wide variety of exercise types, with the most popular courses having the largest variety.

Depending on your performance, lessons can end with one or two “harder” exercises. Alternatively, if you make mistakes, you’ll get the opportunity to review them at the end instead.

Timed challenges

As you work through your levels, you’ll notice some Duolingo characters chilling either side of the path.

Tapping these characters will give you the opportunity to complete some timed challenge. The timed challenges are called Rapid Review and Match Madness. They each have 3 levels, which increase in difficulty. The harder the level, the more XP you stand to earn.

Timed challenges are completely optional. You don’t have to complete them to move through your path. Free members will have to spend 100 gems per timed challenge, while Super and Max members can complete them for free.


It’s also worth mentioning that you can skip entire units and even sections if you’re finding the content too easy.

Simply identify the unit or section you’d like to skip to and, if you pass a proficiency test, Duolingo will move you forward to that position of the path.

The thinking behind the learning path

Back in 2022, a lot of users complained that the learning path was too linear. They missed the flexibility of the old tree, which allowed them to easily hop between levels and revisit old material.

However, one of the biggest issues with the old format was that it wasn’t always clear how to proceed. You never knew whether to move forward, backwards, or ‘upwards’ (as the old ‘crown’ levels had different tiers). The learning path seeks to address this with a clear path that naturally presents learners with the material they need to make progress at the right time.

Duolingo has made a number of tweaks to the path since it first launched. It’s now a lot easier to go back and revisit old material. The units on the popular courses are labelled thematically and offer complimentary guidebooks. And, in some courses, passive learning in the form of stories and radio is now baked into the course.

One of the key concepts underpinning the path is something called spaced repetition. The idea is that you review words or concepts at increasing intervals over time. You start off by learning something new (e.g. new vocabulary or grammar concept) then review it a short time after. As you remember it better, the time between reviews gets longer.

In theory, this helps you remember words or grammar more effectively by practicing them just before you might forget.

Progress = moving through the path

A lot of Duolingo users neglect the path. They spend a lot of their time on timed challenges, reviewing old stories, or simply coasting in the easier units.

However, to truly make progress in your language, it’s important to focus on moving forward through the path. Using spaced repetition, Duolingo sprinkles personalised practice sessions into the path to ensure you’re reviewing old material. This means that by moving forward, you’re still stepping back into stuff you’ve already encountered.

Unfortunately, what dissuades a lot of users from prioritising their path is that it doesn’t always yield a lot of XP. They can make XP more easily and more quickly with timed challenges and reviewing old stories. And given XP is the currency of the leagues, which Duolingo leads users to believe is important, it’s little wonder they naturally stray from the path.

However, it’s important to resist this temptation. Completing your path is more important than winning your league. Moving onto the next section (or, let’s say, getting ‘promoted’ to it) is more important than getting promoted to the next league up.


The path is really straightforward. Complete a level, move on to the next, until you finish the course. This is how to succeed on Duolingo!

For more on the learning path, be sure to check out my review from 2022. The path has changed a bit since then, but the review still provides a good overview of how Duolingo’s teaching methods have evolved.