Reasonal | 2022 | reasonal.co | App Store

Mobile app for Reasonal

Mobile app for Reasonal

Reasonal is a mobile app for students that teaches logic and problem-solving skills in a fun and interactive way. The task was to create "Duolingo for critical thinking skills".


I'm a solo founder of Reasonal. I led all the product design work, the development of product architecture and user experience, creating key concept and user interfaces. The app is not publicly launched yet.

My role:

  • UX Research

  • UX Strategy

  • UI Design

  • UX Writing

  • App Development

I have omitted and obfuscated some confidential information in this case study.

Process overview

Process overview

The challenge

Reasonal is project I've started as a solo founder with the aim to build a "Duolingo for critical thinking and problem-solving skills". I decided to focus on critical thinking and problem-solving because these are among the most valuable skills employers are looking for in candidates today and will continue to be in demand in 2025 and beyond, according to the World Economic Forum.

The challenge

Reasonal is project I've started as a solo founder with the aim to build a "Duolingo for critical thinking and problem-solving skills". I decided to focus on critical thinking and problem-solving because these are among the most valuable skills employers are looking for in candidates today and will continue to be in demand in 2025 and beyond, according to the World Economic Forum.

Duolingo is a freemium mobile app and online platform where you can learn different languages in a bite-sized model. Over 500 million registered users use it, with 37 million active once a month.

Duolingo is a freemium mobile app and online platform where you can learn different languages in a bite-sized model. Over 500 million registered users use it, with 37 million active once a month.

Top-3

Problem-solving is ranked as one of top-3 skills for the future in the Future of Jobs Survey by World Economic Forum

91%

of employers are seeking problem-solving skills in candidates

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), World Economic Forum, 2020

Goal: to create an app that teaches logic and problem-solving skills as effectively as Duolingo teaches languages

Goal: to create an app that teaches logic and problem-solving skills as effectively as Duolingo teaches languages

With 500 million users Duolingo was obviously doing something right. But in order to understand what exactly, I needed to get down to the root problem first. There were several questions that needed to be answered:

  • What problems does the educational app market have? And how does Duolingo solve them better than its competitors?

  • Do we have a similar target audience? Are these principles applicable for teaching logic and problem-solving skills?

  • Do people want to learn problem-solving and logic—or are they satisfied with their current level of knowledge?

With 500 million users Duolingo was obviously doing something right. But in order to understand what exactly, I needed to get down to the root problem first. There were several questions that needed to be answered:

  • What problems does the educational app market have? And how does Duolingo solve them better than its competitors?

  • Do we have a similar target audience? Are these principles applicable for teaching logic and problem-solving skills?

  • Do people want to learn problem-solving and logic—or are they satisfied with their current level of knowledge?

Constraints

There was no budget for video shooting and production, so all learning had to be text-based.

Constraints

There was no budget for video shooting and production, so all learning had to be text-based.

The problem

The first problem became apparent quite quickly: people have a thirst for self-improvement in theory, but often stumble at the first hurdle—daily practice and studying. It's a familiar pattern in the realm of self-directed programs, where workout plans and diet books are often purchased with grandiose visions of transformation, only to be abandoned just weeks later. Online course providers sell the convenience, the flexibility, the potential to learn anything from the comfort of your own home, but rely on their students' willpower and motivation to stick through a course. And only 3-6% of students have the willpower to do it. Even educational apps, seemingly tailor-made for our modern, fast-paced lives, have some of the lowest retention rates out of all kinds of mobile apps.

The problem

The first problem became apparent quite quickly: people have a thirst for self-improvement in theory, but often stumble at the first hurdle—daily practice and studying. It's a familiar pattern in the realm of self-directed programs, where workout plans and diet books are often purchased with grandiose visions of transformation, only to be abandoned just weeks later. Online course providers sell the convenience, the flexibility, the potential to learn anything from the comfort of your own home, but rely on their students' willpower and motivation to stick through a course. And only 3-6% of students have the willpower to do it. Even educational apps, seemingly tailor-made for our modern, fast-paced lives, have some of the lowest retention rates out of all kinds of mobile apps.

2.1%

Day 30 retention rate of educational apps worldwide in Q3 2022

3-6%

Completion rate of massive open online courses (MOOCs)

Source: Statista (2023), ResearchGate

Problem: educational apps have one of the lowest user retention rates out of all kinds of mobile apps

Problem: educational apps have one of the lowest user retention rates out of all kinds of mobile apps

Key learnings

I have conducted several types of research in order to understand the audience and get best practices regarding efficient learning:

  • Competitive analysis: I've studied Duolingo's best practices and the apps that are currently playing in the field of critical thinking, logic, and problem-solving.

