Understanding The Differences Between A CLO and CIO

By E. Brown

Many Fortune 100 and 500 companies get the difference between a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). However, many smaller companies that are now venturing into the waters on online learning seem to be confused. They seem to understand the need for a CIO or CTO, but when it comes to learning they feel that this position can be occupied by those very same high level positions.

The differences are primarily at a strategic level. Certainly, while the CLO and CIO interact, there are three areas of significant distinction. Margaret Driscoll, in her book, Web-based Training, offers a very concise explanation of these three areas:

  1. People skills
  2. Technical knowledge
  3. Strategic picture

The role of the CIO is designed to provide enterprise-wide directions and business strategies for acquiring, using, and maintaining information technology.

The CLO is responsible for an organization’s overall learning and knowledge initiatives.

People Skills
CLO’s need to be consummate communicators. They often have to reckon with departments with competing needs as related to training. Often a CLO will find they have to communicate between technical, creative, human resource, and C-level personnel. As a liaison, of sorts, they need to know the unique language of each of these areas of discipline. Therefore, the CLO must have excellent people skills in order to reach consensus amongst differing groups.

Technical Knowledge
Unlike the CIO, the technical knowledge of a CLO is the ability to stay abreast of trends within the learning marketplace. In this rapidly changing environment, a CLO must monitor and evaluate new technologies. Also, a fundamental knowledge of networks, databases, security issues, e-commerce, and system integration are crucial. Finally, their knowledge must take into consideration how training applications will impact the organization, training departments, users, and customers.

Strategic Picture
Of no less importance is the ability of the CLO to see the “big picture.” They must understand how training and knowledge management relate to the bottom line. Responsibilities include:

  • Embedding learning in business processes
  • Encouraging inter-departmental knowledge sharing
  • Creating a culture of innovation
  • Providing inside and outside customer training
  • Creating informal learning events
  • And more…

Do You Need A CLO?
As Driscoll says, the position usually comes about through either a cutting-edge organization creating the CLO position or someone within a company building a case for this post.

Most organizations would benefit from a chief learning officer as either a way to increase profitability or as a means of reducing costs. The emergence of the knowledge economy points to the value of information and knowledge as sources of wealth creation. A CLO can improve the speed at which innovation occurs and increase productivity and profitability. Another line of reasoning that is easier to demonstrate is that a CLO can reduce the costs associated with training. The proliferation of training within most companies suggest that there is room for coast savings by streamlining initiatives, eliminating redundancy, and taking advantage of economies of scale.
(Web-based Training, page 285)

If you are in a company that promotes training (and I hope you are) then I would encourage to look into the need for a CLO. Look at the corporate strategy and culture, crunch the numbers and you may find having a CLO is very profitable.

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