The Kirkpatrick Model: Level 2


As a prelude to discussing Level 2, let’s take a quick step back to look at the structure of different Instructional Design Models (IDM). Any reader will find numerous different models; common among all of them, though, is the differentiation of the evaluation process into different components or levels. Some of the models have a minimal number of components, whereas others have seven or so. What’s going on here? It’s not difficult to understand when comparing different models. The creators of a given IDM might extrapolate a single component into two or more. The number of components bares notice as they signify the structure of the learning process. In other words, the structure conveys a cognitive schematic for appreciating educational design and evaluation, not simply an expanded PowerPoint that assists students in their learning.

The original Kirkpatrick Model utilized four components, or as they put it, levels. The fact that they used the concept of “levels” to depict the evaluation process is significant, as the original schematic depicted the evaluation process as different levels of a pyramid with the final level on the top. Such a schematic is hierarchical in its structure. The New World Kirkpatrick Model (NWKM) still utilizes four levels, however, instead of a pyramid, the NWKM utilizes links in a chain to depict the cognitive schematic. The notion of a “chain” signifies a connected process, with each link, or level, having an impact on the next. One might surmise that the NWKM still terms each component as a “level” to create continuity with the original model.


With our review of the Kirkpatrick Level 2, let’s begin by inspecting how the “links,” that is, Level 1 and Level 2, are connected. To recall, Level 1 deals with the concept of Reaction with the intent on evaluating customer satisfaction. The NWKM identified three dimensions of Level 1: the degrees to which the training was favorable, engaging, and relevant. Level 2 deals with the concept of Learning. Clearly, and this is common sense, the ability—or even desire—to learn is predicated on and “linked” with a student’s initial reaction to the training. In short, if a student’s reaction to the training is negative, there is no incentive for active listening, participation, and overall motivation for content retention.

There are three dimensions of the original Kirkpatrick Model and two additional ones for the NWKM: knowledge, skill, attitude, confidence, and commitment ( ).

A. Knowledge

  • Knowledge is the foundation of cognitive learning; this part is hierarchical and based educational content. Knowledge is content based regardless of whether the information is conveyed in textual, pictorial, or through a hands-on demonstration. This dimension is familiar to most: “Mom, I received a 91% on test!” The depth of knowledge is another element, which begins to blend into the matter of skill.

B. Skill

  • A student may know how to perform a task, however, that is quite different from having the skill to perform the task.  For example, knowing how to solder and wire a circuit board is very different than doing it oneself; similarly, it is different to know all of the rules in soccer versus having the skill to be a referee. In the former case, skill is a tangible manipulation, whereas in the latter case, skill is a matter of cognitive interpretation. In both cases, the learning process includes skill, the operationalization of knowledge.

C. Attitude

  • A learner’s “attitude” toward training is predicated upon her/his value judgment about the utility of the new practice and/or process. The trainer and learner may agree that the course material is “relevant” to the work of the learner (Level 1). However, the learner may disagree in its value. For example, he/she may find the knowledge to be incomplete or simply incorrect. Second, he/she may find the skill required is too complicated or simplistic. A positive attitude toward the training requires an appreciation of the knowledge and the required associated skills.

D. Confidence

  • Confidence is linked to attitude. If students are positively disposed toward the knowledge and skill, then they will need confidence to perform the task.  This is an essential, perhaps, pivotal dimension of the training. Everything can be completely in place, including our next element, commitment, but if students lack confidence, they falter in their ability to place the training into practice. To facilitate confidence, course administrators and trainers need to be conscious that prior elements in learning—knowledge and skill—are clearly and completely detailed and depicted. Given that trainers are the functional experts compared to their students, they must be certain not to skip over elements they take for granted.

E. Commitment

  • This NWKM dimension is a sibling of confidence. Since learning is a process, having a commitment is essential, because few of us “get it right” in the beginning stages of trying out a new way of doing things. The student must be committed in light of failure and not fall back on the old way of doing things thinking “well, at least that worked.”

The NWKM envisions learning (Level 2) as a longer process separate from the traditional didactic of knowing facts. In this context, learning is far more dynamic and dependent upon on the trainer to create a vision for the material and empower the students to take educational ownership.

Next week we’ll look at Level 3: Behavior.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

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