  • User interviews: I've conducted a few user interviews and made video recordings in order to get deeper into several topics.

  • Automated diary studies: I like to gather factual information about users' habits and contexts in a non-intrusive manner that is effortless for them, and which produces data that they cannot manipulate. Therefore, I've simply asked several participants to share screenshots of their screen time reports from their phones for the past two weeks. It's an ideal type of diary that writes itself, and is always factually correct.

  • Desk research: I have reviewed various research papers and literature that discuss the best practices in learning. One particularly helpful resource that I have come across is the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning authored by Peter Brown, who is a writer and former management consultant, and Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel, who are professors of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Key learnings

I have conducted several types of research in order to understand the audience and get best practices regarding efficient learning:

  • Competitive analysis: I've studied Duolingo's best practices and the apps that are currently playing in the field of critical thinking, logic, and problem-solving.

  • User interviews: I've conducted a few user interviews and made video recordings in order to get deeper into several topics.

  • Automated diary studies: I like to gather factual information about users' habits and contexts in a non-intrusive manner that is effortless for them, and which produces data that they cannot manipulate. Therefore, I've simply asked several participants to share screenshots of their screen time reports from their phones for the past two weeks. It's an ideal type of diary that writes itself, and is always factually correct.

  • Desk research: I have reviewed various research papers and literature that discuss the best practices in learning. One particularly helpful resource that I have come across is the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning authored by Peter Brown, who is a writer and former management consultant, and Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel, who are professors of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Gaming and gambling have a far greater capacity to form habits than learning

Gaming and gambling have a far greater capacity to form habits than learning

Duolingo's target audience was young people between 16 to 22 years old, which was almost exactly the audience Reasonal is targeting. I explored Duolingo's retention strategies to discover how they managed to keep users engaged:

  • Gamification. Duolingo uses game elements to keep users engaged and motivated. Each user sets a daily goal, receives experience points as a reward for completing it, and is awarded achievement badges that trigger positive emotions from childhood computer games (e.g., medals, treasures, Ruby stones, swords, and bows). While these awards have no value outside of Duolingo, they can still motivate users.

  • Gambling. Duolingo has an in-app currency that has no value outside of the app. After completing several lessons and being rewarded for that with in-app currency, the app makes an offer to hold a Streak Wager—doubling your currency in case you have a seven-day streak. If you lose, you lose your wager. Duolingo confirmed on their blog that this experiment was a success and that it increased Day-7 retention by 14%. This experiment actually uses the sunk cost fallacy—the tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort or time has been made—to help people make better decisions.

  • Competition. Duolingo has a league system, weekly standings and leaderboards. There are 10 leagues ranging from bronze to diamond. To advance to the next league, you must be among the top 10 users at the end of the week. You earn experience points for completing lessons and move up through the leagues when you have enough points. As you progress from one league to another, competition becomes more intense.

Duolingo's target audience was young people between 16 to 22 years old, which was almost exactly the audience Reasonal is targeting. I explored Duolingo's retention strategies to discover how they managed to keep users engaged:

  • Gamification. Duolingo uses game elements to keep users engaged and motivated. Each user sets a daily goal, receives experience points as a reward for completing it, and is awarded achievement badges that trigger positive emotions from childhood computer games (e.g., medals, treasures, Ruby stones, swords, and bows). While these awards have no value outside of Duolingo, they can still motivate users.

  • Gambling. Duolingo has an in-app currency that has no value outside of the app. After completing several lessons and being rewarded for that with in-app currency, the app makes an offer to hold a Streak Wager—doubling your currency in case you have a seven-day streak. If you lose, you lose your wager. Duolingo confirmed on their blog that this experiment was a success and that it increased Day-7 retention by 14%. This experiment actually uses the sunk cost fallacy—the tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort or time has been made—to help people make better decisions.

  • Competition. Duolingo has a league system, weekly standings and leaderboards. There are 10 leagues ranging from bronze to diamond. To advance to the next league, you must be among the top 10 users at the end of the week. You earn experience points for completing lessons and move up through the leagues when you have enough points. As you progress from one league to another, competition becomes more intense.

