To Be or Not to Be…The Kirkpatrick Question

There is an interesting debate within the CLO (Chief Learning Officer) group on LinkedIn regarding the use of the Kirkpatrick model.  Here was the question: “Hi, Is Kirkpatrick model of Evaluation of training outdated in today’s economic scenario? If yes, then what is the appropriate approach?

This question generated – to date – 28 responses, all filled with varying levels of L&D gobbly-gook and Kirkpatrick enthusiasts.  Here are excerpts of some of my favorites:


  • Kirkpatrick’s Model is extremely easy to understand and is widely known by the learning community, so it is an excellent reference. However, on a management basis, we found it’s difficult to implement.  (So that’s our measurement nowadays? Easy to understand? Sigh.)
  • For me “predictive evaluation” combined with “generative learning” and organizational learning are important.
  • The New World Four Levels by James and Wendy James is a beautiful expansion of the model keeping the spirit and essence in its purity. (um-really?)
  • ADDIE and Kirkpatrick are such foundations without all the smoke-and-mirrors. (Cue magic wands everywhere)
  • And my absolute FAVORITE – “If Kirkpatrick’s model was no longer valid, it would have been replaced by now.” (Go ahead, take a moment to absorb that one…)

The last bullet was the basis of my response.  Those of you who are regular readers can almost anticipate my response.  After I wrote my response it dawned on me that it could be taken as commentary that should be shared.  I may have “soap-boxed” a bit, but sometimes you have to… here is my response in full.  For those of you part of the CLO group in LinkedIn, and are interested, you can find the discussion here:


@NameWithheldToProtectTheWellIntentioned  ~ I respectfully disagree with the statement: “If Kirkpatrick’s model was no longer valid, it would have been replaced by now.”  That argument does not hold water within an L&D community which still continues to perpetuate learning myths as actual truths – Learning Styles anyone? (An argument for a different day, I’m sure).

My main issue with the use of the Kirkpatrick model is it is based on the premise that learning is situated around or begins with a “learning event”. Example from Level 3 description:  “You evaluate how far your trainees have changed their behavior, based on the training they received.” Which is all well and good if we want plow down the path of learning status-quo and only measure how learning events impact the person and an organization.

Learning, as I hope we can all agree, has not and has never been solely driven by an event.  Learning is continuous, collaborative, and experience driven before, during and after any formal event. Yes, learning happens formally but as we know that is only 10% of the equation. People learn more socially, informally, out in the field and in lunch rooms than in a classroom – measure that. I further take issue with this Kirkpatrick statement: “By going through and analyzing each of these four levels, you can gain a thorough understanding of how effective your training was, and how you can improve in the future.” It may be your training event, but doesn’t the learning belong to the person?  Isn’t what we should be measuring, are the learning behaviors of an organization and the people within it?

To me the argument is less about the method of evaluation, but the methods in which we depend on for providing learning.  As an L&D community we are still too dependent on the “learning event” to provide solutions to business issues (if we even ask about the business issue).  So rather than spin on how to best use or manipulate the Kirkpatrick model to validate antiquated learning delivery methods, how about we spin on how to provide an environment within the workplace that encourages a natural culture of discovery/learning, create connections and serendipitous learning paths.  Then we can look at evaluation models.

In closing, I found this post by Dan Pontefract to be most interesting:

For alternatives to the Kirkpatrick model see Jane Bozarth’s post here:

So fellow Learning Rebels – what say you? “To Kirkpatrick or not to Kirkpatrick?” Or is that really the question we need to be answering right now?



Picture Credits:

Scott Adams

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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