The title of Chief Learning Officer (CLO) may not be as well recognized as other C-suite acronyms, but the role is perhaps more significant now than ever before. The role is so crucial within the learning landscape that the Chief Learning Officer magazine and website is dedicated to the CLO role, and the mission of improving training for organizations. Businesses need CLOs to help management recognize the importance of systematic and objective-driven training programs and goals for their organization, clients, and stakeholders.

So why are Chief Learning Officers essential for directing and delivering top-tier training at scale? We’ll explore this fascinating area below. 

In this post:

What is a Chief Learning Officer?

When offered the job of Chief Education Officer at General Electric, Steve Kerr joked that he would also be the company’s CEO, alongside Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch. After some deliberation, the pair settled on the title “Chief Learning Officer” (CLO); the use of “learning” in the title captures a continuous approach to training and education. While the CLO acronym had been used previously for other roles, Kerr’s title was the first of its kind. In 2023, the role is well established and found across organizations in all sectors. 

As businesses increasingly understand and appreciate the importance of robust training strategy and implementation, more and more organizations are likely to recruit or designate a Chief Learning Officer to steer the company’s training and development strategy. While small enterprises might make do with a one-person L&D team, larger organizations can have incredibly complex training requirements with many moving parts. 

Chief learning officers may oversee several training programs within one organization including:

  • Compliance and Safety
  • Certification & License
  • Professional Development or Reskilling/Upskilling
  • Executive Leadership Education
  • New Technology and Processes Learning

A CLO is assigned to oversee the big picture and ensure that training and development programs can satisfy the company’s objectives. CLOS must work closely with the CEO and other members of the executive team to ensure that the company’s operational strategy, finances, and learning all complement one another. 

The Increasing Importance of the CLO in L&D

Most learning departments and training providers feel that they don’t need a chief learning officer however the answer might be more surprising than you think. For larger organizations and enterprise-scale training programs, having a designated head of all learning operations is a must to help guide the overall training strategy to meet training objectives.

The CLO role can be considered the peak of a career path in learning and development. CLOs will typically have a background in training design or delivery, along with leadership experience. Additionally, CLOs often hold bachelor’s or advanced degrees in education, organizational development, human resources, or similar academic disciplines.

According to data from job review site Glassdoor, the average salary for a US-based Chief Learning Officer is approximately $165,000 dollars, with total compensation ranging from $179,000 to $320,000 with the average number of 200 or so job postings per month. CLOs are compensated well and for good reason: the primary role of a chief learning officer is to outline and achieve the training goals set forth by their hiring organizations.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Chief Learning Officer

As a business grows and its training needs get more complex, executives may find themselves asking “Do we need a Chief Learning Officer?” Intuitively, most people will understand that a CLO’s role is to oversee learning or training within an organization, but let’s look at what responsibilities this entails in practice. 

The high-level responsibilities of a Chief Learning Officer are:

  • Understanding the organization’s goals and crafting a training and development strategy that will help to deliver business results 
  • Identifying training needs and designing training and development programs to meet the organization’s needs 
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of training programs and adapting accordingly 
  • Cultivating a culture of professional development and enabling employees to gain the skills they need to progress in their career 
  • Nurturing and developing leadership internally to ensure that succession is handled effectively and talent is retained 
  • Selecting and implementing the right tools, such as a Learning Management System (LMS) or Training Management System (TMS), to deliver training

Ultimately, a CLO’s job is to ensure that the business has effective training programs in place, building capability across the organization in a cost-effective way and delivering measurable results and improvements. When businesses look at trimming costs, L&D budgets can often be the first in the firing line, so CLOs must be able to demonstrate the impact of their work and its significance in achieving business goals.


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Chief Learning Officers as the Architects of Training Programs

Large businesses need to plan and organize several training programs to meet the organization’s various needs. Understanding the requirements of each team, and how its members learn best, helps to ensure that training is effective.  

The Chief Learning Officer acts as the architect of the company’s overarching approach to training, ensuring that training and development programs are fit for purpose, structurally sound, and meet the needs of the people using them. A key part of this role is understanding what is and isn’t working, listening to feedback, and iterating on training to continually improve its efficacy.  

