Using the Kirkpatrick Model for Evaluating a Training Program

What is the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation?
After years of providing learning and development programs to employees, L&D professionals realised that it isn’t sufficient. It became evident that a way to measure its effectiveness was needed. By understanding this pressing need, a four-level model for evaluating courses was published by Donald Kirkpatrick in 1959. This Model is still widely used for evaluating training courses. The advantage of using this model was that it could be used before, during, and after the training program, and it would effectively enable its assessment.

The evaluation involved:

  1. Reaction of the Trainee – the participants’ thoughts and feelings about the training
  2. Learning – the increase in knowledge or understanding that the training imparts
  3. Behaviour – the extent of change in attitude, capability or behaviour
  4. Results – the effect on the company’s bottom line as a result of the training.

How is it Used?
Effective evaluation using the Kirkpatrick Model doesn’t just involve knowing and understanding these four levels but also using them the right way. The Kirkpatrick Model works best when used in reverse. For example, your primary objective is to create better managers in your company. Keeping that in mind, the critical factor that needs to be focused on is engagement. This is because the right kind of managers improve employee engagement. So the fourth level of the Kirkpatrick Model, which is the result, needs to be taken into account first. After that, you need to work backwards and list down your expectations at each level. Since you want your managers to be more engaging, level three which is behaviour will take into account the required actions, which in this case will be having honest and career-oriented conversations with the team. Once the necessary behavioural traits have been established, you have to move upward to level two which is learning. A learning solution which revolves around the ideal way of having career-oriented and honest conversations should be developed.

Then pay heed to how that might change their direct response to the training, which is level one. Say they might not have thought that such a training session would be important or even fun. Therefore, it’s more important that they are made to understand the true importance of meaningful conversations with their team and are then sold the idea of learning those skills through training.

Advancement in the Kirkpatrick Model
With changing times and needs, the Kirkpatrick Model was updated and came to be called “New World” Kirkpatrick Model. In a paper, Jack J. Phillips, founder of the ROI Institute in 1996, suggested that the evaluation was incomplete and a fifth level was needed. This was when a fifth level was added to the Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation. This level was created to measure ROI, which means a company’s return on its investment in training. Not just that, but the fifth level also brought with it ways to perform a cost-benefit analysis and also to indicate whether the investment in training has paid off and has proved beneficial for the company.

Using the Fifth Level
The fifth level was added when Jack J. Phillips pinpointed that the fourth level was incomplete and lacked a specific monetary calculation. Hence, he suggested adding another level that met this particular need. According to Phillips, this level calculates the financial gains seen owing to the changed behaviour against the money spent in creating and providing the training. He explains that the fifth level is put to use by collecting the data of level 4. The data is then converted to monetary values and is compared to the cost of the training program to represent the return on training investment.

Thus evaluating learning and development programs can be quite a task but is valuable. Kirkpatrick’s five levels of evaluation provide L&D teams and managers with a platform to understand whether their training and development efforts are going as decided and are paying off in terms of the development of the company’s bottom line.