Monitoring success in personnel development – evaluating training with Kirkpatrick's 4⁠-⁠step model

Erfolgskontrolle in der Personalentwicklung - Personalentwicklungsmaßnahmen
Simon Hauzenberger

Personnel developers are being increasingly faced with the challenge of
having to prove the success of their personnel development measures. You do not
only want and need to know whether the participants were satisfied at the end
of a training course. You also want to know what the participants have learned
and whether they apply this at work. Above all, managers want to verify whether
progress and developments can be measured, and whether they have an influence
on the company's goals. In an ideal case, personnel development succeeds in
closely aligning all the measures with the company's goals and in concretely
demonstrating the success of the training course. Managers are also required to
determine, record and track the return on investment of measures to develop the
skills of their employees. The monitoring of success is still criminally
neglected in many training courses and is commonly limited to the good old
feedback sheet. How can HR managers furnish this evidence? These were the
issues addressed by the US economist and scholar Donald Kirkpatrick in the late
1950s. He developed a 4⁠-⁠step model and thereby provided essential answers more
than 60 years ago.

Kirkpatrick's 4⁠-⁠step-model to success monitoring in personnel

Donald Kirkpatrick was one of the first to address the issue of
monitoring success in human resource development. At the end of the 1950s, he
developed his 4⁠-⁠step model for evaluating training programs based on his
dissertation. In a way, this makes him a midwife of modern learning analytics.

Kirkpatrick beschreibt vier Stufen, die eine Erfolgskontrolle in der Weiterbildung ausmachen: Reaktion, Lernen, Verhalten und Ergebnisse.

Kirkpatrick describes four stages that make up the monitoring of success
in further training: Response, Learning, Behavior and Outcomes.

Step 1 of success monitoring – Reaction

Step 1 concerns the reaction of the participants and describes the
satisfaction with the training or the course of the measure.

It concerns the variety of methods, the holistic nature of the content, the
practical relevance, the learning material and the external framework. This
step can be reflected in the feedback forms that are commonly used. Digital
learning solutions, whether cloud-based platforms or in-house learning management
systems, deliver these components using quantitative metrics. Completion
rates, or the percentage of learners who have completed courses and units, are
easily measured in digital learning environments. Some LMS offer the
possibility of retrieving qualitative values, such as average ratings that
course graduates can give.

While positive responses indicate that the delivery and design of the
training was perceived as good, they do not yet indicate the learning
experience and the learning success and certainly not the successful practical
implementation. Irrespective of this, the reactions and satisfaction of the
participants are relevant variables. Appropriate tools for collecting this
feedback are a real added value.

Example: The information relevant to the evaluation can be easily
obtained in digital learning environments. One third of the participants have
already completed the "Developing an Agile Mindset" e⁠-⁠learning
course. One participant is currently working on it, and the remaining 33% have
not yet started. This data should always be seen in the perspective of a
specific time frame.

Step 2 of success monitoring – Learning

Kirkpatrick defines learning as an extension of knowledge, skills and
abilities. To identify such developments, Kirkpatrick suggests testing,
simulation, managerial assessment or trial work. Ideally, such reviews should
be performed first before a training activity is initiated and then afterwards.
This makes learning success is verifiable. In step 2, it is necessary to assess
what prior knowledge, knowledge, skills and abilities the learners have at the
beginning. This is, for example, indicated by prior knowledge tests. The
relevant metric is the average growth in skills demonstrated in final tests,
assessments and practice.

Example: Out of 6 participants, 50% completed the
final e⁠-⁠learning test, 2 participants passed it. These numbers now need to be
analyzed in relation to the learners' prior knowledge.

Step 3 success monitoring – Behavior

Step 3 is concerned with whether the behavior of the participants
changes as a result of the personnel development measures and how this change
is determined. In this phase, the learning transfer is the focus of the success
monitoring. Kirkpatrick suggests observations and tests for measurement. The
participants' working environment must be taken into consideration for the
observations to be valid and validated. This can take the form of conversations
with managers, team members and customers. Personnel appraisals are an
essential tool during this third step.

In many places, there are discussions concerning the effort needed to achieve
valid results in the third step. Business owners and managers increasingly
demand solid evidence of learning success because they want to see the return
on investment of a training measure. This is why instruments and procedures for
measuring performance are of particular importance in the monitoring of
success. These should enable companies to observe relevant changes in behavior.
Example: One such method is Er:Kon. This method accompanies, observes, measures
and documents the development of people, processes and companies. It was
originally designed by Bruno Schmalen and Andreas Dolle for the training of
personnel in human resource development. (Source of Infographic: Schmalen
Kommunikation und Training)

Step 4 of success monitoring - Results

These results are to be understood in terms of the company's objectives
and mean the return on investment that a training course achieves. In contrast
to the third step, the participants' immediate working environment is not the
only factor to be taken into consideration here. Rather, it is assessed what
each individual participant contributes to the success of the entire company.
In this way, it is assessed whether or not a training course has achieved any
added value for the company. There are no easy answers to these result-oriented
questions. The results can be measured by the following factors relevant for

  • cost savings

  • time savings

  • quality

  • accident rate

  • sick days

Did the skills that the employees developed in a personnel development
measure contribute to an effective cost reduction? Could the time flow actually
be optimized following the "Time Management" skill training? Are
there fewer days of absence after employees completed compact seminars on the
topic of "Health"? These are important areas insofar as return
on investment is concerned. They also include concrete topics such as, for

  • Speeding up decision-making processes and shortening meetings

  • Making meetings more effective

  • Reflecting on leadership

  • Expanding the potential for conflict resolution

Do team leaders reach decisions more quickly and better after
appropriate training?  Do leaders display
a reflective leadership style after they have completed training on leadership?
Do meetings run more effectively, efficiently and productively when employees
have participated in training courses on 'facilitating meetings' or
'facilitating online meetings'? Are there fewer conflicts in the workforce as a
result of managers and employees having built up appropriate skills and
strategies for conflict resolution in soft skills training?

Personnel development measures on these topics offer added value for companies,
which can be measured in concrete terms. It is considerably more time-consuming
to determine results at step 4 than at the previous levels. Nevertheless, it is
worth the effort because this step demonstrates how training contributes to the
success of the company.

Successfully designing personnel development with e⁠-⁠learning

If costs are to be saved, training is at the top of the list of items to
be cut. Budgets are tight and HR managers depend on the success of their
training programs.

Increase the ROI of your training program and make the case for digital learning
by capitalizing on the many benefits of e⁠-⁠learning:

  • Cost reduction

  • Efficiency increase

  • Microlearning

  • Mobile Learning

  • Social Learning

  • Engagement

  • Motivation


Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1998). Evaluating Training Programs - The Four Levels (2 Aufl.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schmalen, Bruno "Er:Kon: Auftragsklärung und Erfolgskontrolle in Weiterbildung und Veränderungsprozessen. Die Methode Er:Kon." (

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