Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Kirkpatrick Model

Named for educator Benjamin Bloom, Bloom’s Taxonomy seeks to answer questions that are fundamental to an understanding of the educational process. Bloom’s Taxonomy works to establish learning objectives that clearly set out goals against which student performance is measured. Bloom implemented the Kirkpatrick model into the taxonomy to help improve his methods. That method includes increasing cognitive knowledge, affective domain—targets the growth of attitudes, emotions, and feelings, as well as the ability to manipulate tools and instruments in the performance of their duty.

Bloom’s findings put teeth into the explanation of why Kirkpatrick’s model is so efficient in the training of employees. Understanding the educational underpinnings of what helps people learn, and what puts students off from the educational process are described in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The two, working in conjunction, affords human resource directors the tools they need to better evaluate their training options.

  • Level 1 of the Kirkpatrick model involves the reaction of the learning participants to the material presented. This aspect is important to determine whether your students will be actively engaged in the material, or you will find them passing out in the middle of the most elaborate doodling session you have ever seen. Under the Bloom Taxonomy, this concern is addressed in the affective domain aspect of learning. Specifically, identifying and determining the lowest level of student passivity is critical because no learning can be achieved beneath this threshold. Additionally, Bloom looks at what motivates the learner’s engagement regarding the values attached to the material by the student. Once a student has attached significant value to a learning outcome, they will strive that much harder to absorb the material because they recognize the value of the information.
  • Level 2 of the Kirkpatrick model looks at the efficacy of the training material. In short, level 2 asks what the students learned. After all, their reaction from level 1 might have been fantastic, but that does not necessarily mean that they absorbed any of the material. Known as the cognitive domain, this aspect of learning identifies the way students obtain, retain, and use knowledge after a student’s training session has ended. This acknowledges the very real reality that different students learn best in different ways. Some prefer diving in with a hands-on activity that gives them a solid feeling for the topic while another learner might prefer to read up thoroughly on the subject before even considering approaching the task. Neither approach is right or wrong, but rather the natural response each individual has towards the process of learning new information and material. Whereas level two of the Kirkpatrick model serves to determine what students learn, Bloom’s Taxonomy explains how that knowledge is attained.
  • Level 3 of the Kirkpatrick model measures behavioral changes in the trainee owing to lessons drawn from the presented curriculum. For instance, does the sensitivity training you offer lead to a marked decline in objectionable behavior on the part of an individual employee? Likewise, did job-shadowing exercises lead to your worker to gain skills across a broad array of company positions? As mentioned, different students adopt learning competencies at different paces, so utilizing Bloom Taxonomy allows you to understand the root cause of what works for each student situation.
  • Level 4 of the Kirkpatrick model, judging the tangible results of your student’s training, is greatly augmented by Bloom’s Taxonomy, which works to establish learning objectives that clearly set out goals against which student performance is measured. Understanding the outcomes you want to achieve makes it far easier to structure a training exercise that is relevant to meeting those goals.

Just as educators are consistently evaluating their curriculum for its efficacy in teaching their students, so too are businesses looking at their training programs with an eye towards gauging the effects of the training programs they use on the professional development of their employees. Towards that end, human resource directors are turning to measurable models to produce, implement, and analyze their training material. This allows them to forgo simply “winging it” in favor of utilizing proven systems that are designed to achieve tangible and measurable results.

Building your training curriculum and establishing benchmarks against which to measure training success is much easier when you use an established learning model with a proven record of accomplishment. When looking to achieve tangible results that can lead to increased performance for your employees, it is foolish to reinvent the wheel when developing your program when there are existing models that already work extremely well.

Introduction to the Kirkpatrick Model

One of the premier platforms for affecting good learning outcomes was devised in the 1950s under the tutelage of Donald Kirkpatrick who developed the Kirkpatrick Model of evaluating training effectiveness. The Kirkpatrick model outlines a four-level evaluation model in instructional training programs. The Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation consists of four levels:

  • Reaction—how well do learners like the learning process?
  • Learning—what did the students learn?
  • Behavior—what changes resulted because of the training?
  • Results—What are the tangible benefits of the lesson plans?

The Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation questionnaire seeks to draw out actionable information on the efficacy of any assigned learning module with an eye towards continued changes in the curriculum until you obtain the ideal results.

When placed under the microscope however, critics of the Kirkpatrick evaluation question its efficiency because it fails to draw a relationship that links reaction with outcomes. The complaints point out that there is little correlation between the model’s reaction evaluations, and the level of performance that the employee brings back to their desk following training.

Despite these criticisms, the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation provides an ideal framework from which to structure learning modules that will garner the most successful outcomes.

Levels of the Kirkpatrick Model.

Levels of the Kirkpatrick Model displayed as a pyramid.

Overview of the Kirkpatrick Assessment

Understanding the whole of something mandates understanding the parts of that thing, and an overview of the Kirkpatrick assessment provides a detailed look-see into the components of the four Kirkpatrick assessment levels. Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation offer an excellent point to determine the training needs of your employees, and the effectiveness of your training program in reaching learning outcomes.

Kirkpatrick Level One—Reaction

Kirkpatrick’s first level looks at the learner’s reaction to the learning material presented to them. Typically gleaned from a questionnaire based on the Kirkpatrick model, such questions solicit student reaction regarding course material, teaching styles, and engagement level.

Kirkpatrick Level Two—Learning

Level 2 evaluation questions seek to measure the degree to which learners have absorbed the presented material, and are used by instructors to determine whether or not the curriculum, or delivery, needs to be altered for optimum learning outcomes.

Kirkpatrick Level Three—Behavior

The Kirkpatrick level 3 looks to see what effects training has had on employee behavioral changes. Therefore, a level 3 evaluation will follow the student’s progress, post-training, to see if the training they learned has been applied to their daily work routine.

Kirkpatrick Level Four—Evaluation of Training

A level 4 evaluation of training on the Kirkpatrick model is aimed at identifying tangible results from training programs. The evaluation process asks whether the training results in increased productivity that can be pinned to increased profits, or did the learning module lead to reduced costs, increased employee retention, or higher morale.

How to apply to your process

If you are looking to rationalize your company’s training program, adopting the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation is an excellent starting point for organizing your curriculum in an engaging fashion that captures the interest of your employees. When thinking about what works and what doesn’t in an educational setting, all you really need to do is remember back to the grim days of your high school sophomore science teacher who regularly regaled you with out of date films that look as if they were produced before the Age of Enlightenment.

Once you have determined the best method of delivery, you then need to derive an objective evaluation process to determine retention. Keep in mind, this process should be aimed at seeking out failures in the curriculum as much as it is aimed at the performance of your students. Never be afraid to tweak your learning material to obtain better learning results.

A common misconception of neophyte trainers is that the exercise ends with the closing of the day. This misconception means that there is no follow through on the training that is designed to gauge the success of the training session. As such, it is important to establish benchmarks that the learning session should meet in performance and results. As an example, you should always include the employee’s immediate supervisor in the training because they will be in the best position to evaluate the learning performance of your trainees.

As part of the process you need to attach tangible results to the training that can be measured through increased productivity, higher profits, better workflow, and a boost in employee morale that can be felt throughout the office.

A brief overview of other methods

While the Kirkpatrick model of corporate training is a well-known player in the training of your employees, it is by no means the only option on the table. Perhaps determined to upstage the much-vaunted Kirkpatrick model of four levels, Roger Kaufman penned Kaufman 5 Levels of Evaluation to better achieve desired educational attainment among trainees. What differentiates Kaufman’s model from Kirkpatrick’s is the linkage of performance to expectation. For instance, as opposed to Kirkpatrick’s Reaction phase, which solely looks at learner reaction to the material, the Kaufman model also looks at organizational factors that might prove a hindrance to active learning, retention, and later implementation. While Kaufman does not diverge too dramatically from Kirkpatrick’s model, it does offer interesting nuances to the material that is more beneficial than the older evaluation methods used under the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model. Regardless of the model you use, however, understanding that a great deal of effort must go into developing a great learning environment.