Blog: The future of learning and the new role of the Chief Learning Officer

Learning & Development

The future of learning and the new role of the Chief Learning Officer

With reskilling and upskilling a major focus for many businesses, the Chief Learning Officer's role is becoming more strategic and with a greater focus on driving business outcomes.
The future of learning and the new role of the Chief Learning Officer

In 2020, businesses around the globe, across every industry, faced unparalleled change and disruption. Workforces went remote. Reskilling and upskilling became paramount to fill skills gaps and keep teams employed. New power skills — like agility, communication, resiliency, and adaptability — became essential as everyone adjusted to a new ‘normal’ that was anything but. Digital transformation accelerated practically overnight — even for companies and verticals that were still years away from it. Human resources and talent development found themselves in the eye of a perfect storm.

Access to and encouragement of learning played a central role as employees and employers alike reacted to the pandemic, an uncertain economy, and worldwide social reform in real-time. Consumption of learning increased exponentially and new topics emerged as not just popular, but mission-critical. The good news for learners, learning professionals, and the learning industry is that regardless of when and how we come out of the current situation, work has changed irrevocably. Personal flexibility and autonomy won’t go away. Skills will remain more important than traditional roles. Digital transformation isn’t some far-off goal; it’s here and it’s now. And, learning will continue to play a pivotal role in building a future-fit workforce ready to respond to what’s next — whatever ‘next’ looks like.

The growth of the Chief Learning Officer's role

As organisations have pivoted to meet the challenges of a disruptive year — and the opportunities of a digital future — the role of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) is changing. The CLO played an integral part in the near-instantaneous reskilling of the workforce in response to COVID-19. Going forward, the CLO will be well-positioned for a more strategic role driving business objectives and outcomes.

Learning is evolving:

  • From managing required training programs to igniting a culture of continual learning.
  • From a process focus to a people focus.
  • From net promoter scores to measured business results.
  • From managing performance to enabling individual and organisational growth.
  • From an adjunct of HR to a singular, strategic partner at the heart of the business.

Over the last year, CLOs have been called to the new front line in the workplace and are required to be both leaders and caregivers, supporting and enabling the success and wellbeing of employees in new, creative ways.

Previously, many CLOs have been responsible for training facilities, with much time and energy invested in managing large physical spaces, used to conduct training and facilitate meetings. With these training facilities closed, the focus is now more on taking care of employees and prioritising wellbeing and digital learning. 

Because knowledge and learning is not taking place in person, or relegated to the LMS, many CLOs are now finding their purview to include overseeing of collaboration and knowledge management platforms. These could include technology such as channels and content in Yammer, Slack, MS Teams and SharePoint instances as well as performance support mechanisms to help both capture and distribute learning in the flow of work. As such, the role of the CLO will move increasingly toward curation of a mix of formal, informal and social content across multiple platforms so employees can make the most of the type of learning that suits them best.

We are also seeing a change in the way organisations approach L&D from performance management to career enablement. Where employee reviews have previously focused on employees’ performance, outputs and competencies, in an attempt to bridge the skills gap, CLOs are now more interested in how employees can develop and grow. For employees, this means a shift in culture from “How am I doing in my job?” to “How can my career progress?”.

An additional role at the inclusivity table

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has inescapably been in the news in 2020 and 2021 so far (and for good reason). But, meaningful inclusion is something that learning has always had the power to positively affect. More and more organisations are recognising that marginalised groups, whether that’s people of colour, women, the LGBTQI+ community, or people with physical or intellectual disabilities, deserve a seat at the table — and a voice that is both heard and heeded.

Moving forward, CLOs will play a critical role in DEI. But, DEI conversations are difficult. And so is change. The role of the CLO has become that of a change agent. Companies are being challenged now to demonstrate a real commitment to DEI. Lip service is no longer enough. Inequities have existed far too long, and organisations are being held accountable. CLOs, through learning, are key to broadening minds, changing policies, and creating lasting change.

Learning isn’t just an action — it’s a mindset. A personal commitment to a continuous journey of growth and self-improvement. This is a great thing for us as learning professionals. It allows us to focus on bringing out the best in people and use the power of learning to build a more motivated, skilled, future-fit, and resilient workforce. It was of paramount importance in 2020. And it will continue to play a central role as companies face the future.

Today’s CLO is becoming the voice of the workforce and the architect of a company culture that values, rewards, and benefits from ongoing learning and development. He or she champions the democratisation of learning, making reskilling and upskilling more accessible to all. Charged with helping learners, employees, managers, and organisations reach their full potential, the CLO is redefining how to fill skills gaps, how to motivate, inspire, recognise, and reward achievement and excellence. Digital transformation has both enabled this shift and required it. The role of the Chief Learning Officer has become invaluable as businesses around the world have had to adjust to unprecedented disruption in real time — and, as they prepare for whatever the future holds.

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Topics: Learning & Development

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