Kirkpatrick Levels of Evaluation: an enduring model

For many, Donald Kirkpatrick is the godfather of training evaluation theory. His work was first published in the Journal of American Society of Training Directors in 1959. Although, like any other theory or model, it receives its criticisms, I believe it remains relevant today.

Why has the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation stood the test of time?

I attended a very informative training course a few years ago that was delivered by Jim Kirkpatrick, Donald’s son. On the last day of the course Jim called his Father and we had a (entertaining) telecon question and answer session.

One of the questions Donald was asked was why he thought his model had been so successful. I can’t recall his specific words but it was his view that it was the ability of his model to break down this potentially difficult and complex subject into manageable chunks (ie levels) that was the key to its success. I very much agree with him. Like any daunting task, start to deconstruct it into manageable elements and it becomes less problematic.

Over the next few weeks I’ll develop a series of posts that cover each of the Kirkpatrick levels in a little more detail and provide some of my own thoughts on each. For now, I’ll provide an overview of the model.

Kirkpatrick Level 1 Evaluation

Kirkpatrick summarises each of his levels by encapsulating it in one key word, which for this level is:


Essentially this level of evaluation is all about gaining feedback from those individuals that have received training. There are often criticisms of this level; a common argument is that what people thought of the trainer immediately after training is irrelevant.

I believe that if approached thoughtfully this level of evaluation is a key foundation stone in what Donald and Jim Kirkpatrick refer to as generating the ‘chain of evidence’. Check out more detail in the Kirkpatrick Level 1 Evaluation part of this series.

Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluation

Kirkpatrick summarises this level as:


The focus of this level of evaluation is ensuring that some learning has actually taken place as a result of the training. Is the trainee now equipped with some new knowledge or skill that they did not have before the training was delivered?

For me, this level of evaluation is all about the assessment strategies that we put in place to ensure that learning has occurred. You can see why I consider this to be crucial in this post – Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluation.

Kirkpatrick Level 3 Evaluation

Kirkpatrick summarises this level as:


Transfer of learning into the workplace is the thrust of this level of evaluation. Is the individual who has received the training now behaving differently in their job, i.e. implementing the new skills or knowledge that they have acquired? Whilst levels 1 and 2 evaluation could be implemented within the training environment, level 3 evaluation is now back in the real world.

This makes it more complicated for trainers to capture the information they need to determine whether behavior has altered. Liaison is often required with operational line managers – don’t be scared, they hopefully won’t bite! I’ll look further at some of the difficulties of evaluation at this level and offer some suggestions of how you might start to overcome them in future posts.

Kirkpatrick Level 4 Evaluation

Kirkpatrick summarises this level as:


This is the highest level of evaluation in the Kirkpatrick model and examines how training impacts on business results. Many training practitioners are searching for ways to demonstrate the link between their training and key business outputs, but in practice it can be a challenge to achieve.

In a future specific Kirkpatrick Level 4 Evaluation post I’ll explore these difficulties and consider some options on how this might be achieved. I’ll also examine the common criticism of whether the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation tackles the issue of Return on Investment.

Kirkpatrick: outdated or still relevant?

What are your views on the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation? Do you think it has had its day or are there still relevant aspects that we can apply today? It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

2 Responses to Kirkpatrick Levels of Evaluation: an enduring model

  1. Emmanuel at 12:30 am #

    Hi Richard

    This links with our Twitter chat (@iDesignLearning). In preparation for the Evaluation Program I am working on, I have been reading a number of literature about training evaluation. One opinion I bumped into was a ‘claim’ that Kirkpatrick’s Model has been largely discredited as being too simplistic, because it:
    - Undermines role of the ‘managers’ by misrepresenting the process of training in performance improvement.
    - Ignores the other factors that impinge on training impact.
    - Fails to provide accurate and relevant feedback that Managers need to guide improvement. (Brinkerhoff, 2002)

    Would love to hear your thoughts about this.

  2. Richard at 4:22 pm #

    Thanks very much for your comment. I haven’t yet covered the work of Robert O. Brinkerhoff on the blog but I certainly will be doing as he is a prominent author in this field.

    I’ve read these criticisms but I’m not necessarily convinced by them. I don’t think the model undermines managers. On the contrary, It seems to me that the Kirkpatrick’s are clear on the vital need of line management support and expertise to assist with the transfer of learning into the workplace. Managers are fundamental to this process and without them much of the benefit of training can be lost. This process should be a natural part of their day, not more or less important than their other management responsibilities. Indeed the Kirkpatrick’s talk of the business partnership approach, bridging the divide between training and the operational side of the organisation.

    Personally, I wouldn’t worry about searching for the one specific model that has all the answers and that you are able to implement for your training. Understanding (as you are) the various models and theories available will enable you to ‘cherry pick’ the most suitable elements for you. Developing your own hybrid model if you like. I’m not a purist in pursuit of effective evaluation, the aim is to get on and do something that adds value to the business. What should be classed as ‘suitable’ from the various models is for you to decide, but your decision is likely to be informed by the specific training in question, what the organisational culture is like and what skills and resources you have available.

    The most important thing of course is to decide on something. Document and communicate what you want to do (via your training evaluation strategy). Produce some results.

    I hope this is helpful. Good luck developing your evaluation programme. It would be great to hear back from you in the future about how you get on. Keep checking the blog for more resources as I develop them and consider signing up for early access to my video tutorials (subscribe top right of the blog). I can then send you a link as soon as development is complete. Thanks again for your comment.

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