26 minutes | Aug 1, 2023

Learning From and With AI: Duolingo’s Zan Gilani

When Zan Gilani came to the U.S. from Pakistan to complete his undergraduate studies, he chose to study Chinese because it was rumored to be a difficult language. At the time, the tech industry was booming, and he quickly became interested in applying his passion for foreign languages and learning more generally in a technology-rich environment.

Those interests led Zan to Duolingo, where he has been working in product management for eight years and now oversees the app company’s experiential AI team. What excites him about working at the language-learning app company is his ability to help build solutions that enable personalized education at scale: The app boasts over 16 million daily active users, and AI-driven functionality motivates them through frequent notifications, personalizes learning experiences by adjusting the difficulty of questions in practice sessions, and observes and critiques learners’ performance.

Zan joins our podcast to outline the specific ways Duolingo uses AI and machine learning to drive user engagement, and discuss how the technology can be used to support learning more generally. Read the episode transcript here.

Me, Myself, and AI is a collaborative podcast from MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group and is hosted by Sam Ransbotham and Shervin Khodabandeh. Our engineer is David Lishansky, and the coordinating producers are Allison Ryder and Sophie Rüdinger.

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Guest bio:

Zan Gilani is a principal product manager at Duolingo. For the past eight years, he has helped grow the company’s learner base from 3 million to 16 million daily active users by working on retention, acquisition, growth in Asia, gamification, and the new-user experience.

He currently leads Duolingo’s Experimental AI team, which uses generative AI to build features that teach learners more effectively. More broadly, Gilani is working on setting Duolingo up for success using generative AI, through external partnerships and internal education.

Gilani grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and is currently based in New York City. He has bachelor’s degrees in political science and East Asian studies from Columbia University.

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