What is the Kirkpatrick Model?

The Kirkpatrick model was developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick in 1954, a former Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). The Kirkpatrick model is a framework used to analyze and evaluate the results of training and educational programs. 

Concept OverviewThe Kirkpatrick Model, developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick, is a widely used framework for evaluating the effectiveness of training and educational programs. The model comprises four levels, each representing a different aspect of evaluation, from immediate reactions to long-term results. It provides a structured approach to assessing the impact of training and learning initiatives.
Four Levels of Evaluation The Kirkpatrick Model consists of four distinct levels of evaluation:
1. Level 1: Reaction: At this level, participants’ reactions and feelings about the training program are assessed. It measures satisfaction, engagement, and whether participants found the training relevant and engaging.
2. Level 2: Learning: This level evaluates the extent to which participants acquired new knowledge, skills, or competencies as a result of the training. It examines whether learning objectives were met and if participants can apply what they learned.
3. Level 3: Behavior: Level 3 assesses whether participants have translated their learning into changed behavior or performance on the job. It looks at whether new skills or knowledge are being applied in the workplace.
4. Level 4: Results: The highest level evaluates the long-term impact of training on organizational goals and outcomes. It examines the extent to which training has contributed to improved performance, productivity, and bottom-line results.
ApplicationsThe Kirkpatrick Model is widely applied in various fields:
1. Training and Development: It is used by organizations to assess the effectiveness of employee training programs.
2. Education: Educational institutions use the model to evaluate the impact of teaching methods and curriculum changes.
3. Healthcare: In the medical field, it assesses the effectiveness of medical training programs.
4. Government and Nonprofits: Public and nonprofit organizations apply the model to evaluate the outcomes of educational initiatives and social programs.
BenefitsThe model offers several benefits:
1. Systematic Evaluation: It provides a structured and systematic approach to evaluating training and learning initiatives.
2. Focus on Results: The model emphasizes the importance of measuring the impact of training on actual performance and organizational outcomes.
3. Improvement Opportunities: By identifying strengths and weaknesses at each level, organizations can make data-driven improvements to their training programs.
4. Alignment with Goals: It helps align training efforts with organizational goals and objectives.
ChallengesChallenges in applying the Kirkpatrick Model include the need for resources and expertise to conduct evaluations at all four levels, as well as potential difficulties in measuring long-term results and attributing them solely to training. Additionally, there can be resistance to evaluations if participants perceive them as intrusive or judgmental.

Understanding the Kirkpatrick model

Kirkpatrick’s model, which was the focus of his Ph.D. dissertation, became an influential framework for training course evaluation after his ideas were published in the United States Training and Development Journal in 1959. 

Kirkpatrick updated the model in 1975 and 1993, with son James and wife Wendy revising the model once more after Kirkpatrick died in 2014.

The latest iteration of the model seeks to emphasize the importance of training that is relatable to an employee’s daily activities.

Today, the Kirkpatrick model is one of the most popular and recognized for determining the effectiveness of training and educational programs.

It is used to analyze any type of training – whether that be formal or informal – against four levels of criteria which are described in the next section.

The four levels of Kirkpatrick’s model

Modern interpretations of Kirkpatrick’s model believe it is prudent to start at level four and work backward to better establish desirable outcomes.

This is also to avoid a common scenario where facilitators become stuck in the first two levels and never proceed to complete the training program.

With that in mind, here are the four levels.

Level 1: Reaction

The first level determines whether students find the training material relevant, favorable, or otherwise stimulating. This is normally achieved by a so-called “smile sheet” where individuals are asked to rate their experience.

Kirkpatrick stressed that it was important to focus on questions that relate to the student’s experience of course objectives, course materials, content relevance, and the level of facilitator knowledge.

Too many businesses fixate on training outcomes and not on how the training was delivered. 

Level 2: Learning

The second level is concerned with whether the student has acquired the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, or confidence after taking the course.

