Your Career


Your Career


Top of Mind
Learning Without Boundaries: Rethinking the Role of CLO By Iris Ware
Iris Ware, chief learning officer for the city of Detroit, says it is time to rethink the boundaries of the CLO role.

The role of the chief learning officer is changing. Since its noted inception in the 1990s, the role of the CLO has focused on leading and formulating the learning strategy, learning management, and employee training and development within an organization. As the highest-ranking corporate officer responsible for learning management, the primary focus of our work is directed toward internal employee training and development. Our boundaries have centered on driving change and improving organizational performance within the confines of the organization. As we approach more than 30 years of service, maybe it’s time to rethink our role.

Iris Ware - City of Detroit
Iris Ware - City of Detroit

There are three key shifts to consider. First, a shift from an employee mindset to a learner mindset. This shift is related to how we view people. The terms employee, human resource and human capital are all terms that identify the value of people based on the work that they perform. These terms anchor people in current skills and daily performance. Learner, by definition, is a state of ongoing change, growth and limitless capability. Shifting to a learner mindset would help reposition people, our organizations and the work that we do. Redefining people as learners broadens expectations, point-sets the organization for change and innovation, and redefines the employment relationship. In the same manner that the definition of learning and its scope has evolved and continues to evolve, so should the role of the chief learning officer.

The second shift is a shift from designing for learning outcomes to designing for learning impact. This shift is related to our value. Our interventions and solutions should result in an impact, not just a session outcome. The terminal learning objectives that are traditionally included in every training session state the expected learning outcomes. They do not address, indicate or even propose the expected or anticipated learning impact for the learner or organization. Our inability to demonstrate organizational impact has been an ongoing issue. It results in a devaluation of learning and development’s value proposition. Learning impact occurs and may be evaluated on three levels: micro-impact, or the impact on the learner; macro-impact, or the impact on the organization; and mega-impact, the societal impact. Facilitating change through all three levels of impact will help to improve organizational outcomes and validate our seat at the C-suite table.

Finally, as we look to the future and continue to embrace change, maybe we should rethink our boundaries. We should consider expanding learning, development and growth experiences beyond our organizational walls into other organizations to intentionally include mega-impact options. Instead of focusing on employee training and development as a singular function of the CLO role, maybe it’s time to rethink, reconsider and redirect our focus to learning and learning impact on a larger scale. So many things have changed over the past 30 years, and so should we.

According to Iris Ware
Chief Learning Officer wants to hear from you: What are you thinking about? Send your thoughts to Ashley St. John at astjohn@CLOmedia.com.