What Is the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model and How Can You Use It?.

Written by Tim Newham

2 October 2023

employee engagement

kirkpatrick evaluation model

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The Kirkpatrick evaluation model of feedback is frequently used by L&D professionals but how can it properly allow you to assess your learning content?

One question that comes up regularly among learning and development professionals, as pressure to manage costs increases, is, “What is the ROI of my training?”, or “How effective was the learning we delivered?”.

L&D as a team strives to support employees in learning new skills, changing their behaviour, or encouraging culture change.

But of course, these are difficult to track and report back on.

As such, L&D professionals have relied on the Kirkpatrick evaluation model to assess their impact.

In this blog we’ll go through:

  • What the Kirkpatrick evaluation model is
  • How to use the Kirkpatrick model
  • Plus, the best way to use this feedback model type

Let’s get started.

đź’ˇ Pro Tip

We’ve created a whole range of products to tag onto our Totara-based LMS. Learn more about each one to see how they can support you end-to-end with your L&D strategy

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What is the Kirkpatrick evaluation model?

The Kirkpatrick model, also known as Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation, is a tool used by learning and development professionals to measure the efficacy of training in the workplace.

In a world of consultancy fads and this week’s latest commercially-driven model, Kirkpatrick has definitely stood the test of time, for a good reason.

It is globally recognised as one of the most effective ways to evaluate training impact.

The Kirkpatrick model has been widely used since Donald Kirkpatrick first published the model in the 1950s.

In 2016, it was updated into what is called the New World Kirkpatrick Model, which emphasises how important it is to make training relevant to people’s everyday jobs.

The Kirkpatrick model consists of 4 levels: reaction, learning, behaviour, and results.

How do you use the Kirkpatrick evaluation model? 

As we know, the model is composed of four levels of criteria.

When it was first created, it was thought that learning professionals should follow this in a linear order. So, they would start looking at the reactions to a piece of learning and then work all the way up to the results.

However, there is some debate around this. According to Jeff Toister, a better method is the reverse.

“Start at Level 4 and identify the results you want to achieve, then work backward to Level 3 to think about what participants need to do on the job to achieve those results, and so on,” Jeff says in his course Measuring Learning Effectiveness.

“This will make it easier to connect the training to organisational goals.”

The four stages of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model

Let’s look at the four stages of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model in detail to better understand how you will need to measure each.

With the right questions in place, you can ensure you’re collecting the data you need and that it is both actionable and measurable.

The four stages of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model are:

  • Reaction
  • Learning
  • Behaviour
  • Results

Let’s look at each one.

Level 1: Reaction

Put simply, the reaction criteria measure whether learners found their training:

  • Favourable
  • Engaging
  • Relevant

This level is most commonly assessed by an after-training survey (often referred to as a “happy sheet”) that asks students to rate their experience.

The crux of level 1 Is to focus on the learner as opposed to the trainer.

As such, you would ask questions like:

  • Was the training worth your time?
  • Do you think the training was successful?
  • Was the exercise engaging?
  • Did the training session accommodate your personal learning style?
  • What are the three most important things you took away?

⚡️Pro Tip

Our ThinkInsight survey tool allows you to set up automatic surveys of learners, immediately after completion of their learning activity, whether in the classroom or online, to collect and report on this baseline level 1 data.

Learn more about ThinkInsight

Level 2: Learning

This level is how well participants acquire:

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Attitude
  • Confidence
  • Commitment

This is all based on their participation in the training content.

In order to properly measure this, learning should be evaluated through pre and post-learning assessments.

That could be exams or interview-style evaluations. Make sure to set a clear scoring system so you can accurately measure any change and reduce inconsistencies.

Our clients use ThinkInsight to create time-spaced surveys which can be used to collect pre-learning assessments (and also information about learning objectives and aspirations), and post-learning comparisons.

Importantly, surveys can be shared again weeks or months after the training, to check knowledge retention.

Our Totara talent platform also supports competency/skill matrices which can link role-based competency targets to specific learning interventions.

Level 3: Behaviour

Level 3 in the Kirkpatrick model measures whether participants were impacted by the learning and if they’re putting what they learned into practice.

Assessing behavioural changes allows you to see that skills were understood, but also to see if those skills are now being applied in the workplace.

Effectively measuring behavioural change is a long-term process that could take weeks or even months.

You could ask questions like:

  • Did you put your training to use?
  • Are learners able to teach their new skills to other team members?
  • Are trainees aware that their behaviour has changed, and if so, how?

Our ThinkInsight tool supports level 3 analysis by surveying the learner’s manager – which, again, can be pre- and post-learning if needed – to gather a different data point about an individual’s on-the-job improvements.

Our ThinkNudge tool can be used here too; ThinkNudge provides automated time-spaced re-engagement emails to learners, to encourage them to revisit (or recomplete, or push on to the end of) training and keep their knowledge up to date.

Level 4: Results

The final level of the Kirkpatrick model is dedicated to measuring results. This is where learning is pitted against business outcomes to see how change has been created.

Establishing key performance indicators before learning is key as otherwise, you will struggle to measure your learning ROI.

Common KPIs include:

  • Higher return on investment
  • Fewer workplace accidents Increased employee retention.
  • Increased production.
  • Higher morale.
  • Reduced waste.
  • Increased sales.
  • Higher quality ratings.
  • Increased customer satisfaction.
  • Fewer staff complaints.

Using the Kirkpatrick model creates an actionable measurement plan to clearly define goals, measure results, and identify areas of notable impact.

Analysing data received at each level allows you to better understand the results of your training and to readjust as you go.

Level 4 is difficult, though; measurable improvements in your chosen KPIs may not be directly related to your learning at all.

They could instead have been influenced by another, or series of factors. So you need to be careful to avoid the “correlation is not causation” fallacy.

Is the Kirkpatrick model the best way to measure learning effectiveness?

The Kirkpatrick model is a superb, practical, and easy-to-understand way to measure learning effectiveness as it gives you a tangible structure to follow when it comes to setting up and then evaluating your learning content.

The level 1 and 2 analysis should, in our view, be part of every L&D function’s standard toolkit.

Levels 3 and 4, despite yielding powerful data, are time-consuming, difficult to get right, and subject to uncertain cause-and-effect.

As such, these might not be practical for all organisations, especially if you don’t have a dedicated team to manage the analysis.

In summary, though, Kirkpatrick’s model reminds us that keeping organisational KPIs and goals at the forefront of your L&D strategy will ensure you’re delivering learning with intention.

To learn more about how Think can support you in delivering feedback as part of your learning strategy, book a demo with our team.

We’ll show you our core LMS product as well as the extra special features that can help you simplify key processes and build better business outcomes.