By Don Kirkpatrick
Can you believe my four articles on Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results were printed in ASTD’s Training & Developmentjournal more than 50 years ago? Immediately, they began to get the attention of training people. Some called them the “four levels,” while others named them the “Kirkpatrick Model” for evaluating training programs.
I had not called them either one. They were based on my 1954 dissertation for my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and research I had done between 1954 and 1959.
The amazing thing is that in 1959, five years after I had finished my dissertation, Bob Craig, editor of Training and Development,called and asked if I would write an article on “evaluation.” He must have gotten word from some ASTD member that I had done research on the subject. I told him I would write a series of four articles. He hesitated because no series had ever appeared in the journal. He finally agreed.
As I think back on his decision to publish the series, I wonder if the articles would ever have been published for the world to see. I had no thoughts then of writing an article or series of articles. I think the Lord had something to do with it because He knew it would have a tremendous effect on the way training programs would be evaluated all over the world, and how trainers would help their organization and possibly save their jobs if they used the four levels to evaluate their programs.
As soon as the articles were published, the word spread like wildfire, and trainers began to write articles on each of the levels. It wasn’t until 1993 that the first book was written when a friend, Jane Holcomb, suggested it because interested trainers could not find copies of the original articles.
The first book was called simply, “Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels.” It contained not only descriptions and guidelines, but also case studies of 16 organizations that had implemented one or more of the levels. Dave Basarab of Motorola wrote the introduction, which told the readers that Motorola used the four levels all over the world and that they would be appropriate for all sizes and types of organizations. It immediately became a top seller in the training field. The third edition of that book was published in 2006. It has been translated into Spanish, Polish, Turkish, and Chinese. More than 70 thousand copies of the book have been published.
My son, Jim, and I then wrote the book, “Transferring Learning to Behavior” (2005), emphasizing how to be sure the learning would be applied on the job and how to evaluate the extent to which it happened.
Our third book, “Implementing The Four Levels” (2007), was designed to simplify the evaluation of the four levels by including examples, forms, and procedures from various organizations for evaluating each level. It also contained two new chapters: “Analyzing Your Resources” and “Getting Your Managers On Board.” The latest book on the subject is “Training On Trial,” written by Jim and his wife, Wendy. It was published in 2010 by AMACOM (American Management Association).
I recently asked readers of Linked In whether or not the four levels are out of date. I received more than 40 answers, which were nearly unanimous in strongly stating “NO.” The four levels are alright, most of them stated. The problem is that most training professionals are effective in evaluating Level 1, Reaction, and Level 2, Learning, but they are not evaluating Levels 3, Behavior, and 4, Results, either because they don’t think it is necessary or they don’t know how to do it.
While the four levels are still going strong, I officially retired in May. My “swan song” occurred on May 23 and 24 in Orlando at the ASTD national conference when I conducted my final workshops on the four levels.
The thousands of trainers and managers who have been to one or my workshops will remember that I used the overhead projector (my trademark) and transparencies. I now have 60-plus transparencies to either discard or sell to persons who would want one or more autographed ones to remember me by. I have reproduced them and will make them available to all who are interested. I will autograph to the particular person.
If you are one of those “Don Kirkpatrick fans,” contact me at email@example.com or 262.695.5851, and I will send you the details. Thanks for considering it and best wishes for using the four levels.