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Donald Kirkpatrick is Professor Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin in the United States and a past president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). He is best known for creating a highly influential 'four level' model for training course evaluation. Kirkpatrick's ideas were first published in 1959 in a series of articles in the US Training and Development Journal but are better known from a book he published in 1994 entitled "Evaluating Training Programs."
Don's son, Jim, and daughter-in-law, Wendy, carry on Don's work through Kirkpatrick Partners, a training evaluation and consulting company founded in 2008 for which Don serves as the Honorary Chairman.
Four Levels of Learning Evaluation
Kirkpatrick's four levels are designed as a sequence of ways to evaluate training programs. Many practitioners believe that as you proceed through each of the levels, the evaluation becomes more difficult and requires more time. In practice, then, 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 exist. Today, Kirkpatrick certified facilitators stress "starting with the end in mind," essentially beginning with Level 4 and moving backwards in order to better establish the desired outcome before ever planning the training program. When done strategically, reaching these levels does not have to be any more expensive or time consuming, but will still help to ensure on-the-job performance of learned behaviors and skills.
The four levels of Kirkpatrick's evaluation model are as follows:
- Reaction - what participants thought and felt about the training (satisfaction; "smile sheets")
- Learning - the resulting increase in knowledge and/or skills, and change in attitudes. This evaluation occurs during the training in the form of either a knowledge demonstration or test.
- Behavior - transfer of knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes from classroom to the job (change in job behavior due to training program). This evaluation occurs 3–6 months post training while the trainee is performing the job. Evaluation usually occurs through observation.
- Results - the final results that occurred because of attendance and participation in a training program (can be monetary, performance-based, etc.)
Several authors have suggested an addition of a fifth level of evaluation. JJ Phillips has argued for the addition of a Return on Investment (ROI) level, which is essentially about comparing the fourth level of the standard model to the overall costs of training. Roger Kaufman has argued that ROI is essentially a level-four type of evaluation since it is still internal to the organization and that a fifth level of evaluation should focus on the impact of the organization on external clients and society.
Distinguishing Between Levels Two and Three
At times, there is confusion about the measurement of learning (level 2) versus behavior (level 3). Often the assumption is that trainees did not learn anything because they are not behaving any differently from how they did before training occurred. The training program evaluators might consider the environment (or other factors affecting the transfer or application of learning) at the trainee's workplace to determine if that could be a case for non-transfer of learning.
- Phillips, J. (1996). How much is the training worth? Training and Development, 50(4),20-24.
- Watkins, R., Leigh, D., Foshay, R. and Kaufman, R. (1998). Kirkpatrick Plus: Evaluation and Continuous Improvement with a Community Focus. Educational Technology Research & Development, 46(4): 90-96.
Kaufman, R. (1996). Strategic Thinking: A Guide to Identifying and Solving Problems. Arlington, VA. & Washington, D.C. Jointly published by the American Society for Training & Development and the International Society for Performance Improvement
Kaufman, R. (2000). Mega Planning: Practical Tools for Organizational Success. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications. (Also Planificación Mega: Herramientas practicas paral el exito organizacional. (2004). Traducción de Sonia Agut. Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, Espana.)