Last Word: Remember When

A look back on a legendary training career, plus tips for today’s trainers as they move forward.

By Don Kirkpatrick

Trainingmagazine graciously asked me to write the final Last Word column for 2011 in view of my
50-plus years as a training professional, my creation of the Four Levels of Evaluation, and my recent
retirement. Much has happened through these last 50 years.

The Four Levels of Evaluation were born when I went to work for the Management Institute of the University of Wisconsin, where I conducted workshops on soft skills including communication, leadership, coaching, managing change, and managing time. While I was doing this, I decided to work for my Ph.D., and I chose “Evaluating a Human Relations Program for Supervisors” as my dissertation. I received the degree in 1954 and continued to evaluate programs. In 1959, Bob Craig, editor of ASTD’s journal, called and asked me to write an article on evaluation. I told him I would write a series of four articles—one on each of the Four Levels: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results—and he agreed. Thirty years later, I published my first book called “Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels.” To date, I’ve  authored seven management books.

In industry, I served as Training director for International Minerals and Chemical Corp., where I developed a Performance Appraisal Program. Later, I served as Human Resources manager of Bendix Products Aerospace Division. I was elected president of the American Society for Training and Development in 1975 and received ASTD’s Gordon Bliss and Lifetime Achievement in Workplace Learning and Performance awards.

On a personal note, my wife, Fern, has always been in the picture. While I was traveling around the world presenting programs, she was taking care of our four children. During our marriage, we moved eight times, and she often had to try to sell our homes while I was gone. She showed our house in Park Ridge, IL, more than 100 times before it finally sold.

But she always supported me in my work. The latest highlight was a family reunion at Wisconsin Dells, where we celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary. All four of our children and their five spouses, our three grandchildren, and our two great-grandchildren helped us celebrate.

My son, Jim, and his wife, Wendy, are carrying the training torch by conducting certification programs and workshops; communicating through; and writing books containing upgrades to the Four Levels and others, including “Training On Trial.”

Tips for Today’s Trainers

  1. One of my transparencies is “10 Requirements for an Effective Training Program.” Be sure you have plannedan effective program so the evaluation will prove you have doneit.
  2. Don’t underestimate the importance of
    evaluating Reaction, a measure of customer satisfaction. Learners had better go back to their jobs saying good things about the program, because their words probably will filter up to higher management.
  3. Regarding the evaluation of Learning, there will be no change in behavior unless the learners have some specific ideas to take back to the job.
  4. One of the possible reasons change in behavior does not occur is a job climate where the manager prevents any change. So be sure the learner’s manager will provide the support and accountability to encourage the change.
  5. Before you even develop a training program, find out what top management—or the “Jury”—expects the program to accomplish in terms of Results. The program then is developed around these expectations instead of the curriculum design team creating the objectives. In the evaluation of the program, the actual results can be compared to what the Jury expected. We call this measuring Return on Expectations (ROE) instead of ROI.

Training legend, author, speaker, and consultant Don Kirkpatrick is the father of the Four Levels of Evaluation. Now retired, he plans to pursue his hobbies: fishing, tennis, golf, big band and classical music, and directing church choirs. To contact him or request an autographed transparency, e-mail him

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.