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Mike Collins

DPG plc

Head of Learning Solutions

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Discovering the new world of Kirkpatrick and exploring what’s changed in learning evaluation


In the first of a series, DPG's Mike Collins updates the evaluation process for us.

A long long time ago

When the Kirkpatrick Model was established back in 1954, it was instantly accepted as the industry standard approach to training evaluation. Today it is still the most frequently used model for training evaluation, but does this mean it is still effective in today’s modern world of L&D?

Every model or framework has its critics and I called in to question the current validity of the original Kirkpatrick model because it focuses solely on the training event, and not anything that takes place before or after the training event.

Are YOU about to be made surplus to requirements?

Fast-forward 60 years to 2014, and the one thing that is more crucial than ever is the need for L&D to measure the success of learning activities and demonstrate:

  1. Tangible value added to the business

  2. Measurable improvements in performance

  3. Positive changes in behaviour of the learners

We all know budgets are being squeezed, work practices are evolving and technology advancing at an incredible rate of knots, and if us L&D professionals are not careful we are at serious risk of becoming surplus to requirements, side stepped by the very people we are there to support. Now more than ever, we need to be able to demonstrate that the learning solutions we design and develop improve performance and maximise business results.

Training is no longer the sole currency of L&D departments; there is a now a strong focus on supporting and driving performance improvements. We need to re-think the whole approach to organisational learning. Training is still part of this puzzle but times have changed.

Welcome to the new world of L&D evaluation

The Kirkpatricks have also changed and evolved their model to underpin this L&D transformation. “The New World Kirkpatrick Model”, developed by Don, Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick, with the help of global Kirkpatrick ambassadors, provides a robust consultative framework for us to use. This framework moves our L&D teams from mere order takers to trusted business partners who help shape and influence the future strategies of the organisations we work within.

As L&D professionals we need to be influencing and guiding, engaging and nurturing, consulting with and talking the same language of the business we are supporting. The L&D team I want to be part of, and be proud to be part of, is one that sits at the heart of the business and has the credibility to stand up and be counted. One that is respected and admired and one that can successfully lead organisations in to the future. So what does this mean for evaluation in this new world?

ROI is dead – long live ROE

I believe there needs to be a significant shift in the way evaluation happens. This shift needs to move our industry away from the current ROI (Return on Investment) culture where we attempt to mathematically isolate a single training event using a complex and convoluted formula to give an arbitrary £ or $ value that none of us would feel the slightest bit confident standing up in a court of law to defend.

Instead we must shift towards measuring the learning, behaviours and performance changes and how they compare to the desired and expected outcomes set and agreed with the business at the outset. This is ROE (Return on Expectations.) These results are observable, measurable and lead to genuine improvements in performance. These are results we do feel confident defending in a court of law or more relevantly the boardroom.

I believe the New World Kirkpatrick Model is a framework that enables better conversations to take place and to understand business needs in a way that I’ve not seen from any other evaluation model.

Learning professionals should now be using this evolved model as they transform and evolve themselves beyond the traditional design, development and delivery of training events. It is not about our industry surviving, but about thriving and embracing the opportunities that exist.

The seven rules for evaluation success

Our challenge is to stop thinking of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model starting with Level 1 (Reaction) before moving through the gears on autopilot to Level 2 (Learning) and then attempting to come back to Level 3 (Behaviour) and Level 4 (Results). It’s time to flip the model and start with the end in mind. Ask those business-critical questions in a consultative manner and use a framework that:

  1. Creates strong business partnerships with business leaders as the cornerstones for success

  2. Starts any initiative knowing what the targeted and measurable business results will be

  3. Introduces return on expectations (ROE) as the method to demonstrating value

  4. Connects the levels in planning and practice, as opposed to evaluating them as 'separate entities'

  5. Broadens the concept of learning interventions to include all manner of support and accountability to increase on-the-job application and performance support

  6. Includes the concepts of ‘required drivers’ at Level 3 and ‘leading indicators’ at Level 4

  7. Creates a 'chain of evidence' that is done in partnership with business stakeholders not in isolation.

Making the transition from training to performance

The continued evolution of Learning & Development professionals and approaches to workplace learning has seen a major shift in focus from training to performance. The impact of technology, especially social media, has seen new approaches adopted within the workplace that places theories like the 70/20/10 framework at the heart of learning in the organisation.

This shift places more emphasis on learning on the job (and the subsequent increase in performance) and away from traditional classroom-driven events and practices. These new approaches utilise collaboration and peer-to-peer sharing at the heart of improving workplace performance and capability.

The new industry standard evaluation model

The theory and practices of the New World Kirkpatrick Model enable clear strategies to be developed in a truly collaborative way. Strategies that reflect the different stages of delivery, execution and support with clear focus on transferable knowledge and skills, ultimately leading to a positive change in performance and results.

Why do I say this? Because it provides you with a simple to follow methodology to demonstrate how any learning intervention can be measured against a set of pre-determined objectives and critical success factors agreed at the outset and in partnership with your customers and stakeholders.

Moving L&D from the classroom to the boardroom

This is the key to L&D taking a seat at the top table next to our HR counterparts. No longer will L&D be seen as the poor relation to HR once we start to demonstrate the value we know we can. For everyone working in the L&D profession this can only be a good thing.

Mike Collins is Head of Learning Solutions at DPG plc

Author Profile Picture
Mike Collins

Head of Learning Solutions

Read more from Mike Collins

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