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’s 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 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.

Professionals considering how to become a chief learning officer should start by learning the knowledge and skills to succeed. An advanced degree such as an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) can help prepare graduates to pursue careers in the field.

Role of the Chief Learning Officer

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 (HR) to deliver a training curriculum that enables professionals to reach their potential within the business.

The role of the chief learning officer 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 directly considering how they’re making learners better at their respective jobs.

Chief Learning Officer Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a chief learning officer are vast, and an effective CLO will constantly update the training operations due to 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 must keep pace with that easy-to-access digital content to keep programs interesting.

Additionally, EdApp reports that preparing and overseeing training, especially at the corporate level, is a complex process that requires months of planning and research. Not only do CLOs need to predict what staff needs to know so that they can perform to the best of their abilities, they must understand how to align the education and development of employees with company goals. Consequently, CLOs should be prepared to back up their decisions and show tangible results of the modern, appealing learning programs they’ve designed and introduced.

Chief Learning Officer Salary

According to May 2021 data from PayScale, the average annual salary for chief learning officers is approximately $156,000, although earners in the top 10th percentile report annual earnings of more than $215,000. Salary ranges vary based on numerous factors, such as the company an individual works for; the geographical location of the position; an applicant’s experience level; and whether the applicant completed an advanced education, such as an online Ed.D.

Steps to Become a Chief Learning Officer

The chief learning officer career path is relatively new. 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 their backgrounds.

Professional Experience for Chief Learning Officers

Individuals researching how to become a chief learning officer should know that prior work experience for CLOs varies as the expectations differ by organization. However, relevant corporate training experience is a valuable commodity, in addition to experience working in HR, learning and development, or education. These pillars of experience — corporate on one side and education on the other — define the CLO’s responsibility to bring the latest innovations in training to a business audience.|

Candidates hoping to become effective CLOs should have more than a decade of professional experience. The CLO role in large-scale global companies means it’s not the kind of role that newcomers to a field can take on; the stakes are too high.

Chief Learning Officer Education

The general preference is for CLO candidates to have a strong background in learning, personnel development or training, a preference that may encourage CLO candidates to study for advanced degrees, such as a doctorate 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.

CLO Knowledge Gained from Ed.D. Degree Programs

Because 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’s 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 that faculty members who are experts in the field teach. Students can take courses on their own time, earning the Ed.D. while remaining in their present roles. Candidates with both longstanding corporate experience and a strong grounding in academic theory tend to fill CLO positions. 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 how to become a chief learning officer, and explore the online Ed.D. program to see if it suits your career goals.

Recommended Readings:

Career Opportunities for a Doctor of Education Degree

What Careers Are Available in Education Management?

How to Become a Professor: The Process of Pursuing an Academic Career


EdApp, “Chief Learning Officer Job: What Do They Do? Where Do They Work? What Do They Use?”

eLearning Industry, “The 3 Levers of a Successful Chief Learning Officer”

Houston Chronicle, “Chief Knowledge Learning Officer”

PayScale, Average Chief Learning Officer Salary