How to Use the Kirkpatrick Model Effectively for Learning Measurement

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The Kirkpatrick Model is perhaps the best known model for analyzing and evaluating the results of training programs. 

The Kirkpatrick Model measures training effectiveness on four levels of criteria:

Level 1 Reaction 

Measures how participants react to the training — i.e., satisfaction, comfort level

Level 2 Learning 

Analyzes whether learners truly understood the training — i.e., increase in knowledge, skills or experience

Level 3 Behavior 

Examines whether learners utilize what they learned at work — i.e., a change in behavior or overall work performance

Level 4 Results 

Determines whether the training results in a positive impact on the business or overall organization

One advantage of the Kirkpatrick Model is that it takes into account any style or method of training delivery, both informal or formal. 

Another advantage is that it can be implemented before, throughout, and following training to show the value of training to the business—it doesn’t just take place at one point, and then it’s over and done with.

“We have not encountered an industry or program where the model will not work, which is a testament to its timeless, flexible, and elegant design,” notes Kirkpatrick Partners, on its website.

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The Levels of Kirkpatrick and How to Integrate Them with Your Learning Programs

Level 1: Reaction

This level might seem to be the most superficial level, but it basically asks learners about how they felt about the training. 

The obvious questions would be:

  • Did you enjoy it?
  • Did you feel it was valuable?
  • Did you feel that the instructor did a good job?

These questions, usually delivered via a simple post-course questionnaire, scratch the surface, which is what they are intended to do. They tell you nothing about whether your course actually fulfilled its objective and actually imparted knowledge or skills; the later levels do that, but it does give you an idea how your learning was received, and how you might be able to improve the learning experience.

Level 2: Learning

This next level seeks to determine whether any learning was captured or absorbed. 

To determine this, instructional design teams will usually deliver two assessments—one at the beginning and then one at the end of the course. The assessments can be nearly identical, so that learning teams can see if learners are answering more questions correctly after their training. If they are, it would suggest that learning took place; if not, then something about your learning material is clearly not doing its job.

These assessments can also deliver yet another surprising result: learners’ responses are both complete and identical in both—meaning that they knew much of the material beforehand and the course did not deliver anything new or noteworthy.

Level 2 can be delivered in several creative, strategic ways to determine knowledge or skill acquisition. Perhaps the second assessment can be more open-ended, and learners will need to articulate the learning in their own words.

Still other ways Level 2 can be delivered can be one week, one month, or even perpetually after the training has been completed. This also addresses the forgetting curve and can be a true measure of the ability of your courses to meet the needs of learners.

Level 3: Behavior

Kirkpatrick’s Level 3 goes even deeper than Level 2 and seeks to evaluate whether employees are actually using what they learned.

This needs time for new behaviors to settle in. Further, it is not something which is solely based on the employees. Learning leaders will need to garner 360º feedback, which would include the learners themselves, in addition to co-workers, managers, and others who work regularly with the learner. If the training course has had the desired effect, it will be noticeable to everyone involved.

Sometimes, the feedback will say that no changes have occurred. In those instances, it’s important to ask why people think this is the case. 

“Behavior can only change if the conditions for it are favorable,” notes Ashleigh Hull in eLearningIndustry. “Will the boss actually let your participant apply their new knowledge? Is there a tool or a system that has not been put in place? Does the learner have any desire or incentive to apply the learning? And what can be done to remedy these situations?”

Level 4: Results

Kirkpatrick’s final level of evaluation looks at whether training positively impacted the organization as a whole. This relies on goals being set before the development of the training. What changes were managers looking for? How is success defined? 

Obviously, data will need to be captured and evaluated in order to determine these Level 4 results. Unlike Levels 1, 2 and 3, the learner would not be involved in supplying this data for the instructional design team or for management.

Final Thoughts

When evaluating the impact of your training, it’s important to know about all 4 of these levels of the Kirkpatrick Model.

It’s also important to understand that while the Kirkpatrick Model helps to measure the ability of your learning experiences to impact learners—and by Level 4, the organization as a whole—you can still glean insights from these 4 levels to inform your instructional design and development as well.

For example, if in Levels 1 and 2 there is consistent feedback that the courses were ineffective and the assessments showed poor absorption of material, the issue might not be with learners, but with the subject matter and the courses themselves.

The fifth stage of ADDIE is Evaluation, which should be integrated throughout the lifecycle of instructional design. However, feedback from the 4 stages of the Kirkpatrick Model can be useful when building future learning experiences in your organization.

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How to Use the Kirkpatrick Model Effectively for Learning Measurement