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How to Use Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation Model
Results, behavior, learning, reaction. These are the four levels through which to design training programs and measure their effectiveness, according to Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation Model.
This model provides a framework for both designing and evaluating training, depending on the order you work through the levels. In this post, we’ll walk you through the levels of the model to help understand how they can inform your training design and assessments.
Why Does the Kirkpatrick Model Matter?
Donald Kirkpatrick, a former Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, first introduced this training evaluation model in 1959. Since then, he, and now his family, have updated and refined the model. The most recent update is the 2016 “New World Kirkpatrick Model.”
Considering that only 11 percent of employees are able to make full use of current training,1 there’s clearly a gap between the idea of training and its execution. In a time of rapid workplace change, it’s essential that you adapt your training programs to be constantly relevant and impactful. Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation Model can help you do just that.
Using Kirkpatrick’s Model to Design Your Training
When using Kirkpatrick’s model to design your training, work from broadest level to the narrowest, focusing first on results and working down to reaction. Here’s what you need to know:
The first concern of your training is a big, systemic one: what organizational change do you want to see? This is the baseline question on which you will center your training.
For example, if you want to improve management, how can you work backwards to integrate this into every level of your organization?
What is the behavior change you want to see? This is where actual application in the workplace comes into play, and where it ladders up to organizational change. At this level in your questioning, think about the outcomes you want employees to achieve down the line.
Following our earlier example, what kind of individual behavior change would improve management?
In this level, you’re really asking what you want employees to directly take away from the training. Are they able to articulate the key takeaways? Do they know how to apply the skills to their jobs?
What kind of skills will individuals need to learn to change their management behavior?
In this narrow level, you’ve worked down to the individual lessons you want employees to take away from your training.
If you’re trying to hone skills for individuals to change their management behavior, what kind of initial training does that lead you to?
Using Kirkpatrick’s Model to Evaluate your Training
When using the model to evaluate your training, work through the levels in the opposite direction, starting on the smallest, most granular level and working your way up to measure systemic change.
What were employees’ initial impressions? Was the training helpful? Confusing? Boring? At this phase in your evaluation, you’re looking for an immediate reaction. Consider sending a survey immediately after the training or actually making the evaluation a part of the training itself.
You can close out the session with a group reflection or request people to submit their feedback on the way out. Some ideas for useful prompts include: Was the presentation engaging? Do you feel the training was worth your time? What would you change or improve for future training? What resources or support do you need to apply what you learned?
The best way to measure learning is to do a before, during, and after assessment. Develop a set of questions and send them to employees before the training or make it the first part of your session. Revisit the questions throughout, and then conduct a post-training evaluation, all with the same question set. This will give you a concrete sense of how much was actually learned and internalized.
When evaluating your training, you’ll want to understand whether employees remember and use the skills in their day-to-day lives. Follow up with surveys on a consistent timeline after the training—maybe one month later, six months later, and a year later. This is also a good opportunity to ask about what could be improved or what types of lessons participants would like to learn moving forward. As job demands shift, you’ll want to solicit feedback to include in future training sessions, ensuring your content remains relevant and useful.
Measuring systemic change can be a challenge. Here, you’ll want to gauge the impact on the organization at large. Focus groups, team surveys, or manager polls could all be helpful ways to get a pulse on how things are going. Try doing this one year after the training to see if the change occurred—and remember, this takes time. You may need to do several trainings on a regular basis before you notice any measurable transformation.
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