The field of training and development lost one of the great ones on May 9th when Donald L. Kirkpatrick died. Over the past 50 years, he was one of the most influential thought-leaders in the area of evaluation of employee training. Through his speaking and writing he taught several generations of training managers and instructional designers how to assess the value of training.
It seems like every training, HRD, and HPI manager knows the Kirkpatrick Model even if they don’t know the name of the model or who invented the four levels. They know they can evaluate reaction to training, learning from training, behavior change in the workplace, and results for the organization.
I have been critical of the model in the past, primarily because I think it gives trainers permission to evaluate programs by collecting “reaction” data from participants when, in fact, that data doesn’t tell us anything about the value of the program to the organization. Even assessment of “learning” doesn’t tell us much. It’s not until we investigate how and why that learning is applied, what happens because of the application of that learning, and what other factors are affecting learning and its application, that we begin to understand the impact of any learning intervention.
However, this criticism doesn’t diminish my admiration for Kirkpatrick. I always had tremendous respect for the man who simply wanted to help individuals and organizations become more effective. He wrote:
Ultimately though, when people think about Kirkpatrick, I don’t want them to think about me; I want them to think about the model and the mission to ensure that training contributes to organizational results. I hope that my model helps to improve training and follow-up so that the lives of those to be impacted by organizations – citizens, customers, patients, clients, children and families – ultimately benefit in some way.
Donald Kirkpatrick’s son, Jim, and daughter-in-law Wendy, have taken up the mantle and added substantially to the Model, filling in some of the blanks that weren’t addressed in the original four levels. I applaud them for doing this and for keeping the importance of evaluation alive in the minds of training managers and leaders in organizations.
We all owe much to the contribution Donald Kirkpatrick made to employee learning and organizational improvement.