Amidst ever-shrinking L&D budgets, and in the wake of legitimate fears of a recession, many L&D managers are facing looming pressure to show real return on investment for their training dollars.  But amongst the hundreds of different training evaluation models, which one is the best? It seems that for L&D departments everywhere, it might be time to return to basics – Kirkpatrick’s model, if implemented correctly, can demonstrate the positive ROI that you know your training is delivering.  So how should you be implementing Kirkpatrick’s model? Here’s each level of model, with ensuing instructions on what best practice implementation really looks like:

Level 1: Reaction

Despite not being a true test of learning, it is still important for your training ROI to measure learner’s reaction to the training.  After all, it will be impossible to measure ROI if people stop coming to training as they don’t enjoy it! At the ‘reaction’ level, you are essentially trying to gauge how your learners holistically felt about your training, and what you could do to improve it next time.  Questions to ask include:

  • How relevant was the content to your role/position?
  • What were the biggest strengths/weaknesses of the training?
  • Were you satisfied with the training delivery medium?

Level 2: Learning

Although this measure seems all-encompassing, often measuring whether the course has appeared to have met its learning objectives at its conclusion is merely scratching the surface of what truly needs to be evaluated.

Nonetheless , at the conclusion of your course, it is important to test whether your learners have understood, and can recall, what they have just learnt.  This is best done by:

  • Creating a post-test assessment, and tailoring it according to whether you wanted a change in knowledge, skills or attitude
  • Comparing your learner’s post-course knowledge to their pre-course knowledge.
  • Testing their knowledge/skills/attitude a second, third, and even fourth time if possible – to ensure that the learning has been embedded.

Level 3: Behaviour

The next logical step for any training is not only to increase knowledge, but to change behaviour as a result.  As such, any measure of training ROI should include a metric to demonstrate change in learner behaviours.  Although this can be inherently challenging to do as behaviour change can be caused by a myriad of factors, possible metrics to use include:

  • Have the learners applied their knowledge to their everyday roles? How?
  • Have line managers noticed a change in learner behaviour since the training?
  • Has the training led to a noticeable decrease in accidents/increase in sales leads/greater adherence to policies etc.

Level 4: Results

The final, and most telling, measure of training ROI is whether training resulted in a change in organisational results.  At its most basic level, this should be a change in, or related to, either increasing company profits, or decreasing costs.  Therefore, any measure of results should be related to either of these two factors.  This can be demonstrated by:

  • Establishing a link between a changed behaviour and a cost saving/or a profit increase for the organisation
  • Report the cost saving/profit increase as a (probable) result of the training, and use this as a ‘business case’ for further training
  • Be careful, however, in how you report the causal link between training, behavioural change, and results.  Due to the complexity of behavioural change and the myriad of factors which affect it, report results as a highly likely, not a definite, outcome of training.

Despite being over 60 years old, Kirkpatrick’s model of training evaluation remains relevant today.  If implemented correctly, it can provide a clear line of sight between training and ROI on that training, through measuring reactions and learning, but more importantly, through measuring behavioural change and results.  

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