busuu shows that Mobile Learners really exist


This week busuu made the news having achieved 20 million downloads. And while this surely is a nice number we all (should) know that vanity numbers alone don’t say anything about your business. Just ask Livemocha. Luckily busuu has more to offer than the glitzy baits that get you on TechCrunch.

If you look deeper into the press release you should notice something that is far more interesting.

The general shift to mobile learning is further demonstrated by the fact that busuu users now complete 33% more exercises via the app than online.

There has been written a lot about learning sprints and mobile learners but having hard data to prove that people are actually learning and completing tasks on their mobile devices is pretty fascinating.

If you take the time and look at people during their commute in public transport you will notice that over the years the number of people looking down on a smartphone of some sort has risen dramatically. It has become a somewhat personal zone of privacy in an increasingly noisy and hectic environment. And this is what makes it perfect for learning sprints.

You know exactly how much time you’ll have to spend and frankly, there is nothing much you could do otherwise. I mean talking to people? Come on. Hence people either check their email; social media or catch up with the latest news. And while some people add a round of Words with Friends (is this still a thing?) or any other popular mobile game, some actually use this time bubble to learn a language.

It really is a perfect learning environment. Nothing that may distract you and a fixed amount of time to complete a task. When you are doing the same thing at home in front of your computer, a lot can and will happen to interrupt the learning from spouses to children and pets. But don’t write off learning on a computer just yet.

I asked busuu’s co-founder and CEO Bernhard Niesner whether there was a difference in the time people spend learning on mobile devices compared to computers and he told me that the session time on a computer is twice as high than on mobile devices. On the other hand, busuu now has more users that learn with its mobile products.

Learners now can also further personalize their learning experience by setting their own goals. Niesner told me that for now most users choose the beginner levels which might indicate that people find language learning more entertaining when they are not drilled too hard.

This of course leads to the inevitable question of how serious most people are about learning a foreign language and what most learners feel is good enough, but I guess this has always been the case. For the vast majority language learning was a tedious task. Now startups like bussu, babbel.com, MindSnacks and others turned the basics into an enjoyable, game like experience.

More serious learners will always go deeper and probably prefer learning on a computer where it is easier to type, interact with more complex tasks or set up a video call with a language partner. Mobile learning is an essential part of the overall process, it can be an “entry drug” but for now it won’t replace the web based experience.

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.