What Does a Chief Learning Officer Do in the US?

Explicit Solutions Services

What Does a Chief Learning Officer Do in the US?

By Andrew FayadApril 27, 2015eLearning Solutions


Explicit Solutions Services


The Chief Learning Officer


(CLO) has earned card-carrying membership into the C-suite along with a nameplate for the door on the corner suite. The position isn’t new; it was once called director of training or similar, but the CLO title carries with it an expanded skill set, leadership role, and scope of responsibilities in today’s predominant eLearning environment.



What is a CLO?

A position best suited to a team player with an eye toward collaboration and someone who fully embraces eLearning in all its formats. The CLO’s primary leadership role is to formulate the strategy to drive corporate learning direction, goals and policies. Together with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the CLO disseminates knowledge and information to the learner through technology, social media, and occasionally, through human resources (instructors). And, as always, it’s the person in top C-level leadership position who is responsible for bringing it all in at or under budget.

The first CLO ever (on record) is Steve Kerr, who was hired in 1990 by Jack Welch to oversee GE’s learning and development. The actual name of the job title came about in a rather curious manner: According to this USC interview, as VP of Leadership Development, it was suggested that Kerr be given the title Chief Education Officer. Kerr approached Welch and joked “I’m going to be CEO just like you.” Welch responded with a laugh: “There’s only one of those at GE! You can be Chief Learning Officer.” Because the position/title was created on the spot, Kerr actually had to create his own job description.

Fast-forward 25 years, and we’re already giving out CLO of the year awards. (!)


Notable Modern CLOs

  1. Tom Evans, PwC. 2014 CLO of the year. In charge of development for 39,000 employees.
  2. Amy Hayes, Facebook. Global head of Learning & Development for 9500 employees.
  3. Tamar Elkeles, Qualcomm. 2010 CLO of the year. In charge of learning for 23,000 employees.


CLO Gender Breakdown: Women Represent

According to PwC, only 3% of total CEO’s are females. The number is slightly better when it comes to female CEO’s of S&P 500 companies, at 4.6%. The paltry representation of women doesn’t end there. A recent study for Fortune 250 companies found that only 18% of board members were women.

The fact that women are underrepresented in C-suite and higher up positions is an unfortunate statistic on its own merit, but does highlight an interesting caveat to the CLO role: Women might be better suited to becoming CLOs rather than men, as women traditionally enjoy larger representation in the role of educator. In fact, 74% of private school teachers were women. The high representation in education might explain the healthy numbers for female CLOs. After pouring over 1550 CLO profiles on LinkedIn, we found the gender results to be both surprising and refreshing: 45% of CLOs are female, which is a number considerably higher than male/female breakdowns in the C-suite.



CLO Salaries – Let’s Talk Numbers

It can be difficult to nail down an overall average salary for a chief learning officer. From the size of the organization to the location and the breadth of the job description, one can expect a pretty wide range of what’s considered normal.

A CLO’s true job description varies about as widely as the average salary and depends heavily on corporate management. In general though, it’s up to the CLO to oversee all things educational within an organization, including training, leadership succession, onboarding and in-house L&D – these are hugely important responsibilities and the CLO average salary is beginning to reflect that, especially in larger corporations. In short, if it has to do with training, education or leadership, the CLO should be the one taking the lead, and his or her salary will reflect that.

According to SimplyHired.com, the average CLO brings in $77K per year. But don’t rely on that number as gospel truth or the glass ceiling for CLOs. As CLO responsibilities and the general need for (better, more engaging) training increases, so do the numbers. SalaryExpert.com also points to location being one of the major factors in CLO salary, with CLO’s in San Francisco and New York on track to make up to $150K in 2015. This upward trend in salary average speaks volumes about the direction of learning and development as a whole: More and more organizations are understanding the importance of a dedicated CLO in further the company’s M.O.

Below are the cities outlined above in the infographic, as well as their average CLO salary:





Where Do CLO’s Work in the US?


According to our map, it seems that most CLOs work along the coast. Here are the cities (including surrounding areas and counties) and their percentage breakdown:

In Which Industries are CLOs Prevalent?

These industries are self-reported by CLOs from within LinkedIn. The results were not surprising, as many chief learning officers come from training, education, and even HR backgrounds. The 8.5% for the hospital and healthcare industry was interesting, which is

not an industry one would immediately connect with a need for a learning officer.


