Donald Kirkpatrick (1924-2014) was a giant in the workplace learning and development field, widely known for creating the four-level model of learning evaluation. Evidence however contradicts this creation myth and points to Raymond Katzell, a distinguished industrial-organizational psychologist, as the true originator. This, of course, does not diminish Don Kirkpatrick’s contribution to framing and popularizing the four-level framework of learning evaluation.
Despite these public pronouncements, Kirkpatrick’s legendary 1959-1960 articles were not the first published evidence of a four-level evaluation approach.
In 2011, in a tribute to Dr. Kirkpatrick, he is asked about how he came up with the four levels. This is what he said in that video tribute:
“[after I finished my dissertation in 1954], between 54 and 59 I did some research on behavior and results. I went into companies. I found out are you using what you learned and if so what can you show any evidence of productivity or quality or more sales or anything from it. So I did some research and then in 1959 Bob Craig, editor of the ASTD journal, called me and said, ‘Don, I understand you’ve done some research on evaluation would you write an article?’ I said, ‘Bob, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll write four articles, one on reaction, one on learning, one on behavior, and one on results.'”
In 2014, when asked to reminisce on his legacy, Dr. Kirkpatrick said this:
“When I developed the four levels in the 1950s, I had no idea that they would turn into my legacy. I simply needed a way to determine if the programs I had developed for managers and supervisors were successful in helping them perform better on the job. No models available at that time quite fit the bill, so I created something that I thought was useful, implemented it, and wrote my dissertation about it.” (Quote from blog post published January 22, 2014).
To determine how the trainees feel about the program.
To determine how much the trainees learn in the form of increased knowledge and understanding.
To measure the changes in the on-the-job behavior of the trainees.
To determine the effects of these behavioral changes on objective criteria such as production, turnover, absenteeism, and waste.
These four steps are the same as Kirkpatrick’s four levels, except there are no labels.
Raymond Katzell went on to a long and distinguished career as an industrial-organizational psychologist, even winning the Society for Industrial and Organizational Performance’s Distinguished Scientific Contributions award.