An organization’s training and development pathways need to be based on the skills it needs to develop, the legal requirements it needs to meet, and the areas it needs to improve. However, often-overlooked aspects of implementing training programs are the desires and agency of the organization’s people – after all, they will be the ones completing the training and putting their skills and knowledge into practice. Therefore training programs must provide value to both companies and learners. 

A truly effective program will create capable, motivated employees who are better able to deal with business challenges. 

Top 3 Training Management Objectives for Chief Learning Officers

What are day to day duties of a chief learning officer? Given the importance of an effective Chief Learning Officer, it’s useful to consider what makes a CLO truly great at their job. Several behaviors and traits make for a truly great CLO. 

Thinking Strategically on Training Approach

Delivering training at scale isn’t as simple as just developing an e-learning course or hiring an external instructor to run a workshop every time you need to tick a compliance checkbox. In a rapidly changing business landscape, organizations need to ensure that their training is continually adapting and improving the company’s ability to deliver results. Without a comprehensive global strategy, businesses run the risk of wasting money and time on training that doesn’t benefit them or their employees. Perhaps certain courses are best delivered in an instructor-led training format while others are better suited for a blended learning format.

Ability to align Learner Objectives with Company Goals

CLOs should determine what training is required to progress towards the company’s strategic objectives, whether that’s boosting sales with a sales enablement training program to tackle prospects in a specific market or a program aimed at nurturing top talent from within. Ideally, a training program should provide meaningful development opportunities to individual members of staff, while simultaneously improving the organization’s capabilities in the short and long term.

Own Learning and Development from Inception to Delivery

CLOs should think about the depth and breadth of the training they’re about to deliver whether it’s training members and associations or improving training for the employees within their business.

Being a chief learning officer means having multiple skill sets related to project management, instructional design, L&D, and human resources director to ensure that training and development programs are successful. Having a solid understanding of all these areas gives the CLO a better idea in planning, organizing, and executing an organization-wide training protocol.

Project Management

The ability to understand the resourcing and timelines needed to provide learning/training to the learners under budget and within scope. This means ensuring the training budget is controlled.

Instructional Design

CLOs will know how to craft training programs that cater to learner needs and enjoyment. They focus on the course design’s efficiency and effectiveness as well as how well it can captivate the learner. They’ll be able to successfully identify which portions of the program should be in-person instructor-led training sessions and which should use virtual instructor-led training models.

Learning & Development

Chief learning officers will be masters of all things learning. From understanding organization psychology and learner needs, to program course requirements, and knowing which new and upcoming tools will be beneficial in improving the skill sets of employees. Mastering L&D for the CLO is akin to a dean understanding the department needs of a college or university.

Human Resources

Human resources management may seem separate from the duties of L&D due to their focus on workplace management and recruiting but understanding their capacity within the learning scope is very much needed for chief learning officers. When a CLO has a solid grasp of HR processes within a company it gives them insight into organizational needs that can help them translate training needs.

Developing a Training Team and Using the Right Tools

The Chief Learning Officer is ultimately responsible for the success of an organization’s approach to training and development, however, the responsibility is not shouldered alone, particularly for large organizations where the scale is so massive. To achieve success, a CLO needs to prioritize three key elements: assembling the right team, implementing effective processes, and leveraging the right technology

A CLO will need to assemble a team of training coordinators, instructors, training specialists, and learning designers to assist with the design and delivery of training programs under the umbrella of the CLO’s strategy. The team needs to be on board with the CLO’s vision and understand how their work contributes to the company’s success. 

To enable the team to deliver results, the CLO also needs to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of processes and that those processes enable the team to collaborate effectively and rapidly respond to business needs. 

Training Orchestra’s Training Management System (TMS) is the final piece of the puzzle, helping your people to put your processes into practice. Our TRMS helps Chief Learning Officers to: 

  • Develop a comprehensive training plan that integrates all global training needs for an effective strategy 
  • Track programs with the highest return on investment (ROI) to prioritize investments wisely 
  • Control and forecast costs while driving training revenue to optimize the training budget 
  • Leverage real-time key performance indicators (KPIs) and reports to achieve business goals 

Whether or not you have a CLO in your organization, Training Orchestra can help your team to deliver effective training.

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For over 20 years, Training Orchestra has helped over 600 training companies, corporate L&D departments, and associations worldwide to address instructor-led training operations management challenges for their employee, customer, partner, or member training programs. We’ve crafted the perfect training management system to address the most critical needs of corporate L&D and training businesses.

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