It’s fair to say that Duolingo’s new learning path has caused a bit of a stir in the Duolingo community.
Simply flick through Reddit, app store reviews and social media and you’ll find swathes of dissatisfied Duolingo users begging for Duolingo to bring back the original format.
It’s a big change — one of the biggest in Duolingo’s 10-year history — and will definitely take some getting used to.
For my part, I’ve been using Duolingo every day for over 6 years. The language tree was all I’d ever known. It has always been an inherent part of my Duolingo experience.
But with the introduction of the new learning path, I, like everyone else, have been forced to adapt.
That said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (for me at least). In fact, when I first heard about the new learning path, I was actually pretty optimistic. On paper, it addresses a number of issues I’d long had with the tree. In theory, it should provide a superior learning experience.
But does it? Or is the new learning path really as bad as the community would have you believe?
In this article, I’ll give you my honest opinion.
Please know that I’ve tried really hard to be as balanced as possible. I know a lot of you reading this completely despise the new learning path. I’ve tried my best to represent your concerns as best as I can.
On the flip side, this isn’t going to be a toxic rant, either. There’s actually a lot I like about the new learning path, so hopefully I can strike the right balance!
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What is the new learning path?
Duolingo’s new learning path is Duolingo’s new approach to teaching its language courses.
The new learning path guides learners along a simple path and removes the guess-work that often came with the traditional ‘tree’ design.
The lessons, exercises and courses are exactly the same as before. The new learning path simply organises them in a different way, providing a step-by-step experience that is intended to make it easier to reach your language learning goals.
As of September 2022, the new learning path is still being rolled out. Some learners have it, others don’t.
How does the new learning path differ?
The new learning path represents a major departure from the traditional tree format. Here are some of the main differences:
The new learning path takes a linear, guided approach, whereas the tree was a lot more loose and relaxed.
It’s built on the concept of spaced repetition, which regularly reintroduces you to previous content to keep it fresh in your memory. The old approach allowed you to move through the course in your own way, revisiting old content as and when you felt like it.
no more skills and crowns
Skills and crowns are gone, and have been replaced with levels.
For all intents and purposes, these are basically stepping stones, and each step has a different task and set of lessons to complete. Once complete, the level turns gold and you can move on to the next.
A level is essentially the equivalent of a crown level in a skill. Rather than pile all 5 crown levels into one, they are now spread throughout the path as part of Duolingo’s spaced repetition approach.
This also means that the legendary levels are a thing of the past, replaced by legendary trophies. These pertain to the entire unit as opposed to a specific skill.
Speaking of units. These are now significantly smaller than before and are now organised thematically. They also come with some easily accessible guidebooks, which replace the tips sections of the old skills.
Opportunities to practice mistakes and old content are still available, however they’re not as easy to come by.
Cracked skills are gone and, for the time being, only IOS users can go back and practice completed levels.
Update: it looks like some of the stuff in the Practice Hub is now available to non-Super users (on IOS anyway, not sure about other platforms at the moment).
This includes Unit Review, which gives you the opportunity to practice specific units. If your course has them, you’ll also get to go back over your completed stories.
As above, it looks like IOS users can now review completed stories via the Practice Hub.
Why did Duolingo change?
In a recent interview, CEO Luis von Ahn outlined two key objectives for the new learning path.
The first is to decrease confusion. The old tree was a reasonable way of presenting Duolingo’s courses, and each skill was appropriately labeled and organised.
However, while the tree was semi-guided, in the sense that you unlocked new skills as you progressed, there were always question marks surrounding if and when to move forward.
The old crown system meant you could up the difficulty by simply staying put — maxing out every single crown in a skill. Duolingo encouraged learners to both progress through the course AND earn crowns. Sometimes these two things were at odds with each other and it wasn’t always clear when to move forward and when to move back.
While some learners prefer this, particularly those who had grown accustomed to the longstanding tree approach, it wasn’t uncommon for new learners to feel a bit lost.
Von Ahn’s other objective concerned learning outcomes. I can only assume this means increasing the success rate of Duolingo’s users actually learning their target languages.
While gamification is an important part of the Duolingo experience, it was always meant to be a means to an end. For some, it becomes the end in itself, and the original goal — learning a language — gets lost.
