Registration for Inspire 2024 is now open!

Register now

Kirkpatrick model

Kirkpatrick model

Table of Contents

So, you’ve listened to all the learning and development experts and invested in training programs to set your employees up with the skills and knowledge they need to be productive and engaged. 

But, are they? 

How can you know that all those training and development programs are leading to behavior change and that you’re getting your return on investment?

Tough questions, but don’t worry. 

In this guide, we’ll be going over the Kirkpatrick model, a method for training evaluation that businesses and organizations have been using for decades to judge the effectiveness of training programs.

Let’s dive into it and get ready to:

  • Define the Kirkpatrick model 
  • Go over why it’s so important to evaluate training programs
  • Give an in-depth look at the four levels of training evaluation 


What is the Kirkpatrick model?

The Kirkpatrick model is a learning and training evaluation model used to objectively analyze the impact of training, gauge how well learners understand the material, and improve learning in the future. 

It’s an internationally recognized framework for evaluating and analyzing training, education, and learning programs. 

Donald Kirkpatrick, former Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, was the first to develop the model in 1959. Since then, Donald updated the model in 1975 and then again in his best-known work “Evaluating Training Programs” in 1993.

Later on, Don, Jim, and Wendy Kirkpatrick developed an expanded version of the model, called the New World Kirkpatrick model.

At the core of the model are four evaluation levels:

  1. Reaction
  2. Learning
  3. Behavior
  4. Results

Each of these levels aims to give a more precise measure of the effectiveness of a training program. 

Course designers, and other learning and instructional design experts apply the model before, during, and after a training program.


Using the model, it’s possible to:

  • Evaluate learner engagement
  • Test whether learners meet their learning objectives
  • Identify changes in behavior
  • Compare the results of the learning program against business goals

The Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation does have certain limitations. Completing all four analysis levels takes a lot of time and resources. Additionally, the model doesn’t work as well for informal learning experiences as it does for formal learning.

Nevertheless, it remains one of the most widely used learning and development evaluation systems.

Up next, we discuss why all this matters. 


Why is the Kirkpatrick model important?

A lot of organizations today realize the importance of learning and development. In fact, different forms of learning and training are present in nearly every modern business.

From onboarding to upskilling, and even customer training

But, let’s be honest. All this training doesn’t come cheap. Implementing any training initiative costs both time and money. 

So, company leaders and managers want to know if they’re getting a return on their investment. 

The Kirkpatrick model can help you do just that. By applying it, you get clear evaluation steps to follow. That is one of the biggest strengths of the model, it’s a very structured and objective approach to judging training outcomes. 

Additionally, the Kirkpatrick model works with both traditional training methods and with e-learning. A lot of training is now delivered online, through Learning Management Systems (LMSs).  

Most importantly, by applying the Kirkpatrick model, human resource management and business leaders can get valuable and actionable insights into the overall performance of training programs and the impact they have on business outcomes. 

So, the Kirkpatrick model is important because it provides a framework for analysis that gives useful metrics to assess the result of the training. 

In the next part of our guide, we’ll take a deeper look at each of the four levels of the Kirkpatrick model.


4 levels of the Kirkpatrick model

The core of the Kirkpatrick model is the four evaluation levels—Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. 


When you evaluate a training program, you will generally start at the first level and move up. However, because each subsequent level requires more time and resources to complete, some learning experts have begun running the Kirkpatrick model in reverse to be able to focus more on the organizational effectiveness of learning.

Regardless, the levels and their methods stay the same. 

We’ll look at each level separately to give you an idea of what sort of insight they can offer and what resources and techniques they entail.


Level #1: Reaction

The first level of the Kirkpatrick model is about assessing how learners react to and engage with the training sessions. 

While a positive reaction to the learning experience doesn’t guarantee learning, a negative reaction means it’s much less likely that the learner has engaged with the material. 

The typical way to measure reactions is with a questionnaire often called a “smile sheet.”  

This level of assessment is important because it improves the model for future use. Simply put, learners are unlikely to reach the desired outcome if they respond negatively to the educational content or training delivery. 

People like to feel like the learning experience they spent their time on is worthwhile and will positively impact their life. This is especially important for adult learning, as adults have the motivation to learn when they feel the learning will have an immediate benefit. 

Questions to ask on a smile sheet include:

  • Did you think the training was worthwhile?
  • Did the training session accommodate your needs?
  • Were the learning activities engaging?

You can offer a smile sheet through an LMS if your training delivery is online. 

During this stage of evaluation, the focus is on the learners and their reaction to the training session. Gathering this information helps you design more engaging and relevant training sessions in the future.


Level #2: Learning

The second level of the Kirkpatrick model is where you assess what the learners have or haven’t learned.  

In the New World Kirkpatrick model, you also measure:

  • What the learners think they can do differently
  • How confident they are they can do it
  • How motivated they are to change

This is a necessary step to evaluate if the training session gave new knowledge to learners. 

You will first need to decide what you want to evaluate and the learning objectives of each training session are the place to start. 

These are some techniques you can use at this level:

  • Interviews
  • Tests
  • Self-assessment
  • Team assessment
  • Exams

Most often, learners take these exams before the training session and after. You can then compare the pre-test and post-test results. Tests can include metrics on knowledge, skill levels, and attitudes. To make sure that the exam results give actionable information, you need to design a clear and defined scoring system in advance to reduce any inconsistencies.

You can also choose to include a control group for an added level of precision.

At this stage of the Kirkpatrick model, the main objective is to compare learners’ knowledge and skills before and after they undertake the training. If a training session doesn’t lead to learners acquiring new knowledge and skills, you will need to rework or scrap it. 


Level #3: Behavior

A crucial step in the Kirkpatrick model, the third level measures how the learners’ behavior has changed in the medium term after going through a learning experience. 

Are the trainees putting the training to use? Are they able to transmit this new knowledge to others? 

These are the questions that the third level of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model asks.

Because behavior changes don’t happen immediately after learning, you’ll need to conduct this step of the Kirkpatrick model a bit later—normally three to six months after a training session.

The goal here is to see if, and how well, learners are applying what they have learned in real-life situations. 

Also, people can learn a lot of new skills but do not display the knowledge because they don’t feel motivated or confident enough to do so. 

In the New World model, Kirkpatrick advises organizations to encourage, reinforce, and reward positive changes—these processes are the “required drivers.” 

So, if a team member displays using a new skill effectively, you should praise and reward them for doing so. 

This will also foster a learning culture in your organization. 

While it can be challenging to measure behavioral changes, you can get a good enough picture by using techniques such as observations and interviews. 

An even better way is to integrate the new skills into employees’ tasks, giving them the opportunity to apply them.


Level #4: Results

This is the final and the most important step of the Kirkpatrick model as it’s about analyzing the final results of your training program. 

Depending on the objectives of the training, these can be:

  • Better employee retention 
  • Increased productivity 
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Fewer team member complaints 

At level #4, you’re measuring the impact of learning and development on your organization’s business outcomes. 

Big changes won’t happen overnight, so give your training initiatives enough time to yield results. Make sure you have an effective way to track key performance metrics and monitor them regularly. 

While this final level is the most resourceful and time-consuming, it’s also the only way to fully determine if your training programs have positively impacted the business.

Up next, time to recap.


Now over to you

The Kirkpatrick model is a method to evaluate training effectiveness and its impact on business results. 

Through its four levels, the model assesses the effectiveness of training at an individual, team, and organizational level. 

Due to the actionable insights it gives, it’s one of the most widely used ways to gauge the success of training and professional development programs.

If you want to learn more about how learning and development work in organizations, take a look at our glossary.