The Compact Guide to Kirkpatrick model (for Busy People)

2019.12.09 Fenix Bretz
noob guide Kirkpatrick

One of the characteristics of successful businesses is the desire to empower their employees to be the best versions of themselves. These companies do this via corporate trainings and capacity buildings workshops and the end goal is to make the employee more valuable to the company they work for, to themselves as individuals, and to the society. Because of the importance attached, companies look for strategic ways to measure the impact the trainings have on their employees.

On a more granular level, companies will expect their employees to have learned and developed new skills and adopted a new strategic thought-pattern to help them contribute positively to the bottom-line. The bottom-line is the business goal, such as increased workplace safety, improved production efficiency, or higher sales revenue.

One of the easiest and most popular method of evaluating training impact is through the Kirkpatrick learning evaluation model. While there are other evaluation techniques and frameworks, the Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation is by far the most widely adopted.

This article provides a compact overview of the topic for busy people either who wants to conduct the evaluation or who just wants to understand the basics.

What is Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation?

In a bid to find an effective way of evaluating training programs, Donald Kirkpatrick came up with a system that is now called Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation.

This system became very popular after he published his 1994 book, called Evaluating Training Programs.

Kirkpatrick’s model of training evaluation focuses on the effectiveness of the training at four different levels. Each level of evaluation has their place and significance. Each level of evaluation builds on the other.

These levels are explained in more detail below.

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation Model

Described in more details below are the four levels of Kirkpatrick’s model of evaluation:

Kirkpatrick Level 1 - Reaction

This is the first stage of the evaluation. This level mostly focuses on the reaction of the trainees to the overall training.

While this first level tells you nothing about whether (or not) your course actually fulfilled its objective, it does reveal how your learning was received, and how you could improve the User Experience.

This also enables you to make improvements to future training programs, by identifying important (or relevant) topics that might have been missing from the training syllabus.

Level 1 Reaction is best achieved by implementing a post- training questionnaire, asking participants to provide feedback on how they perceived the course.

Examples of such questions include:

  • Did you feel that the training was worth your time?
  • Did you think that the training was successful?
  • What were the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the training?
  • Did you like the venue (if offline) and presentation style of the training?
  • Did the training session accommodate your personal learning style?
  • Were the training activities engaging?

These questions are just examples. You can leverage several other questions as well. The key is to measure your trainee's reactions. Their answers will provide a wealth of information that will impact future sessions.

Kirkpatrick Level 2 - Learning

Unlike the first level, which focuses on the trainee’s reactions, Level 2 focuses on something else entirely – learning.

More specifically, this level focuses on measuring what your trainees have learned during the training, what they will be able to do differently as a result, and their confidence level in making those changes.

In addition, this level helps in demonstrating how the training has helped participants develop their skills and knowledge on the subject matter.

How to measure learning impact

In order to measure the learning impact of trainees, you need to first identify what it is you want to evaluate. Therefore, it is important for training sessions to have specific learning objectives. That should be your starting point.

Next, determine how you want to measure the learning effectiveness of the training program. While there are several ways to measure learning effectiveness, it is best to measure the understanding of your trainees (using questionnaires, interviews or verbal assessments) before and after the session.

The goal is to ask questions about the topic to determine the level of understanding of your trainees. Take note of the answers you get.  Are the trainees answering more questions correctly after their training session? If the answer is yes, then you have met the learning objectives you set.

If not, then your learning material is not doing its job, and you need to go back to the drawing board. This is one of the most important elements of this level because it gives you specific information to make your learning materials more effective.

Determine ROI of training

Kirkpatrick Level 3 - Behavior

The third part of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model deals with the behavior of trainees after the training session. Basically, this level will help you understand how well your trainees are applying their training.

Conversely, this level could also reveal if (or where) people need help with implementing what they have learned. However, it is important to note that behavior can only change if (or when) conditions are favorable.

That leaves us with a few scenarios:

  • Trainees understand and implement what they learned
  • Trainees understand what they have learned but are unable to implement because the company structure is not flexible
  • Trainees do not understand what they have learned and, therefore, unable to implement

Each of these scenarios will play out differently. The beauty of Kirkpatrick’s model of evaluation is your ability to identify these scenarios and solve the resulting consequences.

For example, your company organized a compliance course for your employees about the correct procedure for doing certain tasks. Next day, they continue doing things exactly how they used to. The problem is not lack of knowledge – it is lack of application.

In essence, Kirkpatrick’s Level 3 simply means asking participants if they are using what they learned. That is not all. To get the full picture, you may utilize a 360º feedback loop. That means you need to ask the trainees themselves, and then their colleagues, and their superiors. However, since most 360 feedback tools measure on a 0-5 scale only it might be biased with social desirability, and it’s not unusual to see a central tendency as well. Using critical incident questions asking the respondent (even the learner alone – i.e. not as a 360 feedback loop) will likely render less biased answered leaving you with slightly less subjective results.

Doing this gives you the opportunity to see if the training has had the desired effect – or not. See our Kirkpatrick level 3 evaluation examples for more ideas. 

Kirkpatrick Level 4 - Results

This final level of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model looks at the impact the training has had on the company. Corporate training constantly has ROI top-of-mind and it is tied into every aspect of the training.

The one key metric to look out for is whether - or not - the training positively affected the organization. For this to be a straightforward discovery, the goals should be set prior to the development of the training. Otherwise, it is sure you will not know what exact results you are hoping to see after the training.

Listed below are some training outcomes to consider, based on the goals and objectives of your training:

  • Increased employee retention rate
  • Higher production rate
  • Higher morale for employees
  • Fewer waste.
  • Higher sales
  • Increased quality ratings
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Lowered staff complaints

Ensure that you make observations and measurements to check that the training is making an impact. This impact must boost performances significantly. Otherwise, it might not to be seen as a successful training session.

Check out our Kirkpatrick level 4 examples to learn how to measure the ROI of your training. 

training effectiveness


It is essential to evaluating the effectiveness of your training materials. Training is becoming a norm in today’s businesses. Using The Kirkpatrick Four-Level Training Evaluation Model, you can easily (and objectively) measure the effectiveness of your training.

Donald Kirkpatrick created this framework in 1959, with several revisions made since. The latest revised “new” Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model has been created.

The four levels in the framework are:

  • Reaction
  • Learning
  • Behavior
  • Results

After analyzing each level, you will be able to gain an understanding of how effective a training initiative was. This also reveals how to improve it in the future if it does not do too well. Overall, it is a good system.

Download one of our whitepapers if you'd like to know how to maximize the business impact of your training or development.

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Kristoffer Laag
HR Strategist