Talent Development

The Kirkpatrick Model: Leveraging Feedback for Better Training

By Sarah AlexanderNovember 7, 2017

When the topic of employee development comes up, the spotlight is often on manager and instructor feedback. While this is certainly critical for employee development and motivation, the topic of acquiring employee feedback is discussed less frequently.

However, constructive feedback on both sides is crucial to great employee development, and by extension, satisfaction, retention, motivation, and performance. It can drive corporate performance as well: one study by The Employee Involvement Association found that each employee idea implemented saves its company approximately $6,224 per year. Multiply this figure by the number of employees in your company who may have good ideas waiting to be expressed and the savings can be significant.

Feedback is so important in the context of training that it is one of the pillars of the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Framework. This first-generation thought model for the measurement of training serves as the foundation for organizations to gauge the value provided by their development programs.

Developed by Donald Kirkpatrick, PhD in the 1950s, the Kirkpatrick Model is comprised of four levels of evaluation: reaction, learning, behavior, and results. The model’s foundational level – reaction – revolves around employee feedback. In particular, the “reaction” level measures participants’ feedback from training programs to gauge whether the program is both useful and interesting.

While Kirkpatrick’s “reaction” step originally focused on trainee satisfaction, it has been updated to be more comprehensive. This step now also focuses on feedback that addresses trainee engagement – the degree to which participants are actively involved in and contributing to the learning experience – and relevance – the degree to which training participants will have the opportunity to use or apply what they learned in training on the job.

Did they enjoy the experience? Did they find the materials useful for their work? Did the training motivate them to alter long-standing habits? This kind of feedback is important, because it can be linked to how much participants take from the training and how invested they will be in the next training opportunity: while an optimistic reaction doesn’t necessarily ensure learning, an unfavorable one definitely makes it less likely that someone will pay attention to the next training.

There are a number of techniques that can be used to gather employee feedback. The process can start during training sessions. For example, consider having instructors observe employees during each training session to provide their perception of engagement and reception of the material.

The feedback process should then continue immediately following the training event. While in-person interviews are an option, it is particularly useful to use online or written assessments with both a quantitative component that can be graded by evaluators and a qualitative written component that can be taken into consideration. Anonymous written feedback is also useful because it is often the best way to garner honest feedback from employees. Google has done a particularly good job of implementing an employee feedback system to assess day-to-day work environment, manager performance, and training event effectiveness.

While gathering feedback is critical to execute the Kirkpatrick Model, it is only half the battle. Analyzing that feedback to derive insights and thoughtfully applying those insights is equally important. Combining feedback with the next two steps – measuring learning and gauging subsequent behavior changes – will enable you to execute the last step of the Model: program results. Putting all these pieces together, you will achieve a more effective training and development program, thus creating an educated, engaged employee base that sets you apart from your competition.

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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