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The Kirkpatrick Model: Measuring What Matters in Learning, From Reaction to Results

Ever wondered what happens to your carefully crafted learning programs once they’re out in the wild? Do they make a splash, or barely cause a ripple? The truth is, without a solid evaluation strategy, it’s anyone’s guess. Evaluation is the unsung hero that separates truly impactful learning from glorified time-wasters. The Kirkpatrick Model is a framework that turns learning assessment into a powerful tool for improvement.

Kirkpatrick 101: A time-tested approach

Developed by Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick in the 1950s, this four-level model has been helping learning designers measure training effectiveness for decades. It’s comprehensive yet straightforward, offering a structured approach to evaluation.

The four levels are:

  1. Reaction: How did learners feel about the training?
  2. Learning: Did they actually learn something?
  3. Behaviour: Are they applying what they learned?
  4. Results: Is the training making a difference to the organisation?

Why it matters (beyond ticking boxes)

As learning designers, we’re not just here to create pretty slides or fun activities. We’re here to make a real impact. The Kirkpatrick Model helps you do just that by:

  1. Proving the value of your training programs
  2. Identifying areas for improvement
  3. Aligning learning objectives with business goals
  4. Showing stakeholders the return on investment (ROI)

As Kirkpatrick himself put it, “Evaluation is not an afterthought; it’s an integral part of the training process” (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

Putting Kirkpatrick into practice

Let’s break down each level and explore how to implement it.

 

Level 1: Reaction

This is your chance to gauge how learners feel about the training. Are they engaged? Bored? Confused?

Tips:

  • Use surveys or feedback forms immediately after the training
  • Ask specific questions about content, delivery, and relevance
  • Don’t forget to leave room for open-ended comments

Example: After a customer service training, ask participants to rate their satisfaction with the course content, facilitator, and practical exercises on a scale of 1-5, with space for additional comments.

 

Level 2: Learning

Here, you measure the knowledge or skills participants have gained.

Tips:

  • Use pre and post-tests to measure knowledge gain
  • Use practical exercises or simulations for skill-based training
  • Consider peer or instructor evaluations for a well-rounded view

Example: For a new software training, have participants complete a series of tasks using the software before and after the training to measure improvement.

 

Level 3: Behaviour

This is where the rubber meets the road. Are your learners applying what they’ve learned on the job?

Tips:

  • Conduct follow-up surveys with participants and their managers
  • Use performance metrics or KPIs relevant to the training
  • Implement on-the-job observation or coaching sessions

Example: Three months after a leadership training, survey participants’ direct reports about changes in their manager’s leadership behaviours.

 

Level 4: Results

The final level measures the impact of training on organisational goals.

Tips:

  • Work with stakeholders to identify relevant business metrics
  • Use control groups when possible to isolate training effects
  • Be patient – results at this level can take time to manifest

Example: Six months after a sales training program, compare sales figures and customer satisfaction scores of trained vs. untrained sales representatives.

Pro tips for Kirkpatrick success

  • Start with the end in mind: Define your desired results (Level 4) before designing your training.
  • Get buy-in: Involve stakeholders at all levels to ensure support for your evaluation efforts.
  • Mix it up: Use a variety of evaluation methods to get a well-rounded picture.
  • Make it ongoing: Evaluation isn’t a one-and-done deal. Keep measuring and adjusting over time.
  • Tell your story: Use the data you collect to craft a compelling narrative about the impact of your training.

Remember, the Kirkpatrick Model isn’t just about ticking boxes. It’s about creating a culture of continuous improvement in your learning programs. Now that’s something to sink your teeth into!

References

 

Kirkpatrick, D. L., & Kirkpatrick, J. D. (2006). Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels (3rd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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