7 MIN READ
Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model
Analyzing Learning Effectiveness
Any time you deliver training to your team, you need to know how effective it's been. Are your people putting their learning into practice? And, is it positively impacting their role and the wider organization?
Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model can help you to answer questions like these. You can use it to objectively analyze the impact of training, to work out how well your team members learned, and to improve their learning in the future.
In this article, we'll explore Kirkpatrick's model and how to apply it. We'll also consider situations where it may not be appropriate.
Understanding Kirkpatrick's Four Levels
Donald Kirkpatrick, former Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, first published his model in 1959. He updated it in 1975, and again in 1993, when he published his best-known work, "Evaluating Training Programs."
Each successive level of the model represents a more precise measure of the effectiveness of a training program. It was developed further by Donald and his son, James; and then by James and his wife, Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick.
In 2016, James and Wendy revised and clarified the original theory, and introduced the "New World Kirkpatrick Model" in their book, "Four Levels of Training Evaluation." One of the main additions is an emphasis on the importance of making training relevant to people's everyday jobs.
The four levels are Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. We look at each level in greater detail, and explore how to apply it, below.
Level 1: Reaction
You want people to feel that training is valuable. Measuring how engaged they were, how actively they contributed, and how they reacted to the training helps you to understand how well they received it.
It also enables you to make improvements to future programs, by identifying important topics that might have been missing.
Questions to ask trainees include:
- Did you feel that the training was worth your time?
- Did you think that it was successful?
- What were the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the training?
- Did you like the venue and presentation style?
- Did the training session accommodate your personal learning styles?
- Were the training activities engaging?
- What are the three most important things that you learned from this training?
- From what you learned, what do you plan to apply in your job?
- What support might you need to apply what you learned?
Identify how you want to measure people's reactions. Many people use employee satisfaction surveys to do this, but you can also watch trainees' body language during the session, or ask for verbal feedback.
Analyze the feedback, and consider the changes that you could make in response.
Level 2: Learning
Level 2 focuses on measuring what your trainees have and haven't learned. In the New World version of the tool, Level 2 also measures what they think they'll be able to do differently as a result, how confident they are that they can do it, and how motivated they are to make changes.
This demonstrates how training has developed their skills, attitudes and knowledge, as well as their confidence and commitment.
To measure how much your trainees have learned, start by identifying what you want to evaluate. Training sessions should have specific learning objectives, so make those your starting point.
You can measure learning in different ways, depending on the objectives. But it's helpful to measure these areas both before and after training.
Before the training begins, test your trainees to determine their knowledge, skill levels and attitudes. Then, when the training is finished, test your trainees a second time to measure what they have learned, or measure their learning with interviews or verbal assessments.
As a manager, you need to hold people accountable for improving their skills, and to offer them the support they need to do so.
Level 3: Behavior
This level helps you to understand how well people apply their training. It can also reveal where people might need help. But behavior can only change when conditions are favorable.
Imagine that you're assessing your team members after a training session. You can see little change, and you conclude that they learned nothing, and that the training was ineffective.
It's possible, however, that they actually learned a lot, but that the organizational or team culture obstructs behavioral change. Perhaps existing processes mean that there's little scope to apply new thinking, for example.
As a result, your people don't feel confident in applying new knowledge, or see few opportunities to do so. Or, they may not have had enough time to put it into practice.
Be sure to develop processes that encourage, reinforce and reward positive changes in behavior. The New World Kirkpatrick Model calls these processes "required drivers." If a team member uses a new skill effectively, highlight this and praise him or her for it.
Effectively measuring behavior is a longer-term process that should take place over weeks or months following the initial training. Questions to ask include:
- Did the trainees put any of their learning to use?
- Are trainees able to teach their new knowledge, skills or attitudes to other people?
- Are trainees aware that they've changed their behavior?
One of the best ways to measure behavior is to conduct observations and interviews. Another is to integrate the use of new skills into the tasks that you set your team, so that people have the chance to demonstrate what they know.
Managers need to be closely involved at this stage, assessing and coaching their team members in making behavior changes.
Level 4: Results
At this level, you analyze the final results of your training. This includes outcomes that you or your organization have decided are good for business and good for your team members, and which demonstrate a good return on investment (ROI). (Some adapted versions of the model actually have a Level 5, dedicated to working out ROI.)
Level 4 will likely be the most costly and time-consuming. Your biggest challenge will be to identify which outcomes, benefits, or final results are most closely linked to the training, and to come up with an effective way to measure these outcomes in the long term.
Modern trainers often use the Kirkpatrick model backward, by first stating the results that they want to see, and then developing the training that is most likely to deliver them. This helps to prioritize the goals of the training and make it more effective.
Here are some outcomes to consider, depending on the objectives of your training:
- Increased employee retention.
- Increased production.
- Higher morale.
- Reduced waste.
- Increased sales.
- Higher quality ratings.
- Increased customer satisfaction.
- Fewer staff complaints.
Make a series of short-term observations and measurements to check that changes in behavior due to training are making a worthwhile difference to your team's performance. The New World Kirkpatrick Model calls these "leading indicators."
Potential Pitfalls of Kirkpatrick's Model
Kirkpatrick's model remains popular, but it should be used with care. The basic structure is now more than 60 years old (despite its many updates), and the ways that people learn and organizations operate has changed radically in this time. Even the term "training" has been largely replaced by "learning and development."
Today, other, non-formal methods of workplace training are often more popular and effective (as shown by the 70:20:10 model). And, with the rise of personalized, user-directed learning, formal training is becoming less prominent. Kirkpatrick's model is not necessarily suited to this new approach to learning.
Another drawback is that Levels 3 and 4, which arguably yield the most useful information for the business, are time-consuming, resource-intensive, and expensive to implement. So the model may not be practical for all organizations, especially if you don't have a dedicated training or HR department to conduct the analysis. And, it's not ideal for all situations, such as one-off training.
Most importantly, organizations change in many ways, and these changes affect behaviors and results, as well as training. For example, measurable improvements in retention and productivity could result from the arrival of a new boss, or from a new computer system, rather than training. Or it could be a combination of these.
Kirkpatrick's model is great for evaluating training in a "scientific" way, but with so many possible variables, Level 4 may be limited in its usefulness.
The New World Kirkpatrick Model seeks to address some of these challenges, by encouraging trainers and organizations to incorporate evaluation as part of the training design process.
The Kirkpatrick Four-Level Training Evaluation Model is designed to objectively measure the effectiveness of training. The model was created by Donald Kirkpatrick in 1959, with several revisions made since.
The four levels are:
By analyzing each level, you can gain an understanding of how effective a training initiative was, and how to improve it in the future.
However, the model isn't practical in all situations, and measuring training effectiveness with it can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, so it should be used with caution.
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