Education in the C-suite: How to become a chief learning officer

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A CLO speaks at a board meeting

Major companies are taking note of the fact that their training operations should be managed effectively, with the same kind of up-to-date practices, technologies and strategies being deployed in academia. The rise of the chief learning officer is a critical piece of this organizational shift. What is a chief learning officer? Businesses are becoming committed to having a vision for their employee education, and this is where a CLO comes in. Such an individual sets the tone and direction for an organization’s personnel development.

The new prominence of CLOs could represent an opportunity for professionals interested in academic leadership. The introduction of high-ranking learning personnel into the corporate hierarchy opens up exciting new career paths for longtime devotees of educational program development to pursue outside of the worlds of K-12 schooling and college academia. These ambitious professionals can make their influence felt in corporate settings, improving practices and delivering results as part of the C-suite.

The role and duties of the CLO

Companies that employ CLOs are typically large organizations, those that expand their C-suites well beyond executive, finance and operations officers to include areas comprising technology, marketing and more. The chief learning officer job description involves working closely with departments such as information technology and human resources to deliver a training curriculum that enables professionals to reach their potential within the business.

CLOs’ role in the organization often involves overseeing and determining training and employee education approaches and priorities for the business, as well as bringing those concepts into line with overall company goals. Learning in a corporate setting can’t just be effective in a vacuum; it must lead to positive business outcomes. According to news site eLearning Industry, effective CLOs should think about making training better while also directly considering how they are making learners better at their respective jobs.

An effective CLO will constantly update the company’s training operations because of ever-changing employee desires and expectations. As eLearning Industry added, employees are tempted to do their own research when in-house learning aides aren’t up to their standards. CLOs have to keep pace with that easy-to-access digital content to keep programs interesting.

In a LinkedIn Pulse blog post, ELM Learning CEO Andrew Fayad pointed out that in addition to their hands-on oversight of the curriculum and alignment with other departments, CLOs must become advocates for the value of employee education. While budgets for training are generally increasing at businesses today, there is still a need for stakeholders and investors to hear that an organization is making the right call by investing heavily in education. CLOs should be prepared to back up their decisions and show tangible results of the modern, appealing learning programs they’ve designed and introduced.

Background and education to become a CLO

The chief learning officer career path is relatively new. As Fayad explained, the first major company to appoint a specific CLO was General Electric in 1990. At that point, there was no fixed job description for such an individual. Despite the role of CLOs in boardroom discussions and high-level decision-making, the connection to educational progress, reform and development remains pivotal in these professionals’ backgrounds. McKinsey & Co.’s blog profiled its CLO Nick Van Dam, who described himself as “a teacher first” and noted that he works on e-learning initiatives for children away from his main role.

As for what the path to a CLO role looks like, Fayad noted that expectations will differ between organizations but that relevant corporate experience is a valuable commodity alongside a history in HR, learning and development or education. These pillars of experience — corporate on one side and education on the other — define the CLO’s position bringing the latest innovations in training to a business audience.

Fayad added that candidates hoping to become effective CLOs should potentially have 15 years of experience, with 90 percent of current CLOs spending at least 10 years in their industries of choice. The CLO position’s role in the C-suite of large-scale global companies means it is not the kind of role that newcomers to a field will typically take on; the financial stakes are too high.

The general preference for CLOs with a strong background in learning, personnel development or training may encourage CLO candidates to study for advanced degrees, such as a doctorate degree in education. With education technology and learner preferences evolving quickly, CLOs have to keep their knowledge up to date to keep pace with the times. By studying with experienced faculty members in Ed.D. courses, aspiring educational leaders can become more aware of what they’ll need to know to thrive in their roles.

CLO knowledge gained from Ed.D. degree programs

Due to the fact that education has typically taken place in an academic setting, Ed.D. programs have pointed graduates to careers such as administrators and deans at colleges and universities. With today’s organizations increasingly wanting to bring advanced and effective training methods inside their walls, the same kind of knowledge that has propelled administrators into more traditional academic spaces may help practitioners succeed in the boardroom as well. The key goal of an Ed.D. program — to turn students into effective and aware educational leaders — is relevant in both settings.

The online Ed.D. program at Bradley University is an accredited doctorate program taught by faculty members who are experts in the field. Students can take courses on their own time, earning the Ed.D. while remaining in their present roles. CLO positions tend to be filled by candidates with both longstanding corporate experience and a strong grounding in academic theory. Taking the online Ed.D. program while working up the corporate ladder allows students to add both kinds of knowledge at once, potentially preparing them for a bright new professional chapter.

Learn more about the online Ed.D. program to see if it suits your career goals.


Recommended Readings:

What is the difference between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D.?

A look at the 4 online Ed.D. foundational courses

What you need to know about the Doctoral Research Requirement



LinkedIn Pulse – Chief Learning Officer – Everything You Need to Know (infographic)

eLearning Industry – The 3 Levers Of A Successful Chief Learning Officer

McKinsey & Company – McKinsey’s chief learning officer: “A teacher first”