How many years of professional experience do CLOs have?

It’s no surprise here that over 90% of CLOs have a minimum of 10 years of corporate experience. In fact, we would have expected that number to be higher than 92%, since this a position which draws on a lot of corporate experience. Regardless, the average total of experience was approximately 18 years, which is more in line with what we expected.

Fortune 50 Companies and CLOs

It seems clear that nearly every Fortune 50 company has a chief learning officer – even if that’s not the current title being used. The question is, what are their job titles, exactly? Many CLO’s exist in the form of a training director, head of L&D, or even a CEO. But more and more, the official job title of chief learning officer is becoming mainstream.

Some of the Fortune 50 companies that employ official CLOs are: Citigroup, Bank of America, HP, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, GE, Hess, and Caterpillar. When we expand the list to Fortune 500, there are a few more notable companies, among others: Cisco, New York Life Insurance, American Express, CHS, Nike, AIG, McDonalds, Merck, General Mills, and Master Card.


Industry Growth

Chief learning officers preside over many aspects in a company, including training, learning and development, eLearning initiatives, and more. The fact that spending in these areas have increased greatly over the past few years further spells the need for a chief learning officer. In 2014 alone, $70 billion was spent on corporate training. And in 2015, eLearning is expected to reach $107 billion, representing a +9.5% growth since the previous year. In regard to general learning and development, over $160 billion is spent per year, and increasing each year.

What exactly does a CLO do?


A chief learning officer’s job is comprised of 2 spectrums: overall job responsibilities as well as day-to-day tasks.


CLO Job Responsibilities:

  • Develops an organization’s educational process
  • Promotes knowledge management
  • Institutes effective training strategies
  • Directs large scale change management (if applicable)
  • Oversees and institutes latest technology
  • Promotes importance of learning & ROI to shareholders


Day to Day Job Tasks:

  • Reviews all training modules
  • Ensures that learning sessions are engaging & memorable
  • Communicate daily with managers on employee progress
  • Communicate daily with C-suite to maintain symmetry
  • Review macro-level HR processes
  • Assists with learning & development for in-house processes


Core Learning Principles Used by CLO’s

  • Instructional Design
  • Mobile learning
  • Micro learning
  • Social learning
  • Blended learning
  • Gamification
  • Learning Management Systems


Why the Sudden Need for CLOs? Changing Times?

The way businesses educate and train employees to empower them to advance along their career paths continually changes. Further, business is mired in mandated, regulatory learning in addition to technical and soft skills training. If businesses did things the old way, when would employees find time to work on behalf of the employer, and when would active learners find time to pursue expanded skill sets to further their climb up the corporate ladder? Business would come to a standstill.

The Three Legged Stool, AKA the CLO’s Throne

The use of technology to drive information (the first two legs of the stool)—eLearning, mLearning and/or tablet-based learning—intersects with social media, the third leg in today’s learning stool. Increasingly, learning takes place on demand, incorporates gamification and social learning, and learners increasingly bring their own devices (BYOD). The learning landscape remains in a constant state of flux with the rate of change ever increasing—and the CLO must keep up with it all while overcoming the challenge of introducing older learners to the new forms of learning.



How to Become a CLO

The path to the chief learning officer position is still a malleable one, as the nascent position is still being defined. However, the general path toward becoming a chief learning officer would involve a combination of the following:

  • 15 years corporate experience in a relevant field
  • Background in either training, HR, or learning and development
    > Working in any of these fields for an extended amount of time
  • Being a corporate officer
    > Former CEO’s, CIO’s, CCO’s, and CMO’s all have relevant CLO experience
  • Enrollment in a CLO-style post-grad school program (or a comparable Master or PhD?)
    Penn Chief Learning Officer Executive Doctoral Program

What Kind of Person Makes a Great CLO?

In addition to embracing team play, traits to look for in the ideal CLO candidate include:

  • An eye on future trends and/or can predict them.
  • An early-adopter (personally).
  • Can drive employees to accept and embrace new learning methods and technologies.
  • Can change course on a dime.
  • Can break down existing silos to foster an atmosphere of enterprise-wide cooperation and collaboration through learning.



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