Don Kirkpatrick Dies: Training Pioneer Created Four Levels of Measurement

Industry pioneer Don Kirkpatrick, creator of the four levels of measurement used widely in the training industry for more than 50 years, died May 9. He was 90.

Kirkpatrick, the author of eight books on training measurement and human resources management, is widely known for the training measurement model he developed in the 1950s as a professor at the University of Wisconsin.

When the model debuted in 1959 through a series of four articles in the ASTD journal, the reaction was swift and the effect long-lasting. Kirkpatrick was invited to speak at national conferences and consult with HR leaders at large American companies, including Ford Motor Co.

“It used to be that trainers would feel, ‘If we get a good reaction and teach people the skills and knowledge they need, that’s all we can do. We have no control over them when they get back to their job,’” Kirkpatrick told Chief Learning Officer magazine in 2009 at the 50th anniversary of the model. “Yes, you have no control over them, but you must have influence on them, because unless that training gets used on the job, it’s really worthless.”

Often called the Kirkpatrick Model, the four levels measures the results of training in four areas: students’ reaction to training, knowledge they learned as a result, change in behavior, and the effect on business results.

With the exception of a four-year period in the early 1960s when he worked as a training and HR manager, Kirkpatrick remained in academia in Wisconsin before retiring in 1986. Despite the popularity of his model, Kirkpatrick didn’t write a book on the topic until 1994 when he published the first edition of “Evaluating Training Programs.”

Kirkpatrick followed that publication with seven more books, including “Managing Change Effectively,” “Transferring Learning to Behavior,” and 2007’s “Implementing the Four Levels.” He received the ASTD award for Lifetime Achievement in 2003 and was named one of the association’s four “legends” in 2006.

Kirkpatrick’s son, Jim, and daughter-in-law, Wendy, continue his work through their firm, Kirkpatrick Partners.

This story originally appeared in Talent Management‘s sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.