Many organizations believe that training is the solution to everything and the lack of it, the cause of many problems. The Kirkpatrick Four Level Model is one of the best known approaches to analyzing and evaluating training programs. 

We will present and explore the four levels of the model and how you can use it to determine whether your training programs are effective and have an impact on your organization. Training can be expensive and time-consuming, so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.  

Overview: What is the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation (Model)? 

Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and past president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), first published his model in 1959. He updated it in 1975, and again in 1994 when he published his best-known work, Evaluating Training Programs.

Each successive level of the model describes a more precise measurement of the effectiveness of a training program. Further revisions were done with his son, James, and subsequently by James and his wife, Wendy.

James and Wendy revised the original model and introduced the New World Kirkpatrick Model in their 2016 book titled Four Levels of Training Evaluation. We will present some of the more relevant revisions.

The graphic below shows the original four levels of the model.

Image source: Kirkpatrick Model

Let’s explore each level in more detail.

Level 1: Reaction

You want your training participants to feel the training they received was valuable. You need to assess and evaluate student engagement and whether they actively contributed and participated. Their reactions, both positive and negative, will allow you to make improvements in the training.

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • Did you feel the training was worth your time?
  • Did you think it was successful?
  • What do you think went well, and what can be done better?
  • Was the venue and presentation style conducive to your learning experience?
  • Were the training activities supportive of the learning objectives?
  • How will you apply the training to your job?

Decide how you will gather feedback from the participants. One common method is to capture plus/deltas of what went well and what could be improved. These are typically captured on sticky notes and placed on a flip chart page at the end of the day. The next morning, the instructor should review for clarification and make adjustments as feasible. 

Another common method is the use of the smile sheet, which elicits responses about the training, the environment, and the instructor. These often have little value. Half the class thought the pace too slow, while the rest thought it was too fast. Most liked the instructor, while others were offended. Many thought it was the best training ever, while others thought it was boring. There is usually so much variation in the reactions that little can be gleaned from the feedback.

Level 2: Learning

You should have specific learning objectives for your training. This level assesses whether those objectives have been met. You should not wait until the end of training to determine whether there has been an improvement in learning. This should be an ongoing process during the training.

Depending on the objectives, you can measure learning in a variety of ways. Before the training begins, do a quick pretest of students’ current state of knowledge. When training is completed, you can do a post test and measure whether learning has occurred. More importantly, there should be frequent touchpoints during the training. This can be done by asking questions to the class, having them engage in specific activities to demonstrate their grasp of the content, and administering a series of mini-exams to test knowledge acquisition.

Level 3: Behavior

This level helps you understand how well students are applying their newly learned skills in their workplace. Are they doing something different? Are their behaviors changing? Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate change. It takes time for people to unlearn old behaviors and apply new ones.

It’s possible they actually learned something, but the organizational or team culture is preventing them from making a behavioral change. Investigate whether there are process or leadership issues preventing them from making the desired changes.

Behavior modification will require you to observe what people are doing or not doing, and having a strategy of reinforcement to keep the desired behaviors going or some corrective action to cease undesired behaviors.

Level 4: Results

Level 4 looks at the final impact of the training on your organization. Your biggest challenge will be to identify the outcomes, benefits, or final results most closely correlated with the training. There will be both long-term and short-term benefits. Have a process in place to monitor the benefits for both time frames.

Here are some benefits and outcomes you might hope to see and measure:

  • Reduced employee turnover
  • Increased production
  • Higher employee morale and satisfaction
  • Reduced waste
  • Increased sales and profitability
  • Better quality of product and service
  • Increased customer satisfaction

2 benefits and one drawback of the Kirkpatrick Model

For people to perform at their highest level, they need to know what to do and how to do it. That is often the role of training. Here are a few benefits of using this model to accomplish this. 

1. Objective method of evaluation

Rather than just subjectively assessing the value of your training, the Kirkpatrick Model provides an objective, structured approach to analyzing the value and impact of your training.

2. Specifics 

The Model is not just a conceptual model but provides specific actions and recommendations for doing analysis of your training. 

3. Times have changed 

One drawback of the model is that it was developed decades ago. Since then, modes of training, technology, and attitudes towards training have changed. Even the expectations of students have changed over time. Don’t use the model as a dogmatic structure of how to do things, but more as a structured set of guidelines. 

Why is the Kirkpatrick Model important to understand? 

The important thing is to understand the need for your training to have value to your students as well as your organization. Lean Six Sigma training for the sake of training has little value. There must be benefits and positive outcomes to justify the investment. 

Will bridge the gap

Training programs are usually not perfect to start with. There are gaps and potential fail points during the initial roll out of any training program. The Kirkpatrick Model will help bridge the gaps and after appropriate analysis and revision, the program and its benefits will be improved. 

Cost and time 

While Levels 3 and 4 provide the most useful information, they can be time-consuming and costly to implement. This may make it impractical for some organizations. 

Not relevant for all training 

This model is very useful for evaluating an ongoing program of training or a series of training classes. It will not be relevant for a one-off class since there is limited time to capture all the information needed to evaluate the four levels.

An industry example of using the Kirkpatrick Model 

Many organizations have deployed Lean Six Sigma initiatives over the past four decades. Most use a common approach for training and certifying their Green Belts, Black Belts, and Master Black Belts. A large banking organization decided to take a different approach and used the New World Kirkpatrick Model to develop their training.

Step one was to define the specific objectives and desired outcomes and results for training plus the method for capturing and analyzing the data. Next, they identified the desired behaviors they wanted their Belts to exhibit in the workplace. Again there was a need to identify, measure, and develop a strategy to modify behaviors as appropriate. Third was the identification of the skills needed to accomplish the first three steps. Finally, they benchmarked and developed the actual training materials, exercises, and instructional staff to provide the best training experience they could. Extensive feedback from the student was solicited and improvements made in response to student reactions.

The training approach was recognized by other companies and professional organizations as being the one to benchmark against.

3 best practices when thinking about the Kirkpatrick Model

Here are a few tips on using the Kirkpatrick Model to evaluate your training.  

1. Have clear objectives 

Don’t do training for the sake of doing training. Have clear, definable, and measurable objectives for any training you do. 

2. Follow up 

Be sure to follow up on any training activity to see if the learning objectives have been applied in the workplace and to provide coaching if necessary.

3. Be patient 

There will be a learning curve for students to apply the skills they learned in training. Follow up, coach, and be patient and, in time, most people will make the needed change.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation

1. Why is the Kirkpatrick Model so popular? 

It has been used since the 1950s so it has a history of successful implementation. It is also flexible enough to apply to any style of training.

2. What are the 4 levels of the Kirkpatrick Model? 

The four levels are reaction, learning, behavior, and results.

3. What is the New World Kirkpatrick Model? 

Dr. Kirkpatrick’s son and his wife published an updated and expanded scope of the original model in 2016 to focus on the results, outcomes, and objectives first. You can learn more about the New World Kirkpatrick Model.

Evaluating your training impact

The Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation is the most popular approach for assessing the value and impact of training programs. It consists of four levels: reaction, learning, behavior, and results. By focusing on the perceptions of the student, the application of the learnings, and the outcomes of the training, you will be able to evaluate and improve your training programs to gain maximum benefit.

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