Shirley J. Caruso, Ed.D.
Donald Kirkpatrick (March 15, 1924 – May 9, 2014), Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and past president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), which is now known as Association for Talent Development (ATD), first published his Four-Level Training Evaluation Model in 1959, in the US Training and Development Journal.
Assessing training effectiveness often entails using the four-level model developed by Donald Kirkpatrick (1994).
According to Kirkpatrick’s model, training evaluation should always begin with reaction to the training (level one), and then, as time and budget allows, should move sequentially through learning, transfer, and results – levels two, three, and four. Information from each prior level serves as a base for the next level’s evaluation. Thus, each successive level represents a more precise measure of the effectiveness of the training program, but at the same time requires a more rigorous and time-consuming analysis.
The four levels are:
Level 1 Evaluation – Reactions
Evaluation at this level measures how participants in a training program react to it. It attempts to answer questions regarding the participants’ perceptions such as how well they liked the training and if the training design presented was relevant to their work. According to Kirkpatrick, every program should at least be evaluated at this level to provide for the improvement of a training program. In addition, the participants’ reactions have important consequences for learning (level two). Although a positive reaction does not guarantee learning, a negative reaction almost certainly reduces its possibility.
Level 2 Evaluation – Learning
Level two evaluations often use tests conducted before training (pretest) and after training (post test) to assess the amount of learning that has occurred due to a training program.
Assessing at this level moves the evaluation beyond learner satisfaction and attempts to assess the extent students have advanced in skills, knowledge, or attitude. Measurement at this level is more difficult and laborious than level one. Methods range from formal to informal testing to team assessment and self-assessment. If possible, participants take the test or assessment before the training (pretest) and after training (post test) to determine the amount of learning that has occurred.
Level 3 Evaluation – Transfer
This level measures the transfer that has occurred in learners’ behavior due to the training program and attempts to determine if the newly acquired skills, knowledge, or attitude is being used in the everyday environment of the learner. For many trainers this level represents the truest assessment of a program’s effectiveness. However, measuring at this level is difficult as it is often impossible to predict when the change in behavior will occur, and thus requires important decisions in terms of when to evaluate, how often to evaluate, and how to evaluate.
Level 4 Evaluation- Results
Level four evaluation attempts to assess training in terms of business results. This level measures the success of the program in terms that managers and executives can understand, such as increased production, improved quality, decreased costs, reduced frequency of accidents, increased sales, and even higher profits or return on investment (ROI). From a business and organizational perspective, this is the overall reason for a training program, yet level four results are not typically addressed. Determining results in financial terms is difficult to measure, and is hard to link directly with training.
Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1994). Evaluating Training Programs. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.