I have had no issue with the Kirkpatrick model, as it has always made sense to me. Just recently I have been challenged to reconsider my position. Last week running the Learning Loop, one of the participants said they have started to use Will Thalheimers’ Learning Transfer Evaluation Model, which made me curious about what that model had to offer, that was different to Kirkpatricks.

This week I read a blog from Work Learning Research  saying how levels 3 and 4 of Kirkpatrick are misunderstood by most L&D people, that they use learner reactions as if they were valid level 3 and 4 measures. The blog got me ruffled a bit, particularly because the survey results:

1) use a sample size of TWO for vendors

2) there is no visible link with those 250 surveyed and whether they are actually even measuring at levels 3 or 4 (if they are not, then could they know the answer to the question?)

This makes any conclusions, drawn from the research, in my opinion tenuous to say the least.

What made me curious enough to look at Will Thalheimers’ model was any suggestion that it had something new to offer. What I did like was the focus on learning transfer, but then I thought – shouldn’t the focus be on performance? Will has a lot to say and criticise the Kirkpatrick model for, but I am looking for a deeper and better way to do evaluation. What I would like to offer is a deeper explanation of Kirkpatrick’s model and I hope you will make up your own mind how you might apply it.

“Begin with the end in mind” said Steven Covey. I agree wholeheartedly. If you do a thorough analysis, engage with stakeholders and line managers about the outcomes (in performance) required, then evaluation should be straight-forward. But please note if the analysis part is skipped over or done on a superficial level, THE EVALUATION WILL BE DIFFICULT WHICHEVER MODEL YOU USE.

  1. Level 1 – learner reactions – still an important part of seeing if you have had sufficient engagement and struck the right chord with the objectives (Business focused and learner-centred according to the 5 Secrets of Accelerated Learning.
  2. Level 2 – learning achieved – did they learn what they were supposed to and have they met those objectives? This is important to know for L&D and their line managers
  3. Level 3 – impact on performance – this is what is then observed on the job and in my opinion should not be L&D’s sole remit. If they have analysed the needs correctly and determined the correct outcomes, the line managers should be engaged enough to help imbed the learning as well as measure performance improvements.
  4. Level 4 – impact on the business- if the stakeholders have been engaged and the outcomes are focused on the business, the stakeholders will be interested in measuring the business impact.

Here are some ways in which you could do evaluate at different levels of Kirkpatrick. Let me know what you  think – I will be curious to hear your reactions!

In the graphic below I have overlaid Kirkpatrick model onto Will Thalheimers’ model.

Evaluation methods answers



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