Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick, professor emeritus, at University of Wisconsin, and creator of the Kirkpatrick Four-level Evaluation Model, passed away May 9, 2014 at the age of 90. He was a pioneer in corporate training effectiveness evaluation, and his model is still an industry standard for measuring the impact of training programs.

Donald Kirkpatrick, 1924 – 2014 (used with permission: Kirkpatrick Partners—The One and Only Kirkpatrick—www.kirkpatrickpartners.com)

Don was a past president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the author of eight books and many articles. ASTD honored him with the “Lifetime Achievement in Workplace Learning and Performance,” and Training Magazine included him in the HRD Hall of Fame. Don was the keynote and featured speaker at many events in the world of workplace learning. He recently reflected on his legacy in a thought-provoking post on the Kirkpatrick Partners blog.

Influence on the learning and development field

Here is how leaders in our community remember Dr. Kirkpatrick.

Marc Rosenberg, past president and honorary life member of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), offered this tribute: “Very few individuals have a half-century of profound influence in their profession. Don Kirkpatrick was one of them. He took the important yet challenging field of evaluation and made it relatable and meaningful. Don was a giant in our field whose impact will continue for decades to come."

Ruth Clark, past president of ISPI, commented, “Workforce learning professionals are committed to continual improvement by way of evaluation of the effects of our deliverables on our learners and our organizations. Don Kirkpatrick’s ‘Four Levels of Evaluation’ has become the standard approach for the industry. It is our community tribute to Don to continue to apply the Kirkpatrick Four Levels and to pass on his legacy to those new to the profession.”

David Holcombe, co-founder and CEO of The eLearning Guild, recalled, “When I first stepped into the learning and instructional design field more than 30 years ago, Don Kirkpatrick was already a towering figure and one of the first ‘gurus’ whose name I learned. He made a huge contribution to the profession, and to the lives of every learner we serve that will likely never be forgotten. Kings can do no more…”

Allison Rossett, professor emeritus, San Diego State University, said of his influence on the learning and development field, “I didn’t know Donald, but of course I knew his work. Most remarkable was how familiar his ideas were across the world. When teaching in any country, all I had to do was ask about Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels, and they would nod knowingly. Then I would inquire for details. They had that too. But knowing the levels of evaluation isn’t doing them. Most interesting of all was to discuss why only Level 1, Reaction, was habitual. His ideas provided us, worldwide, with ways to talk about why we measure and why we don’t. Great steps in the right direction.”

Ellen Wagner, lead strategy officer for the PAR Framework and special advisor to the president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, reflected,: “Professor Don Kirkpatrick shaped the way we, and the world around us, assess the impact and efficacy of training and development on workplace learning and performance. Known to one and all thanks to the broadly adopted evaluation model carrying his name, his thinking has guided L&D professionals ever since his series on measuring training impact appeared in ASTD Magazine in 1959. Don gave us the means for figuring out if the rubber of what we do in training and development actually hits the road.”


Wake up almost any experienced instructional designer or manager in the middle of the night and demand that they tell you the Four Levels, and they will recite, “Reaction. Learning. Behavior. Results.” Only a handful of people have made as much difference as Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick. All of us at The eLearning Guild send our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. His is a voice that we will long remember!