Similar to many other apps, Duolingo also promotes maintaining daily streaks. But sometimes this can backfire. While streaks can motivate people to use the app regularly, losing a streak can be discouraging and cause users to abandon the app altogether. Plus, some people might come back just to keep their streak going, without actually learning anything new, which defeats the purpose of the app. And on top of that, always feeling like you have to study every single day can be stressful and hinder the learning progress. Taking breaks and allowing time for knowledge retention is crucial for effective learning.

Similar to many other apps, Duolingo also promotes maintaining daily streaks. But sometimes this can backfire. While streaks can motivate people to use the app regularly, losing a streak can be discouraging and cause users to abandon the app altogether. Plus, some people might come back just to keep their streak going, without actually learning anything new, which defeats the purpose of the app. And on top of that, always feeling like you have to study every single day can be stressful and hinder the learning progress. Taking breaks and allowing time for knowledge retention is crucial for effective learning.

Many students felt their learning was disconnected from the real world and outdated. Problem-solving was seen as some vague theoretical concept with no immediate practical applications.

Many students felt their learning was disconnected from the real world and outdated. Problem-solving was seen as some vague theoretical concept with no immediate practical applications.

In interviews with students, I've found that they felt learning in general was often disconnected from reality and outdated. Whether online or offline, most professors did not speak the language of their students and students had difficulty applying what they've learned to real life.


Critical thinking and problem-solving were seen as some vague theoretical concept with no immediate practical applications. Some students assumed that problem-solving was synonymous with mathematical problem-solving, rather than recognizing that it is a broader set of skills that could be applied to many different types of problems. Others believed that problem-solving was only for experts in specific fields, such as engineering or computer science.


I needed to clear up these misconceptions and show students that problem-solving is a valuable skill that can be applied in many different contexts and can be invaluable for academic success, career advancement, and personal growth.

In interviews with students, I've found that they felt learning in general was often disconnected from reality and outdated. Whether online or offline, most professors did not speak the language of their students and students had difficulty applying what they've learned to real life.


Critical thinking and problem-solving were seen as some vague theoretical concept with no immediate practical applications. Some students assumed that problem-solving was synonymous with mathematical problem-solving, rather than recognizing that it is a broader set of skills that could be applied to many different types of problems. Others believed that problem-solving was only for experts in specific fields, such as engineering or computer science.


I needed to clear up these misconceptions and show students that problem-solving is a valuable skill that can be applied in many different contexts and can be invaluable for academic success, career advancement, and personal growth.

Most mobile screen time was not educational-related and even less text-based

Most mobile screen time was not educational-related and even less text-based

I asked some users to share screenshots of their Screen Time, which gave me a great idea of how much time they spent on their phones each day and what apps they used most often. Screen Time is a great tool for this, because it requires no additional work from the users and delivers factual data that is not influenced by the experiment itself.


The results of the study were concerning. As expected, most mobile screen time was not related to education, and even less time was spent on text-based content. In our user interviews, students informed us that they preferred devices with larger screens—such as iPads or laptops—for reading text-based content, which made perfect sense. This led to several discussions about whether Reasonal had the right combination of media, devices, and fields of study. Ultimately, I decided that bite-sized lessons and an emphasis on practice would be the app's strong points.

I asked some users to share screenshots of their Screen Time, which gave me a great idea of how much time they spent on their phones each day and what apps they used most often. Screen Time is a great tool for this, because it requires no additional work from the users and delivers factual data that is not influenced by the experiment itself.


The results of the study were concerning. As expected, most mobile screen time was not related to education, and even less time was spent on text-based content. In our user interviews, students informed us that they preferred devices with larger screens—such as iPads or laptops—for reading text-based content, which made perfect sense. This led to several discussions about whether Reasonal had the right combination of media, devices, and fields of study. Ultimately, I decided that bite-sized lessons and an emphasis on practice would be the app's strong points.

Learning is like working out. It's only effective when it's hard work.

Learning is like working out. It's only effective when it's hard work.

During desk research, I learned several valuable lessons about learning effectiveness that I later implemented into the design. The authors of the Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel, emphasize the following practices that should be used to improve learning:

  • Generating connections between new material and related information in memory are essential for good retention. For example, a student studying for a history exam can make connections between the events they are learning and current events happening in the world, something they already know and care about.

  • Contrary to popular belief, focusing on one topic at a time is not the best way to learn. Instead, interleaving—spacing learning, switching between activities and topics over time—is proven to be more effective. It boosts long-term memory and consolidation of memory into knowledge.

