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What is Kirkpatrick’s Training Evaluation Model?

by | Mar 16, 2020

So you’ve launched a training program. How can you tell if it’s been effective?

Is your audience is putting their learning into practice in the real world?

Does the training program accomplish the goals set from the beginning? 

All training programs need some type of method to evaluate the outcome. In corporate training, evaluation helps show the business value of the program to key decision-makers. In academic training, evaluation helps instructors know if knowledge transfer has been successful. For any learning experience, evaluating the outcome helps improve future iterations of the program.

One popular tool for determining training effectiveness is Kirkpatrick’s Training Evaluation Model. This dynamic model helps us analyze and evaluate the results of any training program, learning video series, or eLearning course.

Originally developed in the 1950s, Kirkpatrick’s model is one of the widely-used tools for assessing and evaluating training programs.

Kirkpatrick’s model has four levels. Evaluation should begin at Level 1 and proceed sequentially through the model (although see below for a more effective way to use the model). Data points collected at each level should be used for the following level. As the evaluation moves from Level 1 to Level 4, we’re provided with a more accurate understanding of the program’s effectiveness.

Now let’s look more in-depth at each of the four levels:


What are Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels?


Level 1 – Reaction

How did participants feel about the training program? Did they like it? Dislike it? Why?

In Level 1, we measure how our participants reacted to the training. 

This can be accomplished by asking the participants important identifying questions, after they complete the training. Understanding these reactions helps improve the program for the future.

It also helps us understand how engaged and invested participants were in the learning process. Be cautious as you analyze this first level, as positive participant reactions do not necessarily mean effective learning. The goal is to capture honest feedback that can be used for the future. 

Mode of evaluating reaction: Capturing participant reactions can be completed using a questionnaire, survey, written form, or verbal feedback.

A few example questions to ask participants are: Did participants find the training helpful? Did they enjoy the visuals and style? Were the activities engaging? What are a few important things you learned from the training?


Level 2 – Learning

What knowledge/skills were actually learned from the training program?

In Level 2, we measure what the participants actually learned from the training.

This level helps us understand participants skill/knowledge acquisition as well as their personal confidence in the new subject matter.

This can be accomplished by conducting assessments. Before the training program starts, conduct a pre-test based on the learning objectives. This will give you an understanding of the current knowledge/skills of each participant before training. After the training is completed, test the participants again.

The variance between the pre-test and post-test should provide data points to help understand the knowledge/skills that were successfully transferred.

Mode of evaluation: Measuring learning can be completed using written exams, interviews, and instructor observations.


Level 3 – Behavior (or Transfer)

Are participants applying their learned behaviors in the real world?

In Level 3, we measure the specific behaviors that participants are applying in their day-to-day job.

This level helps us understand a deeper level of training effectiveness, and also shows us where participants may still have gaps in their learning.

The goal here is to understand if the learned knowledge/skills are actually being used. For individual participants, this level offers the clearest insight into the program’s usefulness.

Measuring behavior typically begins 3-6 months after the training program. This gives ample time for participants to utilize what they’ve learned, and refine their skill set.

Mode of evaluation: Measuring behavior can be completed using interviews and close observations. Remember, that this mode of evaluation is most effective many months after the initial training.

A few example questions to answer are: Do participants put their learning to use in the real world? Are participants able to teach their new knowledge/skills to other individuals? Do participants recognize a change in their own behaviors?


Level 4 – Results

What are the resulting benefits that the organization has experienced?

In Level 4, we measure the overall success of the training program. 

For example, this could include measuring the return on investment, cost value, employee efficiency, improved employee retention, workplace accident reduction, improved sales, reduced waste, etc.

Typically, the resulting benefits are tied closely to your broader level goals from when you initially designed your training program. What was the entire training program trying to accomplish? Level 4 is about measuring to that goal.

Of the four levels, Level 4 is the most difficult to measure and implement. It requires dedicated time and resources from the beginning. This means properly understanding how you will measure and what type of analysis is required.

Mode of evaluation: Measuring results can be completed using yearly evaluations, feedback gathering, data analysis.


How to Use Kirkpatrick’s Model of Evaluation

The four levels cover the basics to evaluate any training program. But how do we actually use the model in real life?

One of the more modern approaches to using Kirkpatrick’s model is to use it backwards.

That’s right – starting with Level 4 and ending with Level 1. Let’s look at an example to explain:


Let’s say your business wants to reduce workplace accidents by 15%. “Reducing workplace accidents by 15%” is our desired result, AKA our Level 4.

Now that we know what our desired result is, we can begin working backward. We can “reduce workplace accidents by 15%” if our floor staff follow all safety precautions each day before beginning work.

That’s our desired behavior, AKA Level 3.

From here, we create a training program that helps the floor staff to learn all of the safety precautions. Learning new knowledge? Yep, that’s Level 2.

Which leads to the floor staff taking the training and expressing their initial reaction, AKA Level 1.

By starting with our desired results (Level 4), we can keep our training tightly focused on its higher-level purpose. ROI is always difficult to prove in training. By applying Kirkpatrick’d model (especially backward) can help set our training programs up for long-term success.


About the Author:

Andrew DeBell is a learning experience strategist and content developer on the customer education team at Atlassian. Connect with him on LinkedIn for more.