Learning and development (L&D) is more important than ever before. But simply pushing training content to your learners is not enough. Instead, you need to prove that your training programme is driving real business impact. That’s where the Kirkpatrick Model comes in!
The framework was developed by Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick. It provides us with a comprehensive structure for evaluating the impact of training initiatives. Its four distinct levels give you valuable insights into whether your training is as effective as you hope it to be.
In this article, we will look at the model in more detail and explore how to evaluate each level in practice. However, let’s start by getting to know the mastermind behind the framework.
Who Is Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick?
After gaining his BA, MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Kirkpatrick had a long career as a Professor Emeritus at the university’s Management Institute. He taught various subjects, including coaching, communication, time management, change management, team building and leadership.
Dr. Kirkpatrick was highly regarded in the field of training and development. In fact, the Kirkpatrick Model has remained popular to this day. It’s now one of the standard tools for evaluating the effectiveness of training programmes.
The Kirkpatrick Model: An Overview
The Kirkpatrick Model is a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of your training programmes. It’s equally suitable for in-person training and online learning initiatives.
The model provides a structured approach to assessing the impact and value of training interventions. It consists of four distinct levels:
- Level 1 – Reaction: Do your learners find their training engaging and relevant to their training needs?
- Level 2 – Learning: Have your learners acquired the intended knowledge and skills through the training programme?
- Level 3 – Behaviour: Can your learners apply their new skills or knowledge in real-life situations?
- Level 4 – Results: Has there been positive organisational outcomes as a result of the training programme?
Each level builds upon the previous one. This helps you to get a comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of your training programmes.
In fact, by providing a systematic approach to evaluation, the Kirkpatrick Model helps you to understand your training programme’s strengths, weaknesses and impact. As a result, you are better placed to make data-driven decisions and optimise your courses.
Before we explore each level of the model in more detail, let’s hear from our very own Juliette Denny, Growth Engineering’s Ideologist in Chief. As a part of her Learning Tribe YouTube series, Juliette examined the Kirkpatrick Model:
Applying The Kirkpatrick Model in Practice
Now that you have a basic understanding of what the Kirkpatrick Model helps you to achieve, let’s take a look at each level separately.
Level 1: Reaction
The first level of the Kirkpatrick Model focuses on gathering learner feedback. The goal is to assess your audience’s reaction to your training programme.
At this stage, you should measure learner satisfaction, engagement, and the overall perception of your training initiatives. To do so, you should collect data using a variety of methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups or observation.
By collecting and analysing learner feedback, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your training from your learners’ perspective. This gives you a great opportunity to tweak it after identifying areas for improvement.
Applying Level 1
For example, today’s modern learning platforms enable you to create well-designed surveys to gather feedback. You should ask about your learners’ overall satisfaction, the relevance of the content, ease of use, and the overall learning experience.
Feedback from participants is the most popular evaluation metric used by L&D teams. Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising. After all, this data is generally easier to collect and analyse.
In addition, good learning platforms help you to monitor your learner behaviour within the online learning environment. For instance, you can track log-ins, content completion rates, content ratings, social learning engagement and learner progress.
These metrics give you an idea of how much your learners are engaging with their platform. Furthermore, these tools typically come with an extensive reporting suite that displays your data via an easy to interpret graphical interface.
This is essential, as once you have collected your data, you need to analyse it to identify any common themes, suggestions or areas of improvement.
By addressing and incorporating learner feedback, you can enhance the effectiveness of your training programme and boost learner engagement. After all, learners are likely to engage more if they can see you are taking their feedback on board.
While this step gives you lots of good information, it’s not enough to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of your training. As such, once you have completed the reaction phase, it’s time to move on to the next level!
Level 2: Learning
The second level of the Kirkpatrick Model assesses how well your learners have acquired or improved their knowledge and skills through your training programme.
Dr. Kirkpatrick outlines five different levels of competence to add that extra dash of precision:
- Knowledge: Learners know the information
- Skill: Learners are able to perform what they have learned
- Attitude: Learners are persuaded that the task is worthwhile
- Confidence: Learners believe they can complete the task
- Commitment: Learners intend to complete the task
During this level, you should focus on evaluating learning outcomes to determine how effective your instructional design strategies are.
Your evaluation should include assessing knowledge acquisition, measuring skill development and evaluating retention. You can do this by adding in-unit quizzes, conducting pre and post-assessments, and using simulations and performance-based tests.
By helping you to understand your learners’ performance, this level enables you to make informed decisions going forward. For example, you can improve and align your objectives better to bridge any skills gaps that your learners have.
Applying Level 2
If you host your training programme online, you have various useful assessment tools at your fingertips.
To ensure your learners have improved their knowledge, you should use pre and post-assessments to measure how much knowledge they have gained. These assessments can be, for example, quizzes, tests or assignments.
Similarly, you can use your digital learning platform to measure skills development. For example, interactive simulations or scenarios allow your learners to demonstrate the skills they have acquired through your training programme.
Lastly, you should evaluate your learners’ level of retention and comprehension. You can do so by assigning tasks or projects that require your learners to demonstrate their abilities. This could include, for instance, presentations, reports, reflective essays or group projects.
Level 3: Behaviour
The third level, behaviour, evaluates how well your learners can transfer their new knowledge and skills to practical real-world applications. As such, the focus is on assessing any changes in learner behaviour.
This is an essential level of evaluation. After all, behaviour change is the ultimate goal of any training programme. By evaluating behaviour change, you can determine whether your training initiative helps your learners to apply their new skills in the real world.
This enables you to identify any gaps between learning and practical implementation. As a result, you can refine your instructional strategies, provide more targeted support and reinforce any desired behaviours.
By focusing on behaviour change, you can ensure your training programme has a tangible impact on your learners’ performance and productivity.
