In my first four installments I’ve tried to describe what I believe have always been the attributes of great Chief Learning Officers. In these next four, I’ll attempt to outline some new requirements of the coming decade.
The great CLOs of the future are synthesists. I define a learning synthesist as someone who can see and act on broad patterns of learning opportunity and learning achievement. That’s the key.They see the big picture and the connections that have leverage.
The synthesist CLO understands what the organization knows and how it knows it. They see the patterns of formal and informal learning across whole networks of people. Because learning is now so fast, so distributed, so widely available, and so individualized, this new kind of CLO accepts responsibility to be the source of reflection on how the best learning happens. They are concerned with “learning metacognition.” (I mean metacognition in its broadest sense: knowing about knowing.)
Synthesists perceive, at the level of broad organizational issues, what needs to known. They search out patterns of need, patterns of essential fundamental issues, and the connections to deeper patterns reflecting organizational culture and habit.They perceive patterns of remediation possibilities and the connections between remediation and existing organizational issues and measures.
A critical new aspect of understanding what needs to be known is distinguishing between what needs to be known and what needs to be accessed. Technology has already fundamentally moved those boundaries. There was a time when calculators were not allowed in the classroom. In some classrooms, PCs and other portable devices are still forbidden, though that is rapidly changing. In many venues, knowing how to quickly find the answer is becoming more important to success than knowing that answer….and more practical. The synthesist CLO has already begun reorganizing the way learning is designed and delivered to accommodate this new reality.
And the synthesist CLO has a new view of when the organization needs to know. In the past, access to learning was limited. That meant that learning had to be front-end loaded. That’s not the case anymore. Now, if you can just see the patterns, learning can be imbedded right in the workplace critical path at the moment it is needed. For the new CLO it’s not about organizing and integrating learning in advance. it is about seeing the organizing principles and ideas that already naturally exist and making learning natural and inevitable.
The synthesist CLO doesn’t talk about curricula, programs or learning events. Instead they call attention to fundamental issues, call out needs and show how gaps can be filled. They provide guidance about what the organization knows and where and how that knowledge can be accessed. They advise on how the organization learns best and they leverage their expertise to influence the organization in those directions.
The synthesist CLO is a business leader who knows more than anyone else in the organization about how learning works and how it should work.