Duolingo’s goal is to get its learners to B2 on the CEFR, which is considered upper intermediate. By utilising spaced repetition and a clear path, Duolingo ultimately hopes to provide a better learning experience.
An honest review of the new learning path
Now for the main event. As promised, I’ll try to keep this as balanced as I can.
Let’s start with the things I like about the new learning path.
What I like about the new learning path
1. it’s clearer than the tree
The new learning path makes it much easier to know what you’re supposed to be doing.
One of the biggest issues with the tree was that many learners didn’t know whether to press forward or hang back. Was progress moving forward through the tree, or was it hanging back and earning every crown?
Despite Duolingo recommending what they called the hover method, it was never particularly clear. The units weren’t always well organised, either, which meant the trees were often a random assortment of skills lacking any logical grouping.
The new learning path removes this confusion by guiding learners along a carefully planned curriculum. This eliminates the guesswork that came with the tree and allows learners to focus on what matters most — learning a language.
2. it’s built on spaced repetition
Duolingo have built the new learning path on spaced repetition, the idea that it’s better to spread out practice than it is to cram.
So when you encounter something for the first time — whether it’s new vocabulary or a grammar rule — Duolingo will reintroduce this to you at the appropriate time as you move along the path.
This is basically the approach that Duolingo has always recommended, only now it’s the default approach.
3. it comes with passive learning baked in
For the most part, Duolingo is an active learning tool. It’s something you use to consciously learn a language.
Passive learning, however, is the unconscious approach to learning a language. Things like TV shows, movies, music, conversations, reading etc.
Duolingo’s main passive element is its stories feature. They’re basically just fun mini-stories written entirely in your target language. You simply read through and answer questions as and when they arise to ensure you’re following along.
Before the new learning path, stories were optional, tucked away in a little tab at the bottom of the screen. They weren’t part of the course.
Now, however, they’re well and truly baked in. For the courses that have them, stories now occupy their own steps on the path, which is a great way of incorporating that all-important passive exposure.
4. the units are way more logical
Duolingo’s previous approach to units was pretty random. Of course the skills and the questions within got harder over time, but they weren’t grouped in any particular way.
Greetings and basic vocabulary were included at the beginning of the course, and, in the better-supported courses, grammar would gradually be introduced as well. But beyond this, the courses were pretty jumbled.
Now, however, the units are bitesize and grouped thematically. Everything in a unit now relates to a specific thing. They also come with handy guidebooks that explain the ins and outs of the unit.
5. it’s much better for beginners
The clarity of the new learning path makes it WAY more beginner-friendly. Whether you’re using Duolingo for the first time or you’re starting a brand new language course, the new learning path is, as far as I’m concerned, a lot more welcoming.
Again, one of the biggest issues with the tree was the lack of clear direction. It was never clear whether you should press forward and complete the tree as quickly as possible, or hold back and max out every skill.
What the tree had in flexibility and freedom, it lacked in direction. For someone well-versed in Duolingo, this isn’t really a problem. But for someone just starting out, it was a common issue.
The new learning path puts this right. Having a single, linear path helps beginners know exactly what they need to be doing. This is especially useful if they’re starting their language from scratch. They’ll get all the information they need at a prescribed pace, and can rest assured that progress along the path = progress with the language.
As someone who jumps from language to language, this is something I’m really happy about.
What I don’t like about the new learning path
1. it can feel too linear and restrictive
The new learning path clearly doesn’t have the same freedom and flexibility of the tree.
While I understand why the guys at Duolingo have taken this approach, unfortunately, the new learning path is just way too linear for most old-school Duolingo users.
For many, having the freedom to move through the course in their own way and at their own pace was one of Duolingo’s biggest selling points. While IOS users have the option to go back and revisit old material on the new learning path, everyone else, for the time being, is left out in the cold.
And even for IOS users, revisiting old material isn’t as easy or clear as it was on the tree. Path levels aren’t clearly labelled, nor do they crack like the skills used to. Cracked skills drew your attention to areas you needed to work on, which made it much easier to practice.
It’s understandable why so many are frustrated.
2. it’s disorientating for long-term duolingo users
This is probably my biggest gripe with the new learning path.
