Dec 9

Why I Hate Kahoot!

Classroom Activity
Some thoughts on a tool that everyone else seems to love
Kahoot! is a tool that many teachers and learners LOVE but there are some darker sides to this kind of publicly competitive tool. Here are some of my thoughts on it based on my own experience.
Video transcript

Everybody I know loves Kahoot! My colleagues love it, my students love it, reviews of it show that students worldwide in classrooms of English and many other subjects love Kahoot! and I have no doubt that it can be really useful BUT I really don’t like it and although it makes me feel like a grumpy old woman to say so, I feel that balance is a useful contribution so I am making the case for those of us who find it less engaging than the hyperbole surrounding it would suggest.

I’m Jo Gakonga – I’ve been an English language teacher and teacher educator for over 30 years and I’ve got a website at where I make hopefully useful material for teachers at all stages of their careers. If you like this, don’t forget to like and subscribe – I make a new video every week.

So, let me be clear. I don’t actually hate Kahoot! (this just made for a more eye-catching title), but I do have serious reservations about it. You might think that I’m the kind of person who’d really enjoy something like this. I’m quite tech savvy, I love the idea of engaging learners and I believe that you’re more likely to learn something if it’s fun and memorable.

Certainly a lot of other teachers like it – Bright, attractive colours, engaging questions, and that competitive spirit that keeps learners hooked. Sounds great, doesn't it? Social media is full of happy users suggesting that Kahoot! is ‘the best thing to happen to modern education’. The website (Kahoot!.com) shows videos of children in classrooms jumping up and down, high-fiving each other, clearly loving every second of the activity.

So what are my reservations? For me, it’s all about the nature of competition.

You might be thinking that I am anti-competition, but that’s definitely not true. I’ve used competition extensively over a long period of time in the classroom. I think it can really engage and motivate learners and I’ve recommended it to hundreds of trainees over the years.

But sometimes, the competitive spirit can turn into something ugly. Take it from me, working with teenage ESOL learners once proved that competition can sometimes bring out the worst in us.

So this, it seems to me, is the issue with competition. When you don’t take it very seriously, it can be a really useful motivational tool. BUT that urge to win can also work negatively.

My experiences

So is this competition problem only an issue with teenage boys? Well no. Even people like me suffer from it! The problem is not that I’m not competitive – the opposite is true. I’m too competitive. I hate losing.

If I’m in a situation where I can be ‘good average’ but have no hope of winning, it’s fine but if there’s a sniff of a possibility that I could win, though, I find myself growing horns. I really, really want to win. And the opposite is true, too. If I find that I’ve slipped below average, I lose interest completely and don’t want to play. I don’t think that these are positive traits – I’m a bit embarrassed about it, to be honest, but I do tend to avoid competitive games for this reason.

So how does this relate to Kahoot? Let me tell you about a couple of instances where I’ve had to play it and maybe it’ll make it clearer.

The first one is the first time that I used Kahoot! I was in a seminar and the time I’d downloaded it and found out how to use it, we were already on question two. I was hopelessly behind and so, feeling that this was a useless endeavour, I just gave up. Perhaps I pressed an option or two, but my heart wasn’t really in it and I felt a certain amount of resentment towards everyone else, particularly when my name was at the bottom of the list at the end.

The second experience happened a few weeks later and was completely different. This time I knew what I was doing as soon as the quiz was announced. It was already on my phone and I felt a real urge to excel. The first question… I got it right… and not only that, but I got it first. My name was at the top of the leader board. Now the pressure was on. My heart was racing with each question, the stress of trying to maintain my top position was really high. It was horrible! I was hurriedly choosing answers, anxiously waiting for the answers to be displayed and this just got worse and worse as I won question after question. It became a rather public race between me and another teacher and I was a nose ahead right until the final question. … I chose my answer, the results were shown and … I’d been beaten into second place. So, did I feel any sense of achievement? Nope. I just felt slightly sour, rather embarrassed that I had got the final question wrong and a bit ashamed of myself for getting so worked up over it.

Now, you might think that all of this says rather more about me and my personal failings than about Kahoot! and its limitations and you could be right But take this to think about. With any tool or technique, it’s always worth being aware of the hype and considering all the implications of it before you use it.

The main problem with Kahoot!, I think, is that it’s too precise about who wins – it’s completely objective and fair about the outcomes and if you use it with individuals, it’s likely that the same few people in your class - the stronger learners - will always be at the top of the tree. it’s not going to motivate the ones who are always at the bottom. Even for the ones who regularly win, the pressure might not be all that positive.

So, where does that leave us with Kahoot!? Well, it's a fantastic tool with tons of potential, no doubt about it. It's great for team quizzes and gathering learner feedback. But for some, like me, the time constraints, the stress, and the public leaderboard can make it a less enjoyable experience. I guess it's always a good idea to look beyond the hype of this kind of tool and keep experimenting and find what works best for your learners.

For me, though, the fumbling, time constrained, rather stressful nature of it, the not quite winning and the potential for public humiliation mean that I uphold my original premise.

I hate Kahoot!

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