Using the Kirkpatrick Model to Evaluate Training: Part One

Using the Kirkpatrick Model to Evaluate Training image

This is part one of our Kirkpatrick Model series, by Hannah Brenner, in which we explore the four levels of evaluation and how to get started. 

As training professionals, one of the key components of our job is to evaluate training. Evaluation should, at all times, be top of mind; it allows for us to constantly improve our programs and prove, with data, the value we bring to our organization.

The Four Levels of Evaluation

If you’ve been in training and development for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with the Kirkpatrick Model. But for those not as familiar, here are the four levels used to evaluate training:

Level 1 – Reaction: This is the simplest form of evaluation, which is easiest to understand and most often done. Simply put, this is the overall feel for training: did the audience enjoy the session; were they engaged throughout; do they think the training could be applied back on-the-job? Reaction is done throughout the training and/or immediately after.

Level 2 – Learning: Think back to your days in school. The teacher taught a concept and a week or two later something happened. That’s right, there was a test. This is level 2. Did the participants actually learn what they were supposed to? Here, we test participants to find out. When properly done, trainers take it a step further, surveying participants’ confidence, attitude, and commitment to the lesson.

Often, this is where the evaluation stops, but there are still two more.

Level 3 – Behavior: How many times in school did you ask the question “when am I ever going to use this?” Level 3 assesses the application of what was learned. This is a delayed evaluation and requires feedback from the participants, their peers, and managers. This is where training professionals can really see the bang for their buck, if done correctly.

Level 4 – Results: This is the most important level and proves that all the time and money spent was well worth it. Results are when you see the desired outcome identified at the start of the program. Here, we see high-level, strategic impact. It’s where leadership praises you for your influence and gives you that raise (Ok maybe not, but it could happen).

Get it Backwards

After graduating college, I had the opportunity to teach summer school before my first official year as a teacher. I was really excited for the added experience and couldn’t wait to get started. I sat down during a workday and started planning my first week’s lessons.

But then my mentor sat down and said something that changed everything – if you don’t know your end goal, or what is on the assessment, how do you know what you need to teach?

I stopped mid-plan. She was right. So, I erased everything I had been writing for 3 hours and started over, backwards.

Did you ever find as a kid that doing mazes was easier if you started at the “finish” line instead of “start”? I sure did. This is the idea of backwards planning and it applies whether you are teaching a room of students or training adults in your company.

You must know what you are working towards to know what to train people on. How often does it happen when a manager comes to you and says “we need training!” So you put together a great session on sales, customer service, or emotional intelligence – but then nothing changes.

Did you ever stop to think what the goal is? What behaviors are you trying to change? What skills and knowledge are needed to accomplish this? How are you going to continue to support participants after the session is over?

Next time this happens, take a breath and then take a step backwards. In Teach For America this is taught as closing the GAP – Goal, Assessment, Plan (in that order). Know your end goal, figure out what behaviors and support are needed to get there, and then fill in the individual plans.

What’s to Come

So how do you do it? In this blog series, we are going to go back to basics, discussing the levels of evaluation, backwards, using the book Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation as our guide.

By the end of the series, you will have the knowledge necessary to put together simple, yet robust evaluation tools to help show ROI and solidify your place as an essential member of the team.

BizLibrary clients – make sure to work with your Client Success Consultant as you develop your evaluation tools. Together, you can apply the information in this series to your individual programs. This can help increase your client score and even possibly win an ALIGN award!

Read more: Using the Kirkpatrick Model to Evaluate Training: Part Two

For more information on the Kirkpatrick method, please visit the Kirkpatrick Partners website at

Need help figuring out S.M.A.R.T. goals for your employee training program? Download our free eBook on developing goals and metrics:

Developing Goals and Metrics For Training Program eBook cover

Hannah Brenner is a Client Success Consultant with BizLibrary. She discusses training strategies and works with her clients to constantly improve their training program and see a positive return on investment.