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Doctorate Addresses Training Gap for CLOs

May 22, 2006
Related Topics: Career Development, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
The assembled chief learning officers represented some of the best-known corporate names in their respective fields—companies like IBM, Yahoo, Siemens, JetBlue and Toyota. And as they went around the room introducing themselves at the opening session of their meeting, Doug Lynch, vice dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, was struck by the diversity in their backgrounds. No two had arrived at their positions via the same career path or training.

    "Some started in the field of education," Lynch says. "Some were from human resources. Some were line folks—like, ‘I was a good salesman, so I was asked to train sales folks, and 15 years later I’m the CLO.’ "

    That meeting in May 2005 set Lynch on a quest to develop a comprehensive training program for chief learning officers that would bring not only a measure of continuity to the position but also define exactly which skills a chief learning officer needs. This fall, the University of Pennsylvania plans to launch a doctoral program for corporate learning leaders in its graduate school of education.

    "As far as I can tell, there is not a single university in the world that prepares people for these types of leadership positions," Lynch says. "People get MBAs, some study adult education or instructional design. What we are trying to do is develop a discrete body of knowledge."

    As Lynch points out, to become an accountant requires a specific type of training that is designed to produce a professional who knows and understands what the job entails and how it is practiced. Lynch’s research indicates that the position of chief learning officer, which first came about in the 1990s, has yet to be similarly codified.

    Lynch joined with Brenda Sugrue, senior director of research at the American Society for Training & Development, to publish a study based on that 2005 meeting of CLOs. In the study, published in February, they concluded that learning executives need to have a solid grasp of theory and methods in both education and business, coupled with the abilities to lead, motivate and communicate. In essence, chief learning officers needed to be solid corporate managers with specialized skills in learning and education.

    The curriculum that Lynch developed for the new program at Penn attempts to meet those needs while also plugging any learning gaps that a prospective learning executive might have. The program has five distinct sections. To earn a doctorate, a candidate would need to complete all of them and write a dissertation. But learning officers can take just the sections where they feel they need help and earn individual certificates. The entire program consists of more than 1,000 hours of courses.

    The five sections are:

4Business acumen. To make sure chief learning officers understand the basics of business, Lynch tailored a batch of Wharton School business courses for the needs of chief learning officers, including such topics as marketing, organizational theory, finance, people management and accounting.

4Technology. Since so much training is now delivered and tracked via computers and the Internet, Lynch figured CLOs needed a solid grounding in business technology. The program includes courses in databases, information management systems, video and simulations, and the inner workings of technology vendors.

4Organizational leadership. This is MBA-type training geared to the needs of CLOs. The course covers building and managing teams, presentation skills and other basics that a top corporate executive might need.

4Evidence-based decision-making. This section covers monitoring, tracking and evaluating data, designed to help CLOs understand how to do cost-benefit analyses and make training decisions that have real evidence to back them up.

4Learning leadership. This section delves into adult learning theory and practices, and examines how education systems operate.

    Lynch hopes his program will produce corporate learning leaders who understand business and education and have a grasp of their profession in the same way lawyers and accountants do.

    "If they are going to be chief learning officers, they’d better understand leadership and strategy, and they’d better live and breathe business," Lynch says. "But they’d better also have an empirical, evidence-based way of making decisions to know if training works or not."

Workforce Management, May 22, 2006, p. 27 -- Subscribe Now!

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