How to Become a Chief Learning Officer

January 5, 2021

More than ever, school systems are turning to chief learning officers to oversee training and continuing education programs for their teachers and administrators. A chief learning officer can ensure educators stay on top of important issues that impact student learning.

Becoming a chief learning officer starts with education. American University’s Online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Education Policy and Leadership program helps current and aspiring educational leaders cultivate the skills they need to create professional development programs with vision.

What Does a Chief Learning Officer Do?

In education, a chief learning officer serves as a senior-level administrator who oversees the training and professional development programs of employees in a school system or district. These programs equip educators with tools and techniques for addressing achievement gaps and improving equity.

Chief learning officers work with other educational leaders to raise student achievement and support teachers by aligning training programs with educational goals and initiatives. Their primary responsibilities range from creating a professional development strategy to evaluating programs’ effectiveness.

Create a Professional Development Strategy

Chief learning officers consider the skills and knowledge educators need to effectively implement new learning standards, such as adjustments to the Common Core, as well as the training teachers require to adjust to online learning platforms or respond to other district learning initiatives.

Chief learning officers develop plans of action. This responsibility involves working with teachers, administrators, and other educators to assess what they need to learn. It also involves giving them the opportunity to express their learning goals and integrating those learning goals into their plans.

Assess Needs

With a professional development strategy in hand, chief learning officers assess what is needed to execute it. Do they need to hire consultants or educators with specialized skills? Do they need to rearrange the responsibilities of current employees or recruit individuals to fill newly developed positions? Finding the answers to these questions will allow chief learning officers to move forward.

Make Adjustments as Needed

Chief learning officers may need to tweak parts of a new program, such as one that trains teachers on using trauma-informed strategies in their classrooms. For example, feedback from administrators may encourage them to extend the training to more educators or to provide follow-up sessions to survey teachers about their progress.

Additionally, chief learning officers should continue to make adjustments to established programs based on employee feedback and any emerging needs, information, or objectives. For example, if new research points to the effectiveness of a specific training design and the funds are available to adopt it, the chief learning officer will incorporate the design into their professional development strategy.

Evaluate Program Effectiveness

Chief learning officers are accountable for the effectiveness of their professional development strategies. They need to evaluate key aspects of any program they implement, including:

  • Employees’ response to the program (i.e., is there teacher buy-in?)
  • The program’s impact on student achievement (i.e., have learning indicators such as test scores or rates of grade promotion shifted?)

Steps to Becoming a Chief Learning Officer

As top administrators, chief learning officers make key decisions that affect student achievement. They need an advanced education and significant experience to develop the right skills.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step toward becoming a chief learning officer is to earn a bachelor’s degree. The degree should focus on education or special education.

Step Two: Earn a Teaching Credential

Chief learning officers usually start their careers as teachers. To earn a state teaching credential, they must complete a teaching program, which entails student teaching and passing a state exam.

Step Three: Gain Teaching Experience

To make key decisions about the professional development of educators, chief learning officers need a comprehensive understanding and firsthand knowledge of teaching strategies, assessment methods, learning standards, and classroom management.

This firsthand teaching experience lends credibility to their efforts. It also provides them with critical insights into what kind of support educators might need to be more successful.

Step Four: Earn an Advanced Degree

Earning a graduate degree, such as a master’s or doctorate in educational policy and leadership, expands and enriches an educator’s knowledge of educational theories and research, which they can apply when implementing professional development programs.

Doctoral programs, in particular, prepare educators to effect systemic change and allow them to build their skills in organizational leadership.

Step Five: Earn a Public School Administrator’s License

Before becoming a senior administrator, a chief learning officer needs years of experience working in administration. Administrators need a public school administrator’s license, which requires completing a master’s degree program and passing a state exam.

Step Six: Gain Administrative Experience

In addition to direct experience in schools and classrooms, successful chief learning officers need an understanding of human resources, talent acquisition, and business administration. They can potentially gain these skills working as district administrators.

Having this experience enables them to make important organizational shifts and execute their strategies. It also provides them with crucial knowledge of a school system’s structure, the relationships between administrations and school boards, and how the two work together to make decisions.

Key Skills for a Chief Learning Officer

Chief learning officers work to foster unity and cooperation among educators to advance student learning. This role requires creative thinking and a commitment to ongoing learning. Effective chief learning officers have skills in several areas, including leadership and communication, that help them develop and implement successful professional development strategies such as embedding training into educators’ duties or putting into place veteran teacher mentoring programs.

Leadership Skills

Chief learning officers leverage their leadership skills to influence other educators to adopt new teaching methods and technologies, such as customized digital lessons for each student. They also need leadership skills to overcome any reluctance other educators may have to change or implement new teaching strategies.

Communication Skills

Chief learning officers must expertly communicate their analyses and the data that supports their plans. Next, using data and research-filled reports and presentations, they need to effectively explain to school and district administrators how their plans will be implemented.

Throughout the whole process, chief learning officers must listen to feedback, as well as cooperate and coordinate with many other educators, which calls for superior communication skills.

Analytical Skills

Chief learning officers must examine student performance data, conduct needs assessments, and evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. These tasks require strong analytical skills and the ability to solve problems.

Job Outlook and Salary of a Chief Learning Officer

Salaries for chief learning officers vary according to location and experience. However, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), their annual median salary in May 2019 was $100,340. The top 10 percent of earners brought in $148,630 annually, and the bottom 10 percent earned $63,070. The BLS also projects positions in school administration to grow by 4 percent between 2019 and 2029.

Learn More About Careers in Educational Leadership

Helping educators adapt to changes in the educational system takes vision and leadership. Chief learning officers can play an instrumental role, as they can make it easier for schools to adopt emerging strategies and integrate the latest research into their instructional programs.

Aspiring educational leaders can prepare to make a meaningful difference in student achievement by earning an advanced degree. Discover how American University’s Online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership program trains educators to develop and implement innovative professional development strategies.