Kirkpatrick Four Levels and ROE

Training Evaluation - the Original Kirkpatrick 'Four Level' Model  

The Return On Expectations model of training evaluation evolved out of Donald Kirkpatrick’s famous ‘Four Level' model. This model was originally developed in the 1950s and was for many years regarded as the industry standard in evaluation across the training and Human Resources communities.

The four levels referred to in the model are:

Level 1: Reaction
Level 2: Learning                    
Level 3: Behaviour
Level 4: Results

By progressing through each of the levels training evaluators can build a ‘chain of evidence’ which links learning directly with organisational performance. Having the right conditions for learning (level 1) enables learning to take place (level 2); the learning taking place lays the foundation for the transfer of the learning to the workplace (level 3); and the application of learning in the workplace enables the desired changes in organisational performance to happen (level 4).

Similarly, if the outcomes of a learning programme are not as expected, the model provides the evaluator with a diagnostic framework. By checking back through responses to the evaluation at each of the levels the evaluator should be able to identify any key barriers to training effectiveness and impact.

The ROE Model

Although the four levels still remain at the core of the Kirkpatrick model, in recent years it has evolved to become both more sophisticated and more powerful.

The focus of the updated model, which is often referred to as the ‘Return on Expectations’ or ‘ROE’ model, is on ensuring that training objectives are strategically relevant to the organisation in the first place, clearly defining the expectations of the outcomes of the training, and then evaluating against both the training objectives and the agreed expectations.

The main principles of the ROE model can be summarized as follows:

Business/organisational objectives are seen as a starting point - To ensure training processes deliver real value to the organisation it is critical from the outset to work with key stakeholders to establish what the organisation’s strategic objectives are and precisely how the training should contribute to the achievement of these. Training objectives, content and methods should then all be tightly focused on meeting these strategic objectives. Stakeholders will be able to identify which business performance metrics are most meaningful in relation to the strategic objectives, and measurement of changes to these should form a core part of the evaluation.

‘Return on Expectations’ is key – it is essential to negotiate and clarify with stakeholders what the expectations are regarding training outcomes. Clear and precise success indicators (eg percent changes in performance metrics) should be developed in line with these expectations. The training evaluation should then assess and report on both the actual changes that have come about as a result of the training and the extent to which these changes have met stakeholders’ expectations, ie whether there has been a ‘Return on Expectations’.

Collective efforts are needed throughout an organisation to achieve success – For training to achieve a positive ROE, supervisors, managers and others in an organisation all need to be involved in supporting the training process before, during and after training begins. They can do this by, for example, helping prepare participants for training; providing support/coaching during the training; and, crucially, providing ‘consistent and deliberate’ opportunities to apply and reinforce learning in the workplace after the formal training has ended.

Those responsible for training need to widen their role and expand their expertise and their influence within their organisations to support managers to do these things, and, more broadly, to ensure that both learning and the application of learning continue into the workplace.


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