Thursday, 14 July 2011

Reasoned evaluation

A client asked me today about approaches to evaluation, and this got me thinking about how advocates of different approaches get very dogmatic about what works and what doesn’t work.

Kaliym Islam, in Developing and Measuring Training the Six Sigma Way, says “none of the four levels in the Kirkpatrick model capture business feedback or business reaction to the training product”.

Jack Phillips, the Return on Investment guru, argues Kirkpatrick’s four levels are at best inadequate and need ROI as a fifth level.

Paul Kearns, author of Evaluating the ROI from Learning, goes further and describes Kirkpatrick as just “wrong”, but then he draws the same conclusion about ROI as the fifth level – “wrong again”. (See

And in The Value of Learning, Valerie Anderson advocates moving away from ROI to ROE, Return on Expectations.

It seems no sooner is a new approach in use than someone is rubbishing it in print. I don’t wish to join this chorus, and I believe each of the commentators attributed above has something important to offer. But do we have to dismiss the Kirkpatrick levels to embrace ROI? Or abandon ROI for ROE? Is it possible Six Sigma has its place in certain contexts but Kirkpatrick still has lessons to offer?

I think we need to recognise that there’s a lot of useful thinking about learning evaluation, and a variety of approaches, even if some of them are contradictory or even mutually exclusive. Organisations need specialist help to consider their options and identify the best way forward for them.

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