Now, in fairness, it’s not so much an issue with the path. It’s more the way in which Duolingo have rolled it out.
For learners that are deep into a course, launching the app to find a completely different layout must have been extremely disorientating. Not just because of the way the path is presented, but, primarily because of where they’d been placed.
I’ve read a bunch of comments on Reddit pretty much saying the same thing: that their position on the new learning path doesn’t properly marry up with where they were in the tree.
Either the lessons are too hard and unfamiliar, or they’re being forced to go through content they’ve already mastered. In both cases, the result, unsurprisingly, is complete and utter apathy.
3. it’s not as easy to go back and practice
The new learning path has made it a lot harder to go back and practice old material of your choosing.
Again, just to be clear, practice options are available, despite many claiming otherwise. We’re all well aware that practice is now baked into the course, so content that you’ve already encountered will come up again as you move along the path.
If you’re a non-Super user, you can still complete practice sessions by tapping the hearts icon at the top of the screen. And for Super users, the Practice Hub is still a thing and can be accessed in the usual way.
Plus, as mentioned, IOS users can go back to any stage of the learning path and jump into a previously completed level.
And yet, with all that being true, practicing is still nowhere near as easy as it used to be. Unless you have access to the Practice Hub, it’s not particularly clear what you need to practice.
The cracked skills used to make this really easy. If they cracked, you knew it was time to brush up. But with the introduction of spaced-out levels, cracking is a thing of the past.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the new learning path makes it difficult for learners to practice what they want to practice. You’re effecively forced to practice what Duolingo wants to practice. Practice Hub mostly contains a selection of past mistakes.
If you want to practice something of your choosing, you’ll need to hope you’re on IOS and you can find the desired level — which is nowhere near as straightforward as it used to be.
Update: as I mentioned earlier in the article, it looks like Duolingo have now beefed-up the Practice Hub with options for non-Super users on IOS. Unit Review makes it easier to review specific units, however it appears these are still of Duolingo’s choosing.
4. stories not available in their own tab
For the courses that have them, stories is one of Duolingo’s best features. As above, I’m chuffed they’ve been incorporated into the new learning path.
But, for the life of me, I can’t get my head around why they no longer occupy their own separate tab.
As with the practice issues, this is very much about accessibility. The features still exist, they’re just not as easy to get.
Again, IOS users can go back through the path and review previously completed stories. But they’re nowhere near as easy to locate as they used to be.
I see absolutely no issue with having a library of completed stories that learners can dip in and out of at their convenience. They can unlock more by moving along the path, then review them in the stories tab at their leisure. Audio lessons on the Spanish and French courses still have their own tab, so this shouldn’t really be an issue.
Update: as above, stories have now been included in the Practice Hub for IOS users. These are available to both free and Super users alike.
5. some have it, some don’t
A/B testing is, has, and probably always will be integral to how Duolingo develops its product. The new learning path is a massive change, so it makes sense to roll it out gradually and measure performance.
However, despite von Ahn seemingly adamant that the new learning path is here to stay, it’s still not available on all devices.
I’ve had a to create a new account to write this review after months of waiting for the new learning path. It’s made it difficult to write relevant and up-to-date articles for all users, not just because I haven’t had the new learning path, but because so many others haven’t either.
But that’s just a personal issue. For most this won’t be a problem. What is a problem is the massive split this has now created in the Duolingo community, with two very big blocks of users getting two very different experiences.
It’s also a problem on the gaming side of Duolingo. In my time with the new learning path, I’ve noticed it’s a lot harder to earn XP than on the original tree. Going back over old content only yields 5 XP.
Now, this isn’t something I care that much about. As I always say in some form or another: for me, it’s language first, game second.
But for many, XP, leagues and challenges are a huge part of why they use Duolingo. It doesn’t seem fair that users on the new learning path are having to compete with users on the old tree. They’re at a major disadvantage. No wonder many are frustrated!
Areas Duolingo could improve
1. introduce a toggle option
While the guys at Duolingo (understandably) want to move everyone over to the new learning path, long-term learners should be given the option to toggle between the two, especially those who are several units into a course on the old tree.
I seem to recall reading something about this on Reddit — that some have been given a toggle option — but, as far as I can tell, it’s not something that’s available to everyone.