To ensure your learners understand what is expected of them, you need to create an effective feedback loop. By receiving constructive feedback on their performance, learners can adjust their behaviour.
As such, make sure to always include feedback alongside any quiz questions or assessments. Similarly, offer additional resources or mentoring in areas where your learners may be struggling.
Applying Level 3
To be able to evaluate any changes in behaviour, you need to start by defining and understanding what the desired behaviour is. These behaviours should align with your wider training objectives and organisational mission and values.
After your learners have completed their training, you should focus on assessing behaviour change. You can evaluate this through tools like surveys, interviews, observations and performance assessments in real work settings.
You could, for example, observe your learners in their work environment before and after training. This helps you to gauge how well they apply their learning, solve problems and adhere to desired behaviours.
Similarly, you can use surveys, interviews or performance assessments where learners can demonstrate the practical application of their new skills and knowledge. For instance, scenario-based quiz questions are an excellent way to see how learners would act in a realistic situation.
Employees can also demonstrate behaviour change through improved performance. This could include, for example, better customer satisfaction, improved sales results or reduced time for completing a specific task.
And, of course, don’t forget to collect feedback from your learners’ managers, supervisors and colleagues. After all, they see your learners in action and can observe their approaches to work.
Level 4: Results
The fourth and final level of the Kirkpatrick Model is all about results.
As such, it’s time to assess the overall impact of your training programme in terms of organisational outcomes. You should focus on measuring the tangible results and benefits that your training initiative has helped you to generate.
As we can see from the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, 63% of L&D professionals agree that learning and development has a seat at the executive table. It’s now a recognised tool for business growth.
With this in mind, understanding the overall impact and value of your training is essential. After all, there is no point wasting your L&D budget or resources on training that doesn’t work. Similarly, you need to showcase the real value of training to your leadership team.
By linking your training programme to your organisational goals and outcomes, you can determine the return on investment (ROI) of your training. This, in turn, helps you to identify its contribution to the success of your organisation as a whole.
In addition, by understanding the value of your training, you can justify the investment that has been made and get easier leadership buy-in for future L&D projects. It also helps you to identify areas for improvement and inform your strategic decision-making.
Applying Level 4
CIPD research has found that 70% of L&D practitioners evaluate the impact of their training initiatives in some way. However, only 12% evaluate the wider impact on their organisation or society as a whole.
To get started, identify relevant metrics that help you to align your results with wider organisational goals. You could choose to focus on, for example, improved performance, cost-effectiveness or customer satisfaction level.
Then, collect and analyse data to compare results before and after the implementation of your training initiative. This level typically requires more in-depth data collection than the previous levels. As such, reserve some more time for your results stage.
To analyse performance-related improvements, focus your analysis on agreed upon organisational outcomes. For example, explore increased sales, improved quality metrics or reduced error rates.
In addition, you should focus on cost-related results. You can evaluate the cost-effectiveness of your training programme by assessing the return on investment (ROI) or cost savings that result from improved efficiency or reduced training costs.
Customer satisfaction metrics, on the other hand, could include customer feedback, ratings or your Net Promoter Score (NPS). This helps you to determine whether your training has had an impact on customer service or product quality.
The Benefits of Using the Kirkpatrick Model
There is a reason why the Kirkpatrick Model has become a globally used evaluation model. That’s because of the vast benefits of using the framework:
1. Provides Comprehensive Evaluation
The Kirkpatrick Model provides a comprehensive framework for training evaluation. The four levels, Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Results, ensure you focus on all key aspects when evaluating the success of your training initiatives.
By evaluating the effectiveness of each level, you can go beyond measuring platform engagement. After all, by simply tracking learners’ course completion or online platform log-ins, you will miss out on higher-level outcomes like behaviour change and business impact.
2. Focuses on Results
The framework emphasises that L&D teams should measure the ultimate results and impact of their training programmes. After all, this is the only way to determine whether your training contributes to overall improvements in performance.
3. Aligns Training with Organisational Objectives
The best training programmes work towards objectives that align with your wider organisational goals. This is the only way to achieve true behaviour change that influences your organisation positively.
Similarly, by evaluating various levels, the Kirkpatrick Model helps you to address specific performance gaps. This, in turn, enables you to support your strategic goals.
4. Highlights Strengths and Weaknesses
By evaluating all four levels separately, you can spot the strengths and weaknesses of your training programme early on.
You can then identify areas of improvement, refine your content and delivery methods and enhance the overall effectiveness of your training.
5. Helps with Decision-Making
The Kirkpatrick Model promotes evidence-based decision-making. After all, it provides a structured approach to gathering data and assessing the impact of your training.
With all this data at your fingertips, you can make informed decisions about how to allocate your resources and adjust training strategies. This, in turn, helps you to maximise the return on your training investment.
6. Supports Continuous Improvement
The Kirkpatrick Model helps you to create an effective analysis and feedback cycle. Based on this, you have the data you need to improve your training programme continuously.
By collecting feedback and evaluating the effectiveness of each level, you can make improvements over time. This helps you to enhance the overall quality and impact of your training.
7. Engages Stakeholders
By following the Kirkpatrick Model, you get useful data at each level of the evaluation process. You can then feed this information to your stakeholders.
The standardised framework helps you to communicate the value and impact of your training. In turn, this enables you to foster leadership support and engagement from key players within your organisation.
Simply tracking your learners’ content completion is not enough. In fact, robust evaluation strategies help you to hone your learning programmes to drive success and organisational growth.
After all, the model’s structured framework helps you to harness the power of data and feedback to optimise your training initiatives. The end result? Training that creates real results for both your learners and your organisation.
Are you keen to learn how to trigger behaviour change?
Our guidebook, ‘The Science of Behaviour Change’ will get you started!