One of the most touted new tools in the learning professional’s cache is the wiki, which refers to “open source” software that allows users to create taxonomies of easily changeable Web pages. More commonly, it describes a collaborative virtual community, in which each participant is completely empowered to contribute content.
Like so many modalities today, the wiki is both novel and old at once. It was first devised in 1995 by computer programmer Ward Cunningham, who named his invention “wiki wiki,” a repetition of the Hawaiian term for “quick.” Far from revolutionary in its design – it’s just a database, and a simple one at that – what made the wiki innovative was the fact that it was set up to allow for content creation and editing from multiple sources.
In the earlier part of this decade, the wiki caught on in many larger organizations as a means of internal communication. But this system really came into its own with the advent of Wikipedia, a continually changing encyclopedia project operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. As of the beginning of this month, the site had more than two million articles in English alone.
I don’t disagree with the assertion that this is a potentially valuable learning modality. It’s flexible, fast, accessible, inexpensive and incorporates the knowledge of a whole community of subject-matter experts. Moreover, if it’s set up properly, the system is self-policing, meaning errors are quickly found and corrected by an active group of end users.
Given my own advocacy of the wiki as an organizational learning tool, I was a little disappointed when I recently came across the entry for “chief learning officer” on Wikipedia. It was, to say the least, scant in its description of who CLOs are and what they do.
Here is the two-sentence explanation of the CLO role from the site:
“A Chief Learning Officer (CLO) is the highest-ranking corporate officer concerning talent or learning management of a corporation or agency. CLOs can be experts in corporate or personal training, with degrees in education, instructional design or similar.”
Moreover, it included the following “skill requirements”:
“Qualified CLOs of corporations should have leadership skills and be able clearly handle the training management of their company.”
Perhaps I’m a little biased due to my own exposure to the learning industry, but I found this explanation of the CLO underwhelming. Even if I were a neophyte, though, I wouldn’t learn much from that description that I didn’t already know. And in a couple of ways, it could be misleading. After all, many CLOs aren’t pedagogical experts, and don’t hold degrees in instructional design or education. In fact, they’re often as likely to have studied human resources, general business or perhaps the specific field in which their company operates.
Also, several CLOs aren’t dealing with “training management” per se, but rather are trying to align learning initiatives to organizational objectives. Of course, the entry is correct in that CLOs need to have leadership skills, but is there a C-level position that doesn’t? I’m much more interested in what kinds of leadership behaviors the CLO needs to master to be successful.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Virtually anyone can go to Wikipedia and change that description so it more closely reflects chief learning officers. That would render this story obsolete (and unlike a wiki, I can’t go back and edit articles to reflect changes after the fact), but that would be a small price to pay to make sure people have a better understanding of the CLO role.