How to Use the Kirkpatrick Model to Measure eLearning Effectiveness

As a training professional, you spend countless hours focusing on the best ways to prove the value of your training program, not only to your management team but also to employees.

If you’re reading this, you’re looking for a better approach to evaluating those programs and demonstrating just how valuable your work is.

The basic Kirkpatrick Model, as explained by Kirkpatrick Partners, outlines four levels of evaluation:

  1. Reaction—“the degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging, and relevant to their jobs”
  2. Learning—“the degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in the training”
  3. Behavior—“the degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job”
  4. Results—“the degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and the support and accountability package”

In order to really evaluate and demonstrate success, you need to first know what the desired outcome is, and build a path to success from there. Therefore, we’re going to take the classic Kirkpatrick evaluation model and reverse it. This is the model that Kirkpatrick Partners now teaches and calls the New World Kirkpatrick Model.

Results

Did you ever find as a kid that doing mazes was easier if you started at the “finish” line? I sure did. This is the idea of backward planning, and it is an excellent model for evaluating your training program.

Think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Use your company’s goals and strategic initiatives. These are the results you’re looking to ascertain through your training program. Look for leading indicators, or signs that you’re on the right track with your program; some online learning programs offer to collect these data for you. These will also help you provide your directors with reports on your success.

Behavior

Behaviors are what make the difference between a successful training initiative and a flop. This is why you train, to adjust behaviors and actions in order to benefit your company.

Modifying behavior requires that you have management buy-in to hold employees accountable to the changes they’re making. Managers can do this by monitoring, reinforcing, encouraging, and rewarding team members who participate in the training program, or by simply cordoning off some time for them to take the course.

Keep in mind that not every behavior needs to be evaluated—focus only on behaviors that are critical to the results of your program. This means that the behaviors you’re attempting to adjust with your training need to be observable and trackable.

Learning

Did your program participants learn what you intended them to learn? This evaluation step is where you gauge whether or not your training provided employees with everything they need to modify behaviors and accomplish the goal of the training. In other words, it’s test time.

Reinforce the key takeaways of your program with a test. It’s also important to measure how confident and committed employees are to apply what they’ve just learned. This can be done with a post-training poll, an online survey that follows the eLearning course, or an open discussion about the training.

Reaction

It’s important that you evaluate the reaction to your training as quickly as possible. In fact, the three components of this level (engagement, satisfaction, and relevance) can be evaluated immediately after the online course is completed. For example, you can conduct post-training surveys at the end of the session, have pulse checks built in to the program, or have interviews with select participants afterward.

While this level is the most commonly evaluated, it provides the least valuable information for your program. Keep this in mind when you’re spending time on your evaluation; instead, spend more time on results, behaviors, and learning.

Make the commitment

As training professionals, we believe in value in training. Committing to and incorporating a comprehensive evaluation model for your training programs can demonstrate that value to the rest of your organization.

Still, many professionals only commit to evaluating reaction and learning, steps 1 and 2 of the traditional Kirkpatrick Model, never taking the time to evaluate whether the program had its intended impact. This is exactly why we flipped this classic method on its head. To provide better training, you need better data, and you’re only going to get better data if you shift your focus.

This shift occurs when you stop focusing on the return on investment (ROI) and start focusing on the “return on expectations” (ROE). By measuring ROE, you’re focusing your evaluation on the expectations of training versus ROI, or a simple breakdown of the program cost.

When efforts are focused on showing ROE, there is a collaborative effort and sharing of credit with other business units. Instead of everything being about training and what training has accomplished, it becomes about what the business has accomplished through training.

Evaluation gives access to data galore, when done properly. Data, when presented to the right people in the right manner, will demonstrate the value of the training program and how it is essential to the continued success of the organization.

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