One of the most important HR activities in any organization is training. It is part of the onboarding process for new employees who cannot be expected to be 100% job ready on day one. It is part on an ongoing employee development program that makes employees ready for new roles that enable them to advance their careers. It is also necessary to deal with organizational changes. There are three main concerns with training—what to train, how to train and whether the training achieved its purpose. The last concern, often overlooked, addresses the bottom line—did the training work? To answer that question, you must evaluate the training against criteria, and the Kirkpatrick four levels of criteria are considered the gold standard. But what are the Kirkpatrick levels of training evaluation?
Setting Training Objectives
Training in organizations is generally designed with a specific purpose in mind. Ideally, the goals of training are based on a training needs assessment that identifies where training is most needed. Needs assessment can be conducted in a number of ways to identify gaps in employee knowledge, skill, ability and other characteristics—the KSAOs. This can be for the job employees currently have where additional skills need to be developed to improve performance. It can be part of future planning to adapt to changing government regulations, evolving policies and procedures, or new technologies. It can be driven by growth and the projection of future talent needs. Regardless of what is driving it, the most efficient use of training resources is to base their deployment on a needs assessment.
Once the needs assessment is completed, specific training objectives can be noted. These objectives define the changes that are expected in employees due to training and how those changes might affect organizations. The objectives inform the evaluation, as they specify what should be assessed to determine training effectiveness. In other words, each objective needs to be operationalized by choosing a way to measure whether it was achieved. For example, if the objective of production workers’ skills training is to decrease manufacturing defects, a count of warranty returns would be a reasonable measure.
What Are the Kirkpatrick Levels of Training Evaluation?
Training can have multiple effects on employees and organizations. Some of those effects occur at the time of training, and some of those effects occur later when the person returns to the job. The Kirkpatrick four levels focus on both immediate effects on employees during the training, and on the longer-term impact on employees and organizations beyond the training. The levels are:
- Reactions are assessed at the conclusion of training to determine the immediate impact on employees. Did they enjoy the training, were they engaged, and did they feel it was valuable? Positive reactions are important because they reflect attitudes toward training that can have consequences for later application of what was trained. Negative feelings toward training can result in resistance by employees to trying what was trained on the job. Reactions are assessed with a questionnaire administered at the end of training.
- Learning is simply a measure of what was acquired during the training. It can be assessed by comparing level of knowledge or skill proficiency before to after training by means of pre-test and post-test assessments. These assessments can indicate that what was intended was learned, but it does not guarantee application of new capabilities back on the job.
- Behavior focuses on what those trained do differently on the job after training. Are they applying new knowledge or skill? Do they perform their jobs differently? This can be measured by consulting records, or asking others (customers, peers, or supervisors) to evaluate behavior. As with knowledge, this can be assessed by comparing before to after training.
- Results are the bottom-line outcome of the training. It is the results of behavior change and whether it drives important outcomes. Does sales skills training result in higher sales? Does leadership training result in better employee retention? Does safety training result in fewer accidents? The nature of the outcome determines which assessment makes the most sense.
The four Kirkpatrick levels are often used together as each tells a different part of the story. Too often organizations stop with level 1, but to really determine if training resources are being well spent, all four levels are needed to paint a complete picture. Being able to trace the impact of training from reactions to results can help ensure that investment of resources in training really contributes to the bottom line.
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