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Many companies and enterprises realize the importance of talent development for their business continuity. In doing so, skill-focused training programs are conducted to enhance employees' competencies which resulted in an optimized business environment. Training programs are evaluated to verify their effectiveness, assess their ability to achieve their goals, and identify the areas that require improvements. Morrison (2003) noted that there are growing pressures to evaluate curriculums and programs in education for different purposes but typically to look into the achievement of the goals.
Although evaluation of training plays a vital role in measuring training outcomes, it is a source of frustration for institutions, who may struggle to make sense of the approaches, various requirements, and necessary evidence to conduct it (Allen, M. J. 2006.; Brittingham, B.; O'Brien, P.M.; Alig, J.L. 2008; Praslova, L. 2010). Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation is designed to analyze and evaluate training or learning programs using 4 consecutive levels for a simple and accurate measurement. The article highlights the origin of Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation method, how the method evolved over time, the definition of the 4 levels of the training method, along with its advantages and disadvantages.
The History of Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation
Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation is founded by Donald. K. Kirkpatrick, the former Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, with the model launched in 1958 and developed in 1975 and 1993 entitled "Evaluating Training Programs". Historically, the purpose of the Kirkpatrick Model was to assist managers with a systematic and efficient means to account for outcomes among employees and in organizational systems (Cahapay, M. B. 2021). Managers who need solid evidence that training would improve their sales quantity, cost-effectiveness, and other business indicators quickly adapted the said model (Yardley & Dornan, 2012). Kirkpatrick’s Learning Evaluation Model is originally comprises of four levels - reaction, learning, behavior, and impact. These levels were intentionally designed to appraise the apprenticeship and workplace training (Kirkpatrick, 1976).
The 4 Model of Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation
Level 1: Reaction
The level describes the trainees' feelings and impressions regarding the training program and offers information about whether or not trainees found the training program valuable (Rajeev, P.; Madan, M.; Jayarajan, K. 2009, Ruiz, J.; King, M.; Rothwell, W. 2000). In the first stages, the participants will be given a questionnaire of satisfaction on matters relating to training such as materials, instructors, training environment, and consumption in the training (Dewi, L. R.; Kartowagiran, B. 2018). The company observes the participants' reactions through their level of participation, personal feelings, level of participants' effort, and perceived values in the training session. Several evaluation methods that can be used to collect the reaction are the 'happy sheets', which assessed the participants' satisfaction level, feedback forms to capture the participants' training experience from a subjective perspective, and post-training surveys or questionnaires. Training programs are considered successful if the trainees are happy with the programs so that they are motivated to learn (Dewi, L. R.; Kartowagiran, B. 2018).
Level 2: Learning
Learning can be defined as the extent to which participants change attitudes, improve knowledge and/or increase skills as a result of attending the program (Kirkpatrick, 2006). Learning level involves evaluations that measure the participants' capability in knowledge and intellectual from before to after the learning experience. The evaluation captures the participants' expectations of the training sessions, the alignment of materials being taught, and the extent of advancement or change in the participants after the training. At this level, the evaluations are relatively simple to carry out, however, need more investment and preparation than reaction-level evaluations. The evaluation is also more relevant in displaying quantifiable or technical-related data.
Level 3: Behavior
This level of evaluation attempts to determine whether participants who may already have demonstrated acquisition of specific skills and/or knowledge use their new skills when they return to the work environment (Smidt, Andy. Vicki. A. Reed. Susan Balandin. 2009). Warr et. al (1999) have identified the importance of organizational culture and learning confidence. Therefore, it is expected that attained knowledge and skills from the training program can improve organizational culture and learning confidence in the company.
CLD is able to display reinforcing feedback loop and balancing feedback loop. A reinforcing system is an escalating effect due to equivalent influence between the components, which can be either a downward spiral or an upward (Haraldsson, Hördur V, 2004). Meanwhile, a balancing feedback loop is a resisting effect that withold further changes in one direction, rather it counters it with a change in opposite direction to stabilize the system. In a balancing system, there is a variable which hampers the exponential growth or is limiting factor to the growth of the loop (Haraldsson, Hördur V, 2004).
Level 4: Results
At this level, evaluations aim to measure the quality level of targeted outcomes and changes achieved based on the training. This might include improvement in, for example, staff-resident interaction, decreased incidents of challenging behavior, and staff turnover (Smidt, Andy. Vicki. A. Reed. Susan Balandin. 2009). From a business and organizational perspective, it is clearly the most difficult data to obtain (Winfrey, 1999). This level is the most important value level, as it attempts to assess training in business results and in terms that managers and executives can understand, that is, increased production, improved quality, reduced costs, reduced frequency of accidents, increased sales, and even higher profits or return on investment (ROI) (Galloway, D. L. 2005).
Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation allows companies to gain rationality upon the training program and participants to achieve performance-improvement that match their capabilities. As a result, each subsequent level provides an even more accurate measurement of the usefulness of the training course, yet simultaneously calls for a significantly more time-consuming and demanding evaluation. Below are several benefits that can be attained and drawbacks that should be aware of from Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation Model.
Kirkpatrick's Learning Evaluation provides a specific 4-levels of training evaluation that can be used to evaluate classroom and online training processes. Kirkpatrick's framework offers performance-improvement professionals, as well as evaluators, a basic model for identifying and targeting specific evaluation efforts (Watkins, et. al; 1998). It also provides a logical structure and process to measure learning effectivity towards the participants' productivity. This flexibility specifically applies to Kirkpatrick's (1959) encouragement of trainers to borrow approaches, techniques, and methods from others and to understand the difference between proof and evidence of training results (Galloway, D. L. 2005).
When used in its entirety, it can give organizations an overall perspective of their training programs and of the changes that need to be made. Strategic alignment is the degree to which a training program conforms to and advances the goals of the organization for which it is designed. The ease with which strategic alignment can be evaluated within the Kirkpatrick model has contributed to the model's popularity and perseverance as the dominant model of evaluation (Galloway, D. L. 2005).
On the other hand, Kirkpatrick’s Learning Evaluation also has several stumbling blocks to look for. The participants' reactions portrayed in the questionnaire tools don't always signify an accurate perception of whether they're inclined toward the training programs. 'Smile Sheets' (Davis et. al. 1998) do not indicate the extent to which participants have internalized the programs' goals, nor do they offer direct insight into how the organization will benefit from the investment. Wisher et. al (2001) point out, that data sources need to be unbiased, understandable, and immune to irrelevant influences if they are to indicate accurately a training session's effectiveness.
However, increasingly, technological solutions are used to assess objectively and consistently whether a participant can apply their knowledge and skills to perform tasks, take actions and solve problems (Galloway, 2005). Hard data, such as sales, costs, profit, productivity, and quality metrics are used to quantify the benefits and to justify or improve subsequent training and development activities, For business leaders, Level 4: Result is arguable the most important level of evaluation. Yet, it is also the most difficult level to understand, define and execute well. As Wile (2009) points out, the challenge is to connect the results specifically to the training outcomes.
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