Evaluating E-Learning - The Kirkpatrick's Way

Published: 30th March 2007
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Evaluation of e-learning

Nobody can deny the importance of continuous improvement upon the courseware by redesigning and customizing to meet learner needs. Evaluation steps in here, when it helps address the above mentioned issues. For, without evaluation, it is impossible to know on what fronts does the course lacks. Though overall evaluation of an e-learning initiative comprises of many aspects, it is basically meant to gauge the overall effectiveness of the learning initiative to address any present glitches within the courseware. The reason for evaluation being a significant part of a successful e learning initiative is that it can be used to answer questions like do the learners like the course? Are the learners able to access information? Are they accountable for the information gained? Apart from this, evaluation makes it possible to access the learning outcomes or address quality matters.

Why evaluate

It tremendously benefits the e learning program by fixing major or minor snags that curtail effective learning. Findings of the evaluation help pinpoint the drawbacks of the present system, thus allowing you to take the first step towards fixing them.

Evaluation definitely benefits in the improvement of the e-learning initiative but it also performs a more critical function - that of assessment of the program's value. Since learning is carried out to enhance business goals, it can be altered or completely scrapped if it does not yield the desired outcome. Thus evaluation is important to justify the investment in e-learning, examine the value addition to business, gauge the impact it has on profits and working habits of the workforce, and measure of improved customer satisfaction because of training.

How to evaluate

There are numerous ways to evaluate the impact of e-learning on the organizational structure on the whole. Evaluation through ROI, evaluation plans, balanced scorecards, metrics and learning analytics, and Kirkpatrick's levels of evaluation are some of them.

Kirkpatrick's levels of evaluation

One of the oldest systems for evaluation, this methodology is based upon four levels of evaluation, namely reaction learning, performance and results. Developed way back in 1954, this evaluation method has not only survived time, but also the onslaught of novel methods on the block that take a completely different approach to evaluation. Let us discuss the four levels involved.

Reaction - It is to gauge whether the participants like or dislike the training program. Here the reaction of the learners to the instructors, learning environment, and the course is studied in detail. This is essentially useful to find out how much the training methods are appreciated among learners instead of assessing the actual skills learnt by learners. Learners are encouraged to answer simple questions such as - are the surroundings comfortable? Is the room temperature right? Are there any distractions to learning? Is the learning schedule convenient? How is the overall experience? Are the learning objectives relevant? Is the course interesting? How useful are the interactive exercises? Is navigation through the course easy? Do the learners find the learning transferable to the daily job at the workplace?

Learning - This level measures the actual learning occurring among the learners and is also called the measurement of Knowledge, Skills and Attitude (KSA) of learners. This measurement requires more meticulous effort than the measurement of the first level. Pre test and post test self assessment, formal and informal testing, interviews, and feedback form learners, managers and supervisors are some of the methods used to evaluate learning. The actual impact of the learning initiative can be measures by bringing together the individual scores of the students.

Performance - This level measures the direct impact of the KSA of the learning on his daily work. Since the knowledge transfer to the job in hand is not restricted to single point in time, it is necessary to ponder over when, how often and how to conduct this level of evaluation. But, usually, performance evaluation should be carried out three to six months after the commencement of the learning initiative. This gives a little time to learners to settle down in their programs so that on-the-job implementation can kick off. The methods for evaluating performance include interviews, coaching, and observation surveys, also known as behavioral scorecards. These scorecards can be filled by the learner, supervisor, minions of the learner, or even the learner's customers.

Results - This level provides for substantial proof of the value addition to the organization due to the implementation of the e-learning solution. This level of evaluation produces proof of the success of the initiative or lack of it. It can also be used in justification of further training requirements of the organization. The complications of evaluating this level within the organization are manifold because of the following reasons - collection, organization and analysis of data is complicated, it cannot be directly related to training, and the data collection needs to be carried out throughout the organization. Ideally, results should be evaluated by separating the non-learning group from the learning one and compare the business evaluation of the trained employees with that of the untrained ones. But, this is not feasible because of the complication of separating employees into learning and non-learning groups, and the difficulty of gathering business data.


Though the tenacity of Kirkpatrick's model in the e-learning circuit should be evidence enough of its effectiveness, it is also its successful implementation to various e-learning initiatives that has helped it become the unanimous choice of experts for their evaluation needs. The simplicity of the evaluation criteria is where its appeal actually lies. The ever evolving technology has only helped in enhancing its value further for businesses across the globe.

Viswanath Shankar has been managing and maintaining various e-learning softwares for the past decade and a half. A storehouse of knowledge about LMS (Learning Management Systems), He has been working in close co-ordination with web development experts to develop user friendly distance learning programs. It takes a professional like him to declare the big time arrival of e learning as a worthy substitute to conventional learning techniques.

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