Title: PhD. (Computer Science)
Bio: Luis von Ahm is a Guatemalan-German professor at Carnegie Mellon, and an experienced entrepreneur. In addition to founding Duolingo with his student, von Ahm is responsible for reCAPTCHA, a technology that is used to digitize books too illegible for scanning, as well as provide basic access obstacles to websites and forms, blocking bots. Von Ahm sold reCAPTCHA to Google in 2009 and released Duolingo in 2012. He is most active as a teacher, using unusual teaching methods and reflecting the same desire that he put into Duolingo. He believes that “free education can change the world” and has been recognized for trying to improve the world with technology. Both of his notable ventures have been directly influenced by formal education – CAPTCHA is built upon the idea of ‘human computation’, a term that describes tasks the must be solved by a human and computer together, and Duolingo was a joint idea with his then-graduate student as a type of open education.
About Duolingo: Luis von Ahm co-founded Duolingo along with his student, Severin Hacker. It was meant to have a double bottom line – to help people facing economic difficulties learn languages (in particular, English), while also translating simple texts for companies using crowd-sourcing to translate articles and documents (a feature that was later removed). Duolingo incorporates elements of flashcard learning and gamification. The majority of language courses now are provided for English speakers, and the company has even included three constructed languages. The platform, which consists of a website and app, has seen outstanding success since its app releases. Originally, it was funded by a McArthur Fellowship and a grant from the National Science Foundation, although venture capital firms, such as A-Grade Investments, have also invested in it.
About Open Education: While openness is useful to people with economic stability and leisure time and does remove the economic barrier of tuition, in recent years, some studies have shown that it increases the educational gap between the rich and the poor. Those who haven’t the time, energy, or who have more pressing needs than self-determination can’t make use of open educational resources. The primary users are those who have time for hobbies. As such, open education has been used to bolster the idea of meritocracy, that anyone can ‘make it’ or improve their situation if they put in the effort, and those who don’t, are simply not trying. I think the next frontier for von Ahm to tackle would be to design a technology that allows learning without cutting into time that is needed for meeting basic needs. Nevertheless, as an open learning platform for those who do use it, it is easy to navigate, fun, and with few usability setbacks.