  • Learning has to be active and effortful to be efficient. Effortful recall of previously learned information a couple of days after the training, makes your brain tag it as important enough to keep. Generation (attempting to answer a question before knowing what the answer is) is also an effective but often overlooked strategy. Students learn more when they are made to solve a problem themselves instead of being given the solution. Making and correcting mistakes improves retention of skills.

During desk research, I learned several valuable lessons about learning effectiveness that I later implemented into the design. The authors of the Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel, emphasize the following practices that should be used to improve learning:

  • Generating connections between new material and related information in memory are essential for good retention. For example, a student studying for a history exam can make connections between the events they are learning and current events happening in the world, something they already know and care about.

  • Contrary to popular belief, focusing on one topic at a time is not the best way to learn. Instead, interleaving—spacing learning, switching between activities and topics over time—is proven to be more effective. It boosts long-term memory and consolidation of memory into knowledge.

  • Learning has to be active and effortful to be efficient. Effortful recall of previously learned information a couple of days after the training, makes your brain tag it as important enough to keep. Generation (attempting to answer a question before knowing what the answer is) is also an effective but often overlooked strategy. Students learn more when they are made to solve a problem themselves instead of being given the solution. Making and correcting mistakes improves retention of skills.

The solution

After gathering all the learnings, I came up with a set of principles, concepts and features that I implemented in the design.

No streaks in the long run. I've decided to move away from streaks once the app gathers enough users to launch challenges, leaderboards, and personal achievements. I've seen evidence that some learning apps have discontinued their use of streaks—like Khan Academy, another popular learning platform. They stated that over 99% of learners did not use it regularly, and some teachers and learners said that streaks could actually be demotivating (especially when circumstances beyond one's control, like health or access to a device or Wi-Fi, can be the reason a streak gets broken). Another reason was that streaks were a popular feature of Snapchat, which our audience used a lot. And there's only so many streaks you can keep track of at one time.

Gamification. Experience points for course progress and thematic achievements.

Competition. Thematic challenges and leaderboards.

Plain language. I explain concepts in a way that I might explain them to a friend.

Practical application. I emphasize the practical meaning of our concepts and how to apply them in real-life situations. I include lots of examples, problem solving, and hands-on activities in each chapter, so people rarely read long blocks of text, but rather see examples, solve problems, and do activities.

Personalization. During onboarding, I'll learn about each student's interests and tailor their experience accordingly. This influences the quotes they see on the Home screen, the analogies used in lessons, and some of the practice questions where it could be naturally implemented (I avoid making it look forced or far-fetched).

Bites feature. Short lessons and concepts with practice questions to deliver a sense of quick achievement and boosts of dopamine.

Quotes feature. I've created a section on the Home screen that highlights quotes from athletes, artists, and influencers about the importance of problem solving and hard work. I want to show that the app speaks the same language as students—and gain some street cred in the process.

The solution

After gathering all the learnings, I came up with a set of principles, concepts and features that I implemented in the design.

No streaks in the long run. I've decided to move away from streaks once the app gathers enough users to launch challenges, leaderboards, and personal achievements. I've seen evidence that some learning apps have discontinued their use of streaks—like Khan Academy, another popular learning platform. They stated that over 99% of learners did not use it regularly, and some teachers and learners said that streaks could actually be demotivating (especially when circumstances beyond one's control, like health or access to a device or Wi-Fi, can be the reason a streak gets broken). Another reason was that streaks were a popular feature of Snapchat, which our audience used a lot. And there's only so many streaks you can keep track of at one time.

Gamification. Experience points for course progress and thematic achievements.

Competition. Thematic challenges and leaderboards.

Plain language. I explain concepts in a way that I might explain them to a friend.

Practical application. I emphasize the practical meaning of our concepts and how to apply them in real-life situations. I include lots of examples, problem solving, and hands-on activities in each chapter, so people rarely read long blocks of text, but rather see examples, solve problems, and do activities.

Personalization. During onboarding, I'll learn about each student's interests and tailor their experience accordingly. This influences the quotes they see on the Home screen, the analogies used in lessons, and some of the practice questions where it could be naturally implemented (I avoid making it look forced or far-fetched).

Bites feature. Short lessons and concepts with practice questions to deliver a sense of quick achievement and boosts of dopamine.

Quotes feature. I've created a section on the Home screen that highlights quotes from athletes, artists, and influencers about the importance of problem solving and hard work. I want to show that the app speaks the same language as students—and gain some street cred in the process.