Set a definitive sunset date for the old tree and give long-term users enough chance to get used to the new learning path at their own convenience. This should help to mitigate any potential alienation.
2. make it a level-playing field
This one relates more so to the gaming side of Duolingo than the learning side. Learners using the new learning path seem to be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to earning XP, making it harder for them to compete in the leagues.
Going back to previous skills on the old tree would usually yield a minimum of 10 XP, whereas going back on the new learning path (for those with the option) yields only 5 XP.
It’s good that there is now an incentive to progress. But, of course, this makes for harder — and ultimately longer — lessons. This slows down the learner’s XP-earning potential.
The simple solution would be to level the XP opportunities across the two formats while the new learning path is still being rolled out.
3. offer easier practice opportunities
Practice opportunities are few and far between with the new learning path. Beyond the traditional practice approach via the heart icon, it would be helpful to have previous skills/circles properly labelled without needing to tap them.
While the new learning path employs a spaced repetition approach, it would also be useful to re-introduce a form of skill cracking, particularly for learners that are well advanced in their courses.
Unit-level review recommendations could be a good way of bridging the gap.
4. put stories back in their own tab!
This should be a really easy one to implement. Audio lessons have their own tab. Stories used to have their own tab. Bring it back.
Even if it only contains a selection of completed stories from the learning path, it would be useful to have a library of stories to dip in and out of at will.
It would also make for an easy practice opportunity. I just can’t see a reason not to have it.
Update: again, stories are now available to review in the Practice Hub on IOS.
could duolingo go back to the old format?
This is a difficult one to answer. But, if I had to guess, I’d have to say no.
The new learning path is one of the biggest shake-ups in Duolingo’s history. Duolingo have put a lot of thought, time and effort into the new format, and CEO Luis von Ahn has already said it’s here to stay. So while we can definitely expect tweaks and improvements, it’s highly unlikely Duolingo will ditch the new learning path completely.
However, the guys at Duolingo haven’t fully committed to it as yet. It’s still the subject of massive A/B testing. If they were so committed to the new learning path, then why not just roll it out to all users at once?
While there could be several plausible explanations for this, to me, it suggests that they’re still not 100% convinced. They probably want to measure how well users do on the new learning path vs the old tree — and also to see what happens to user numbers.
Because, after all, Duolingo is a publicly listed company. Shareholders want to make profits, not losses. If they deem the new learning path to be unprofitable, then it doesn’t matter how much better it makes the learning experience. In this scenario, it’s not unfathomable to think that Duolingo could revert to the old format, or, at the very least, make some significant compromises.
This is a long shot though. Duolingo are definitely looking at the big picture. It’s clear they believe the new learning path is in the long-term interests of the company, which leads me to think they’re more than satisfied to wait out the current storm.
Change can be challenging. It’s chaotic, often uncomfortable, and wrought with uncertainty. But, as we all know too well, change is unavoidable. Life simply isn’t possible without it.
The same goes for progress. Like any company, Duolingo constantly needs to improve and innovate, or risk being overtaken and left behind. Over the years, Duolingo has undergone a number of mostly aesthetic changes, with features coming and going along the way.
The new learning path, however, is a much larger change, and one that many within the Duolingo community simply don’t want.
It’s abundantly clear that the new learning path has some teething issues, particularly in the areas of practice, accessibility and freedom. I don’t think Duolingo have done a great job of rolling it out, either, which has only amplified the confusion and frustration.
However, I can see why Duolingo is going down this ‘path’. It makes for a more logical, guided and focused learning experience that can only be conducive to Duolingo’s primary purpose — learning a language.
I’m confident this will prove to be popular with beginners, whether they be new to a language course or new to Duolingo entirely. It’s the sort of change I think needed to happen sooner or later. In time, the new learning path will simply become the new (hopefully better) norm.
That said, building for the next generation of Duolingo learners doesn’t mean Duolingo should neglect its current user base. Alienating a community of over 500 million users is hardly a sound business decision. Duolingo should take their frustrations very seriously and actually show that they’re listening.
have your say
In the spirit of listening, I really want to know what you think of the new learning path.
Hold nothing back. Rant or praise to your heart’s content in the comments below.