As he was strolling down the hallways of John F. Kennedy High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., principal Sean Gaillard heard thumping beats reverberating from a Spanish teacher’s classroom. It wasn’t Spanish music, but rather what he described as a “groovy” electronic jam. “I went in and thought there was going to be a party—and there was. It was a learning party.”
What he heard was the theme to Kahoot, a learning game reminiscent of television quiz shows where teams of players race each other to answer questions. Gaillard, his teachers and their peers around the world are among 50 million monthly active users that the company claims it now enjoys, citing internal data from Google Analytics.
That the Norwegian company has taken the globe by storm comes as no surprise to Gaillard. On the second day of his current job, as principal of nearby Lexington Middle School, he discovered that a social studies teacher was also using the game. “One of the students asked me to be on his team as we competed on a quiz around the Cold War.” He happily obliged.
Founded in 2012, Kahoot offers a web-based platform that allows anyone to create multiple-choice quizzes and groups of players compete to get the correct answer in the shortest amount of time (usually seconds). Each quiz, also called a “Kahoot,” can be projected on a screen, and players can see results as they come in. The games are usually played within the classroom, although a new integration with Skype allows classrooms across the world to challenge and play with one another.
Of the 50 million monthly active users, about 32 million hail from the U.S., says Erik Harrell, CEO of the company. About 80 percent of that number (or roughly 25.6 million users) come from usage in K-12 classrooms, he estimates. More than two million teachers have registered for an account.
Much of the Kahoot’s popularity in schools can be traced to the simplicity by which teachers can turn the classroom into a competitive gaming arena, says Gaillard. “It changes the mindset of the traditional classroom where kids sit in rows and fill in bubbles. I have observed sincere, sustained joy. When we talk about ‘engagement,’ you see it.”
In a digital age that measures popularity by “virality,” Kahoot appears to be in good company. It claims to have beaten Twitter in terms of how long it took to hit the 50 million monthly active user milestone. Among education technology apps, Kahoot’s reach puts it in the ranks of ClassDojo (which claims usage in 90 percent of U.S. schools), Remind and Quizlet (both of whom boast more than 20 million monthly active users).
Yet as a company that’s raised just shy of $25 million in capital from investors including Microsoft Ventures, Kahoot can’t claim total success—yet. Currently the company generates no revenue. But as it turns out, working adults at companies such as DNB, the largest bank in Norway, also enjoy using the gamified learning platform to learn. More than 1.1 million unique users can be traced at banks, telecommunications and retail companies.
Corporate and enterprise users “will be our initial source of revenue,” Harrell tells EdSurge. While these people use the same product as teachers and students, “the plan is to launch a corporate product later this year that’s a premium version of the school product [but] with added functionalities like branding, user account management, and more advanced data reporting for HR [human resource] purposes.”
Despite its traction in the K-12 schools and districts, the company says it has no immediate plans to charge schools and teachers. Still, Harrell has begun exploring whether content providers will want to pay. Today, all Kahoot quizzes are user-generated, but the company has had discussions with educational publishers about making their materials available on the platform.
Harrell says the company has steered clear of privacy concerns by the fact that students do not need to create an account to participate in a Kahoot game. Rather, they enter a PIN code shared by the teacher into their device, and participate using a nickname of their choosing. Students can still create an account but the company does not collect any personal information other than an email. (As a European company, Harrell notes, Kahoot has to abide by data privacy protection laws that are much stricter than those in the U.S.)
“There will always be a free product for schools,” he affirms. “That will never change.”