Kahoot, an online quiz system from Norway that is fast gaining market share in schools across the United States, plays out like a television game show spliced with a video game.
Cast in the role of game host, teachers introduce a multiple-choice quiz — on, say, plant life or English grammar. Using the Kahoot platform, they project one quiz question at a time onto a whiteboard or screen at the front of their classrooms.
Players typically have 30 seconds to click an answer on their laptops, tablets or smartphones. They earn points for correct choices, and extra points for clicking faster.
During the answer period, Kahoot emits a catchy countdown tune, reminiscent of retro video games like Monkey Island. A gong sounds when time is up, and the classroom board immediately tallies the class’s correct and incorrect answers. Next, a leaderboard appears, ranking the top five students by points accrued.
Kahoot’s gamelike features and easy-to-use format have helped turn it into a classroom phenomenon. Of the 55 million elementary and secondary school students in the United States, about 20 million used Kahoot last month, the company said.
“It’s fun. Everyone is doing it. It pulls all the children in,” Tosh McGaughy, a digital learning specialist at the Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City, Tex., told me recently. “They get competitive and excited.”
Still, it’s too early to tell whether Kahoot will ultimately improve learning for students or simply provide edutainment.
“Are they engaged in the content after the game is over, two days later, or at some point in time when they are not having all the bells and whistles going off?” asked Heather Collins, a digital learning researcher and chairwoman of the behavioral and social sciences department at Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C.
Kahoot, a play on “in cahoots,” capitalizes on a number of education trends. One is “engagement,” or the belief that the more an activity interests students, the more motivated they will be to learn. Another is “gamification,” the practice of applying elements from games to nongame realms.
“It is a simple game-show format,” Johan Brand, the chief executive of Kahoot, said in a phone interview.
The spoonful-of-sugar approach to learning can be applied regardless of subject matter. “We as a company are not interested in what they are teaching,” he said. “We are interested in how they are playing.”
And many students are playing to win, partly by competing on speed.
“They think the cellphone is faster,” Ms. McGaughy, the digital learning specialist, said. “So the competitive kids use the phone.”
The site also lends itself to social sharing. Students are already posting their Kahoot ranking on social networks — or group-texting it, even when they do not come in first.