When asked about the development of the Ford Model T, and how external input shaped his vision for the future of mobility, Henry Ford’s widely reported historic response was: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Fast forward to today — when the horse-drawn carriage is, for the most part, obsolete — and it would be easy to draw the conclusion that new technologies and processes, like Ford’s assembly line and Tesla’s grasp of the electric engine, easily and effectively push out the old. But it’s important to note that today’s innovations are built on yesterday’s foundations, and to ignore the fundamentals that brought us here today is a severe misstep.

This is especially prominent in the learning and development (L&D) industry, which has drastically changed over the past two decades with the advent of new technologies — from the first holds of the internet to the new platforms of today that increase engagement and retention. However, if you look back in history, you’ll find the foundations of learning and education that need to be adhered to, rather than dismissed, as new technology comes to the forefront.

One of the most foundational models is the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, developed by Donald Kirkpatrick in the 1950s. In it, Kirkpatrick lays out four levels of evaluating training effectiveness: Reaction, Learning, Behavior and Results. While on the surface, the levels lay out a solid process of evaluation, they also can — and should — be applied to even the newest of L&D technologies today in order to yield maximum business benefits.

Let’s examine how today’s technologically-innovative training programs should approach the Kirkpatrick Model.

Level 1: Reaction

The Old: In this level, Kirkpatrick questions the value of the learning and satisfaction of the learner, investigating whether or not the learner was engaged and felt the topic was relevant.

The New: Employees learn better when they are engaged. In addition, it’s been reported that people retain 95% of a message when it is presented in video (as opposed to 10% in text). For this reason, utilizing a video-based training platform can increase learner engagement). Additionally, customizable platform, where companies can draft and produce various types and formats of training modules, can help target the exact learning needs of their users.

Level 2: Learning

The Old: This level is high on evaluation, studying what the learners are learning, as well as if the initial training objectives are actually being met. Without this level, there is no objective way to determine if the goal of the training is being achieved, and if the training itself is therefore, effective.

The New: As a way of integrating Kirkpatrick Level 2 into real-world training experiences, today’s tech platforms should incorporate many facets of training, allowing the platform to not only become the delivery method for the training, but also the assessment tool to determine if the training is landing with the end user. Where possible, automations and artificial intelligence (AI)-based assessments can help even large companies determine if trainees are truly learning and absorbing the content — no matter how many there are.

Level 3: Behavior

The Old: Kirkpatrick uses this level to determine if there is lasting change in the user after the training — in essence, determining if the learner retained the training and was able to put it to practical use. While this isn’t always an indicator of the training itself (it could be due to other factors), it is a way to easily interpret effectiveness at a practical level.

The New: For new technologies, it can be easy to determine if skills are being absorbed and retained simply by providing continuous assessments. For example, if a learner is learning new products or sales techniques, constant assessment and incorporation of AI-based analysis can quickly identify if the learner is retaining the information from lesson to lesson, rather than hoping a single lesson “sticks” with the learner.

Level 4: Result

The Old: In the Kirkpatrick model, Level 4 focuses on tangible results — the returns — of the training as a whole. Generally, this means a focus on productivity, employee retention, increased morale or quality and efficiency. After all, without real, measurable results, how can you place a value on the training itself?

The New: Lorman reports that companies with strong learning cultures increase their retention rates by 30% to 50% on average. If that holds true, companies who see training and development as an investment are far more likely to gain — and keep — skilled employees year over year. Seeing this culture of learning as a benefit to companies everywhere, platforms should be flexible and offer a variety of programming, including onboarding, ongoing skills assessment, new product training, sales training and more.

With this example, one can see that there is benefit to understanding and utilizing “old” foundations, even in the drive to create new and innovative solutions for learning. But the advantages run even deeper than just that: One could argue that new solutions can address issues that were once unaddressed by the older systems before them.

One prime example is found by addressing the differences between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Under the old model, there was an assumption that much of the learning was done synchronously — that is, at the same time and place as the rest of your peers. However, the new world of internet and technology and increasingly busy schedules and noisy atmosphere doesn’t always allow for synchronicity, and many older models and platforms find trouble when trying to adapt to the more common asynchronous learning models, which allow learners to train on their own schedules. Even more, synchronous models don’t typically account for the scaling needs of many businesses — nor the time investment from the team to onboard, train and create a culture of learning that is just as effective for employee No. 2039 as it was for employee No. 1. But with today’s platforms, scalability is a central tenet to the learning platform, allowing it to be used among hundreds or thousands of employees at the same time, or according to their own schedules and learning preferences. In fact, learning software that don’t put a priority on scalability may unfortunately find themselves quickly obsolete among some of their best customers.

It’s easy to pit the “new” against the “old”— especially in today’s culture of bright, shiny things, but it’s critically important that we, as leaders in the training industry, recognize the value that our forebears brought to the table in establishing some of the most fundamental guidelines in the field. For this reason, it’s important that we don’t choose one or the other, but rather look at new technology and new ideas through the lens of what we know to be true — truths passed down to us by those like Kirkpatrick, who helped us all get where we are today.

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