The first official use of the term ‘Chief Learning Officer’ in reference to a position was in 1993.  Ever since then, the CLO role has been creeping into the corporate landscape and org chart.

In an ideal setting, a CLO aligns all of the learning and development activities of the organization with the organization’s strategic goals.  It’s not about getting people to attend classes or view eLearning – it’s getting the workforce the knowledge, skills and mindsets that they need to perform and this is usually not done in a classroom or in front of a computer.

Learning professionals often talk about getting “a seat at the table” or ongoing access to those running the company so that learning and development can complement the strategic plan.  A CLO can provide this access by establishing a senior-level role dedicated to the learning and development of the organization’s entire value-chain. 

As of a few months ago, only 5% of the Fortune 500 had appointed a CLO.  It will take executives witnessing the power of effective learning and development before we start to see the number of CLOs begin to rise.  As learning and development moves away from the more formal, traditional training and towards learning and development that is ingrained into the workflow of everyday life I am confident this will happen.  At many companies it already is.

CLOs are business people that also understand how people learn and develop.  They can speak to a CFO as easily as they can to a facilitator.  CLOs are responsible for the business of learning and development and they manage learning and development expenditures as any other business manager would – as investments that must make a return.