Is It Time To Kill the Kirkpatrick Model?

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The Kirkpatrick Model for training evaluation is kind of like Old Faithful. It’s been around since the 1950s and provides an easy to understand framework for evaluating your training program. Here is the model as described by the Kirkpatrick Partners:

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But is the Kirkpatrick Model still valid?

In a recent #chat2lrn Twitter chat, Donald Clark of Plan B Learning started a bit of controversy with this tweet:

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Ouch. I wasn’t the only one who thought his phrasing was a little harsh:

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When it comes to the Kirkpatrick Model and its four levels of training evaluation, everyone has an opinion—and they’re not always flattering. Clark calls it a “useless fossil,” consultant Dan Pontefract compares it to a cockroach that has stood the test of time without evolving at all, and others in the learning community refer derisively to the “smiley sheets” the model uses to procure training feedback.

However, not everyone hates the Kirkpatrick Model.

Another #chat2lrn participant pointed out that it’s important to use vocabulary that is meaningful to your stakeholders. Familiar evaluation terms can help those who hold the purse strings to be more comfortable with trying out a new learning method, such as gamification. But maybe that model needs a new twist?

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To Kirkpatrick or not to Kirkpatrick is not a new controversy.

Many of the anti-Kirkpatrick articles that participants shared during the chat were a few years old. So why haven’t we found a new evaluation method yet? Well, there are a lot of ways to evaluate training programs. Then I saw this tweet about Robert Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method:

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Cathy Moore is a hugely respected training designer; I knew if she was recommending an evaluation method, it was going to be good. Plus, I love her blog.

Here’s the description of the Brinkerhoff Evaluation Institute (BEI) from their website: “BEI helps organizations achieve their objectives faster by conducting thorough yet practical evaluations of the key programs that contribute to their success.  We use data-driven analysis to measure and document program impact and identify actions to milk more value from program investments.”

For a great outline of the differences between the Kirkpatrick Model and BEI’s Success Case Method, check out this article by learning and performance consultant Tom Gram: Evaluating with the Success Case Method.

Have you used either of these evaluation methods? Or, do you have a different way of determining training effectiveness? Share your techniques in the comments below—we may do a follow-up post if there is interest!

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  • This is a tired click-bait of an article. People who say “Let’s kill off Kirkpatrick” usually don’t understand it and/or just haven’t had time to try it out properly. It’s a model – not a way of life. As such you adjust it to suit your needs and your organization. You know you’re not supposed to follow a GPS-navigator blindly either, right?
    Brinkerhoff’s evaluation method is also a pretty good thing to combine with the Kirkpatrick model. They really do compliment each other pretty nicely.
    Regarding the link to Tom Gram. Ouch… A great deal of misunderstandings there as well. The Kirkpatrick model do NOT assume or say training is all there is for a program’s success. They’ve even included organizational success drivers to show for this.
    The way I see it: Kirkpatrick is what I use when planning a program, Brinkerhoff compliment that model when I’m analyzing a program. Both these models are TOOLS that I use to my own content. Bits and pieces are great and some wordings or terminology are just confusing – in those cases I just rename a step/phase to something people in my organization will understand.

    • Stephanie Ivec

      Henrik, thanks for your input! It’s great to see things from the other perspective as well. I agree–use the tools that work for you!