Donald Kirkpatrick (1924-2014) was Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, an author, consultant, and a former president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) who has become almost a household name to learning and development professionals. His “four-level” model became widely popular after publication of his 1994 book, "Evaluating Training Programs." Since then, the Kirkpatrick model has become the industry standard for evaluating the success of workplace training. The ideas in the book were first presented to the public in articles he wrote for the ASTD journal as far back as 1959, and the original concept came from work relating to his Ph.D. dissertation in 1954 ("Evaluating a Human Relations Training Program for Supervisors").
Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” is noted as saying: "Kirkpatrick’s four levels is the best I’ve ever seen in evaluating training effectiveness. It is sequentially integrated and comprehensive. It goes far beyond ‘smile sheets’ into actual learning, behaviour changes and actual results, including long-term evaluation. An outstanding model!”
Kirkpatrick's 4-level model is a process for evaluating the effectiveness of training programs.
The four levels are:
Level 1: Reaction. (Measures involving how the participants felt.) This is usually obtained with a “smile sheet” immediately after the training has finished. Questions from the smile sheet might include, “On a scale of 1-10, how happy were you with the training?” or “Would you recommend this course to a friend?”
Level 2: Learning. (Measures involving knowledge retention.) In this level, the evaluation moves beyond learner satisfaction and endeavours to work out what information was remembered, how well it was preserved, and for how long after the training.
Level 3: Behaviour. (Measures involving the application of information to the workplace.) Did the participants actually transfer what was learned to the workplace? Where there any noticeable changes in behaviour concerning their approach to tasks and/or the people around them?
Level 4: Results. (Measures involving business performance and profitability.) What quantifiable aspects of organisational performance were affected as a result of the training? (Examples include sales, productivity, customer satisfaction, response time, complaints, quality, turnover, engagement.)
"The four levels represent a sequence of ways to evaluate programs. Each level is important and has an impact on the next level. As you move from one level to the next, the process becomes more difficult and time-consuming, but it also provides more valuable information. None of the levels should be bypassed simply to get to the level that the trainer considers the most important." — Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick notes that it is common for trainers to get stuck in levels 1 and 2 and never proceed to levels 3 and 4, where the most useful data is present. While it generally becomes more difficult in complexity, time and cost as one moves up through each of the levels, the most important information a business needs is in level 4, which is typically the most neglected.
It is also considered particularly important to understand the relationship between levels 2 and 3. Often, when people fail to behave differently after training, it is assumed this is because they didn’t learn anything. However, just because people don’t change their behaviour, doesn’t mean they simply forgot what was taught. For instance, with a group of salespeople, the participants may have understood the principles of teamwork, but there might be external company policies or a compensation structure in place that encourage rivalry between salespeople — or some other systemic issue that is responsible for driving conflict between staff. For this reason, training itself cannot be looked at in isolation when seeking to drive behavioural change.
When setting out to deliver training, it is advisable to consider level 4 first, which is to ask the question: What business measures are we trying to improve with this training? Then, from there, work backwards to examine what key things people need to do differently.
- Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels (1998), Donald Kirkpatrick
- Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels, Chap. 9, ASTD Handbook of Training Design and Delivery
- The Kirkpatrick Model (Kirkpatrickpartners.com)
- Implementing the Four Levels: A Practical Guide for Effective Evaluation of Training Programs (2007), Donald L Kirkpatrick Ph.D., James D Kirkpatrick
- Handbook of Training Evaluation and Measurement Methods (1997), Jack J. Phillips
- Evaluating the Impact of Training (2006), Scott B. Parry
- Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model (Mindtools.com)
- Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation Model (Businessballs.com)
- Donald Kirkpatrick (Wikipedia.com)
- Kirkpatrick Four Levels Evaluation Model (isixsigma.com)
- Evaluating Training Programs: Kirkpatrick's 4 Levels (wa.gov)
- Kirkpatrick's Four Levels of Learning (Acend.com)
- Four Levels of Evaluation (Trainingindustry.com)
This article offers an expanded description of the summary listed in our post 40 Must-Know HR, OD, L&D Models.