The University of Pennsylvania’s CLO doctoral program is the only doctoral program in the world designed exclusively around enterprise learning, with 50 learning leader and CLO graduates since 2006.
The three-year, at-work executive program through the Graduate School of Education also draws faculty from the world-renowned Wharton business school. Students enter the program at any of three points during the year and proceed through six learning blocks with two weeks on site per block. The blocks cover leadership, learning, business acumen, technology, evidence-based decision-making and dissertation.
Annie McKee, director of the program and co-author of “Primal Leadership,” said, “The vision for the program is to prepare people to be leaders first, thought leaders second and learning leaders third.” From Wharton, students learn the responsibilities for a CLO within the context of a broader set of business problems.
“Students learn the concerns of the chief executive and they learn about finance, marketing, strategy and operations,” McKee said. “They learn the priorities and challenges of each function, how to work with those teams and how to contribute to all the goals of the organization.”
Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton and author of “Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty,” teaches students how to lead in an era of uncertainty about the economy, global trends, competition, technology, the labor pool and even about “who will be your leader, or even on your team, next year.” He advocates the use of scenario planning in lieu of the typical five-year staffing plans and 10-year succession plans.
Education professor Stanton Wortham said the program strives to balance learning theory and real-world application. “While all the students enter with solid experience as learning leaders, not all have a firm grasp on the theory underpinning that experience.”
The program also emphasizes evidence-based decision-making as students learn to conduct research on best practices, seek evidence, support a point of view, use theory to make an argument in support of a particular approach and to value scholarship while not leaving the grounded reality of today’s organizations. These skills are brought to bear when researching new knowledge as part of the master’s thesis and the doctoral dissertation. For instance, Candice Reimers, senior program manager in learning and development at Google, is working on her dissertation. Her research examines the role social capital plays in organizational learning.
I interviewed 10 students, alumni, professors and advisory board members for this column. Having conducted hundreds of interviews over the years, one thing stands out about these interviews: the use of superlatives in describing the value and quality of the program and the people involved.
Raj Ramachandran, who spent 10 years at IBM and Accenture and now is vice president at Apollo Lightspeed, said, “This is the best thing I have ever done for my career. All of the people are fantastic, the learning is incredible and the network afterwards is amazing.”
Ann Schulte, head of global learning and development at Procter & Gamble, said, “This program was the single best thing I have ever done for myself. I understand so much more about adult learning and about business. The people you work with there are exceptional — I made connections with people who I email once, if not twice, every day.” She said she decided to attend the program after considering this question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
Schulte was recommended for the program by her then-boss Rebecca Ray, former MasterCard CLO and now senior vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. Ray serves on the advisory board for the UPenn program and has been involved, she said, “since Doug Lynch first sketched the idea on a cocktail napkin over lunch at The Palm.”
The University of Pennsylvania CLO Executive Doctoral Program is the real deal, the strongest program by far for anyone serious about reaching and excelling in the senior learning position. If you aspire to be your very best, to stack all the cards in your favor, you can do no better than to attend.