Donald Kirkpatrick developed his model for measuring the effectiveness of learning programs in the 1950s as a part of his Ph.D. dissertation. He discerned four levels of evaluation – Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. Although the model is widely used in organizational training, it can be applied to higher education. By implementing this evaluation model into their course, instructors can gain hard data about student performance and adjust the design of their curriculum accordingly.


The idea behind Level 1: Reaction is to gain insight into how the learners perceived the learning experience. That can be done through surveys. Consider Blackboard survey feature but also Microsoft or Google forms to administer surveys. You can use both open-ended (asks the respondent to provide an answer in their own words) and closed-ended questions (questions types such as multiple-choice, yes/no, or ranking questions where answers are predetermined). An open-ended question may be “what part of the course did you enjoy the most?” An example closed-ended question could be “rank on the 1-5 scale how much you enjoyed working in a group this semester.”


In Level 2: Learning, the instructor attains evidence that students learned the course materials. That could be done by using the assessments built into learning units, such as quizzes, papers, etc. Blackboard Full Grade Center columns have built-in features that track student achievement, such as column statistics or grading rubrics reports, if rubrics were used for grading.


At this stage, the instructor wants to gain data on whether the learners can apply what they’ve learned to solve problems. In higher education, various types of assignments, such as building prototypes, simulations, or performing lab experiments could be used to gauge whether learners can apply the knowledge they learned.


This level measures whether learning objectives have been met. Having clear learning objectives is the backbone of curriculum building. One of the criticisms of the model is that, in higher education, instructors have a tendency to focus on the lower levels of the model leaving out the higher levels not considering the interdependency amongst the levels. One way to remedy this is to start by measuring Level 4: Results and working backward.

Key Takeaways

  • Used for analyzing and evaluating the effectiveness of educational programs
  • Kirkpatrick model is often used backward – first stating the desired results > Behavior > Learning > Reaction. This helps to prioritize the educational goals.

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