Before-and-after student assessments are effective here, as are examinations and comparisons to a control group.

Irrespective of the method chosen, it is important to standardize the scoring system and ensure that the method is aligned with the objectives of the training program.

Level 3: Behaviour

Crucial to measuring the true impact of a training initiative is the behavior of students. In other words, is there evidence employees are exhibiting new behavior in their positions?

Kirkpatrick’s model also considers the concept of drivers, otherwise known as the processes and reward systems that compensate performance and encourage desirable behavior.

Note that if an individual fails to alter their behavior post-training, this does not necessarily mean the training itself has failed.

In some cases, the training may be robust but let down by a less-than-stellar change management strategy.

Level 4: Results

Level 4 is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

Here, the effectiveness of the training program is measured against organizational KPIs that may relate to fewer workplace incidents, increased sales, or more favorable employee morale, for example.

Determining the actual impact of training on these KPIs can be difficult – despite them being the impetus for the training program in the first place.

Like the methods seen in phase two for employees, control groups and before-and-after assessments can also be worthwhile for broader organizational objectives.

More simply, the business can compare the return on investment to the cost of training.

Key takeaways:

  • The Kirkpatrick model is a framework used to analyze and evaluate the results of training and educational programs. The Kirkpatrick model was developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick and has been revised several times since 1954.
  • The Kirkpatrick model is one of the most popular and recognized for determining the effectiveness of formal and informal training and educational programs.
  • The Kirkpatrick model features four criteria, or levels: reaction, behavior, learning, and results. To design training programs with more optimal outcomes and ensure the initiative is seen through to completion, it is recommended that facilitators start at level 4 and work backward.

Key Highlights

  • Development and Evolution: The Kirkpatrick model was developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick in 1954 and has since been revised several times. His son James and wife Wendy contributed to the model’s revisions after Donald’s passing in 2014.
  • Training Evaluation Framework: The Kirkpatrick model is a widely used framework for analyzing and evaluating the effectiveness of training and educational programs.
  • Four Levels of Evaluation:
    • Level 1 – Reaction: This level focuses on students’ initial reactions to the training material. It assesses whether participants find the training relevant, engaging, and stimulating. Feedback is often collected through “smile sheets” or surveys.
    • Level 2 – Learning: This level determines whether participants have acquired the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, or confidence after completing the training. Assessments, examinations, and comparisons to control groups are used to measure learning outcomes.
    • Level 3 – Behavior: Measuring the impact of training on participants’ behavior is the focus of this level. It examines whether employees are exhibiting new behaviors in their roles. The model also considers factors like drivers (reward systems) that encourage desired behavior changes.
    • Level 4 – Results: The ultimate level measures the effectiveness of the training against organizational Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These results could relate to improved employee morale, reduced workplace incidents, increased sales, etc. Determining the direct impact on these KPIs can be challenging.
  • Reverse Approach for Optimal Outcomes: To ensure successful training programs, it’s recommended to start evaluating at Level 4 (Results) and work backward through Levels 3, 2, and 1. This approach helps in establishing desirable outcomes and preventing stagnation in the early levels.
  • Applicability: The Kirkpatrick model can be applied to both formal and informal training initiatives. It is used to assess the effectiveness of various training programs in diverse organizational settings.
  • Importance of Relatable Training: The latest iteration of the model emphasizes the importance of making training content relatable to employees’ daily activities, ensuring practical application of the acquired knowledge.
  • Common Pitfall Avoidance: The model encourages avoiding the common scenario where evaluators focus too much on the first two levels and fail to proceed with the complete training evaluation process.
  • Business Impact Assessment: The model helps organizations assess the impact of training on broader business objectives and outcomes, linking training investments to tangible results like ROI.
  • Recognized Framework: The Kirkpatrick model is widely recognized and adopted in the field of training evaluation, making it one of the most popular frameworks for assessing training effectiveness.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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