The Chief Learning Market Officer


Note: This is a re-post of a piece I published a little over a year ago. I have been encouraged since then by seeing a number of associations appoint chief learning officers, but I still think there is a lot of progress that needs to be made in making leadership of learning into a “C-level” position.

A while back I asked the question “Who’s Your Chief Learning Officer?” and offered my own brief description of that position as:

  • Someone who is empowered to make strategic decisions and see that they get implemented? (Chief)
  • Someone who thinks beyond educational events and training to consider the full richness and complexity of knowledge management and capability building in your field or industry? (Learning)
  • Someone who is held officially accountable for your organization’s responsibility to advance member learning? (Officer)

I was reminded of this post recently when talking with a senior executive at one of my association clients. In noting how difficult it was to find someone to oversee all of the organization’s education initiatives this person noted that the “chief learning officer” role defined in the corporate world only partially fits what is needed in the association world. Even with a shifting focus towards “return on investment” over the past decade, corporate training departments are still a cost center. But association education programs are, in most cases, expected to be revenue centers.

I’d add to this – as my definition above suggests – that association learning leaders arguably face a more complex task than their corporate peers when it comes to thinking beyond well-defined, formal education and considering how to support the myriad other ways in which their stakeholders engage in learning and personal development. They tend to serve a more diverse and less narrowly focused audience over a much longer time horizon (i.e., the other 50 years). While association learning leaders should avoid trying to be all things to all people, they do have to take the diverse and evolving nature of their audience into account.

Increasingly, I think something along the lines of Chief Learning Market Officer may be a better way to describe the position that’s needed – regardless of whether you use this actual title or not.  I like that this keeps the term “learning” – which I find greatly preferable to the much more limiting term “education” – and that it also recognizes that associations operate in a market.

That last part – that lifelong learning and professional development  is a “market” – is distasteful, I know, to many who come from more traditional educational backgrounds, but I think we do ourselves and our learners a disservice if we don’t recognize it and embrace it. Lifelong learning is a market – one that is in the midst of great disruption – and if we don’t learn to operate effectively according to market principles we will spiral towards irrelevance rapidly.

So, it’s worth stopping once again to ask your organization a slightly revised version of my original question:”Who is our chief learning market officer?” Who have we empowered to lead learning effectively in this new age? And, as an extension of that question, are we hiring and/or developing the right talent to work with that person and effectively increase the reach, revenue, and impact of our learning initiatives?

These are, I think, critical questions to address. What do you think?

Jeff

P.S. – I suppose I ought to update that original definition to include a “market” line. Here is the brief definition of Chief Learning Market Officer:

  • Someone who is empowered to make strategic decisions and see that they get implemented? (Chief)
  • Someone who thinks beyond educational events and training to consider the full richness and complexity of knowledge management and capability building in your field or industry? (Learning)
  • Someone who understands how to develop, deploy, and manage a revenue-generating product strategy (Market)
  • Someone who is held officially accountable for your organization’s responsibility to advance member learning? (Officer)
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