Developing a Learning Culture

What Does a Chief Learning Officer Do? (INFOGRAPHIC)

Everything You Need to Know About a Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

The position of CLO isn’t new; it was once called Director of Training or something similar. Still, the title might seem unfamiliar if your organization hasn’t created a dedicated role for learning (yet). The CLO title carries with it an expanded skill set, leadership role, and scope of responsibilities in today’s predominant eLearning environment, and it’s worth learning more about this role if you plan on staying in this field for a while.

What is a CLO?

Think of a CLO as the person in charge of employee training and development. Chances are that your organization has one, even if the title may be a little different. A position best suited for a team player with an eye toward collaboration, the CLO is 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 a 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.

What Does a CLO Do?

Think of the CLO as a business “influencer.” While a CEO might focus on the overall leadership and management of an organization, the CLO is there to influence change and improve learning to help achieve the C-suite’s goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and CLOs know that employees aren’t trained through one-off events. Rather, a good CLO specializes in making learning and development part of the daily employee experience.

A CLO often works heavily with HR to ensure employee needs are being met. You can probably find a CLO doing everything from planning training events to creating microlearning content and matching business goals to the right type of learning.

Over 90% of CLOs have a minimum of 10 years of corporate experience, with an average total  experience of approximately 18 years. This is likely because CLOs require years of on-the-job experience and are often culled from employees that have spent time in the “trenches.” The best CLOs are those who know how employees think and act and can utilize that experience to influence their behavior more effectively. The more time a CLO has spent observing, learning, and empathizing, the better they’ll be in the role.

We often refer to a three-legged stool as the “CLO 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 new forms of learning.

What Kind of Person Makes a Great CLO?

Being a good team player is obviously key to being a good CLO. There are, however, other traits that make a dedicated CLO stand out when compared to someone who may have just been assigned the role. A good CLO is passionate about learning and development and tracks future training trends. They’re the kind of person who is first to adopt new technology and influence others to do the same. Quick to test theories and pivot to new solutions, CLOs aren’t married to their own ideas. They love to learn from others and are quick to accept the best way to do things, no matter where that solution came from.

Truly great CLOs don’t see organizations as a collection of departments and silos, but the parts that make up a whole. They foster an atmosphere of enterprise-wide cooperation and collaboration through eLearning, and see each employee as a crucial factor in the organization’s success. 

CLOs by the Numbers

We’ve conducted extensive research into how and where CLOs work and we’re excited to see growth in the role. Check out some of the interesting statistics we’ve gathered to better understand how more organizations are utilizing CLOs.

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 9,500 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 CLOs are female. The number is slightly better when it comes to female CEOs 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, but does highlight an interesting caveat to the CLO role: Women might be better suited to becoming CLOs, as women traditionally enjoy larger representation in traditional educator roles. In fact, 74% of private school teachers were women. The high representation in education might explain the healthier numbers for female CLOs. After poring over 1,550 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.

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. Many CLOs 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. Working in tandem with the CEO, CMO, and often the CIO, the CLO works to set and achieve strategic goals across all partnerships.

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 Mastercard.

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 has 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.

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 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 very 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 should also reflect that.

According to, 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. also points to location being one of the major factors in CLO salary, with CLOs 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 furthering the company’s M.O.

Below is a list of  notable CLO cities, as well as their average CLO salary:

Where Do CLO’s Work?

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. 

Sound Like a Dream Job? 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 CEOs, CIOs, CCOs, and CMOs all have relevant CLO experience
  • Enrollment in a CLO-style post-grad school program
    > Penn Chief Learning Officer Executive Doctoral Program

Why the Sudden Need for CLOs? Changing Times?

The way businesses educate and train employees and empower them to advance along their career paths continually changes. Furthermore, 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.

We only expect the need for CLOs to grow as companies invest more in employee success. If organizations have high expectations of their new hires and current employees, they need to offer the tools required to meet and exceed those expectations. Bringing a Chief Learning Officer onboard sends a clear message that training is a process, not a destination.