Industry Insights

The Struggles of a Chief Learning Officer by StratX

Posted by Slavina Pancheva on May 3, 2018 3:31:59 PM

The job of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) can be both hugely rewarding and intricately challenging. When successful, a CLO prepares the workforce for the challenges of the future, equipping them with the vital skills and confidence necessary to lead their organization to new heights. Very often, however, CLOs are faced with a common set challenges that can become roadblocks to success if not dealt with proactively. Here, I’ve identified the top struggles Chief Learning Officers face:

Engaging participants

The first challenge a CLO must deal with when designing a learning and development initiative is to find a way to effectively engage participants. Unfortunately, participants are frequently expected to continue to fulfil their work duties even when participating in a full-time development program. Facilitators find themselves increasingly in competition with the distractions of buzzing smartphones and tablets as they are expected to deliver vital training that will help an organization achieve its objectives.

Moreover, an engaging training program not only ensures participant alertness and attention but also increases learning retention by creating a memorable emotional experience. Numerous studies have shown the link between a heightened emotional state and cognitive skill learning. CLOs must therefore ensure that programs are informative, relevant and sufficiently exciting for participants to be able to remember and apply their new skills.

Dealing with scrap learning

One of a CLO’s biggest nightmares is spending months designing a training program, finding the right participants, fighting for manager buy-in, creating the perfect content for the program… only to see it all go to waste when participants don’t apply anything they have learned to their actual job. This all-too-common phenomenon is now referred to as ‘scrap learning’, defined as “learning that is delivered but not applied back on the job”. Clearly, this can be a huge waste of time and resources.

Exactly how big is the scrap learning problem? It’s hard to pinpoint exact figures, but according to research carried out by CEB, 45% of learning investments made by the average organization are in fact scrap learning. Brinkerhoff’s landmark study puts the figure even higher, suggesting that up to 85% of participants don’t apply program learning to their jobs unless this is specifically and properly worked into the program design and evaluation.

Demonstrating Return on Investment (ROI)

Learning initiatives are often costly. The majority of executives clearly see the need to train and develop their employees, but often get frustrated when improved business results don’t naturally follow. CLOs are increasingly under pressure to show that learners not only attended the program and completed a skill test at the end, but that they bring more value to the company as a result. As with any manager entrusted with a large and expensive project, a CLO must prove that an investment in learning and development is a worthwhile one.

Demonstrating ROI is certainly a challenge, and certain companies choose to measure Return on Expectations (ROE) instead. But whichever measure you opt for, one thing is certain: employees must change their workplace behaviour following a development program in order to bring about the improved results their managers want to see. Eliminating scrap learning, described above, is a necessary first step in the right direction.

Experiential learning as a solution for CLOs common struggles

Fortunately, there are ways in which CLOs can overcome these challenges to deploy maximum-impact initiatives. A strong design, a clear approach to measurement and evaluation and manager engagement are key ingredients. Choosing an experiential learning approach is also highly effective: learning-by-doing is far more engaging than traditional classroom learning. Furthermore, by practicing the necessary skills and behaviours, participants are also far more likely to apply these on the job and thus bring about the desired business results.

To learn more about experiential learning, download our free experiential learning guide.

Experiential Learning Guide



Topics: Learning & Development, Leadership Development, Change Management

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