CLOs Say the Darndest Things

Questions rock learning. Have the courage to ask them By Elliott Masie

Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium and CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity.
He can be reached at


hief learning officers often have favorite statements, expressions and points of view. These can be key as they help shape the learning culture and knowledge ecosystem of the enterprise.

The most powerful words from a CLO can be in the form of questions. Asking a provocative question can be the ultimate power tool. Statements may or may not be heard, understood, responded to or remembered. Targeted questions can be multiplied and amplified.

Here are three general examples before I share my own CLO question list:

  • To a departing employee: What did you learn while in our organization and how did you learn it?
  • To a business leader: What skills do employees in your group need to build and maintain in terms of changing roles, technologies and/or marketplace shifts?
  • To a CEO: What are buzzwords or terminologies that you hear but don’t fully understand (e.g., blockchain layered servers)?

My ideal CLO is like the rabbi that I had in my synagogue as a teenager. He said that his role was to ask a provocative question and then step aside to let the community members have rich dialogue and disagreement on the topic. He said the good question never has an easy or “right” answer. Instead, it provokes the listener to engage and learn.

So, here is the start of my own CLO question list:

  • To learners at the end of a program: What did we cover that you knew at the start of the program?
  • To learning designers: As designers, what are your default habits or rituals? What do you think would happen if you purposely did not perform those habits and rituals when designing your next program?
  • To a business group requesting a new course: If we could not give you a class on this topic, how would your workers learn or cope?
  • To a chief financial officer: What percentage of an employee’s compensation should the shareholders invest each year to maximize return on employment?
  • To an external vendor: How many and which features of the system that you are selling are rarely or never used by other customers?
  • To a new employee: What information do you really want in the first two days on the job?
  • To a compliance regulator: How can we demonstrate compliance in ways other than providing classes? Would you accept other predictive indicators?
  • To a global division business leader: How would you teach a skill to your employees — mapping it to your marketplace, culture and educational traditions?
  • To a bored-looking colleague in the lunch room: What is something you would love to learn — on any topic — if you could?
  • To another CLO: How many months/years do you think you have left in your current organization? Could you double that or leave sooner?
  • To your family members: What mood(s) does my work cause me to have? What projects impact my happiness or joy the most?
  • To your customers: If you could send our organization to “Doing Better University,” what courses should we take?

Asking a provocative question can be the ultimate tool for the CLO.

  • To your online instructors: How “present” do you appear? What is your default facial expression?
  • To an SME: How can you explain a topic in five sentences rather than five pages? What do people misunderstand the most about your area of expertise?
  • To a book author: What opinion or perspective do you want your readers to consider or change? What would you remove from the book — months/years after you wrote it?
  • To a home-based worker: What time of the day do you feel the most alert or smart? Could we schedule our calls at that time?
  • To participants in a staff meeting: What two words would you use to describe this quarter in the business?
  • To yourself: Do I have people around me that are challenging and teaching me as a CLO?

This is just the start of my list. I would love someone to create a card deck of CLO questions (and I will help fund it). Perhaps in the future, CLOs will ask Alexa or Siri to track how many questions they asked each day.

Become the CLO with amazing and endless questions. They are your greatest multiplier of impact.