What does it take to be an Executive Chief Learning Officer? An Interview with Jeffrey Katzman

Jeffrey Katzman is serious about educational technology. He’s been working relentlessly for more than 20 years to empower educators and learning professionals with advanced learning solutions. As a part of my learning experience pursuing the Executive Chief Learning Officer (ECLO) graduate certificate at George Mason University, I interviewed Jeff to learn more about him after I saw a post he made on LinkedIn.


Jeff got his start in the early 90s working in the film and video department of San Francisco State University while pursuing his Masters in Communication Arts. He was testing out authoring tools available at the time, like ToolBook, Authorware, and Macromedia Director, using these tools to take pages from books and convert them into online learning experiences.

It became clear these tools were not sufficient to create the kinds of learning experiences Jeff desired to provide. So, he worked with some friends and professors to create CourseNet Systems. This company helped to create lots of CD-ROM-based, early e-Learning experiences. These CD-ROMs were crafted with sound instructional design principles that would still resonate with learning professionals today: game-based learning, simulations, and rich media experiences filled the content. Apparently the company did very well, earning several awards and accolades.

At CourseNet, Jeff worked with legends in the instructional design industry, including Ruth Clark and David Merrill, to pen a white paper on Reusable Learning Objects. You can read a more recent version of that paper here.


CourseNet Systems was sold in 2001 to Technology Solutions Corp (TSC), where it became a part of Peer3. At Peer3 Jeff served as the Vice President of Product Strategy, where he “envisioned and implemented the first object-oriented XML-based learning management system on the market.” This learning management system was unique in that the content that comprised learning experiences could be broken into separate objects and reorganized as needed, making instructional design and development work more efficient.

Peer3 was also sold in 2001 to KnowledgePlanet. Jeff moved to Avaltus, who created their own XML-based Learning Content Management System (LCMS) to meet the needs of the corporate training market. Jeff served at Avaltus as the Director of Product Management, helping them to develop their user interface and manage their product. He was even able to help gain some key accounts.  He stopped working for Avaltus in 2003, and the company is no longer in business.

In 2005, Jeff started working on building a new LCMS, one that helps people using it to create and consume learning content in a highly personalized way. Another XML-based system, Jeff built Xyleme to be “the industry’s most efficient content development platform for the rapid reuse of content across all types of web, print, tablet, and smartphone outputs.” As one of Xyleme’s founders, Jeff led the company from two people to become a market-leading educational technology company. As the company grew, Jeff became Xyleme’s Chief Learning Officer (CLO), in part because Jeff worked with dozens of other CLOs to help identify how Xyleme could meet their companies’ learning needs. As a place where companies can author, publish, deliver, and analyze learning content, Xyleme continues to be one of the best learning platforms in the industry, winning several awards and honors.


Throughout Jeff’s career, he watched his children go through school carrying heavy backpacks laden with old textbooks and assignments printed from a copier. As someone who had dedicated his life to leading learning technology efforts, this was something that pained him.

That’s why, in 2014, Jeff left Xyleme and founded the Core Learning Exchange, or Core-LX.

Core Learning Exchange Logo

Core-LX is a “curated marketplace for the distribution of standards-aligned educational materials. It is designed for use by schools, teachers, tutors, and independent learners” to help them create, find, and share lessons on any device. Working with a number of leading learning companies, Core-LX provides a large lesson library in addition to a lesson builder and playlist maker. Core-LX hopes to empower educators to use the best the internet and classroom has to offer to create amazing blended learning experiences.


A screenshot of the Core Learning Exchange.

Jeff has always believed that all aspects of the learning experience, from creation to consumption, should be intuitive. This is why Core-LX strives to be “the world’s most intuitive Personalized Learning Platform.”


I am amazed at how Jeff has been able to lead these efforts and build all the learning technology companies that he has. As someone that is plagued by ideas and desperate to make practical use of them, I found his ability to find talent and lead them to accomplish these goals inspirational, to say the least. After I read that LinkedIn post, I ordered Michael Horn’s book, read up on Core Learning Exchange, and even got to sample what Core-LX is all about.

I’m delighted I got the chance to talk to him and learn about his career, what he’s working on, and a little about all the things he’s worked on before. The following is a sample of our conversation, paraphrased as necessary to express the gist of our talking points.


EJ: So, with all these companies you’ve founded, I can’t help but see a pattern. It’s like you come up with a great idea, you make something, you get others to help you expand on that idea and make it a business, and then you reap the harvest from all your efforts. I’d like to learn about your efforts at the start. How’d you get other people to follow your lead, to believe in your ideas?

JEFF: Well, I started small. Initially I just talked to my professor at the film department, and then I talked about it to my friends and family. They could have just ignored my ideas and then I would be nowhere.

EJ: So what got them to listen?

JEFF: I’m just a passionate guy. I find new ways of looking at things. When I come up with an idea for a new product, I can see in a moment its whole form and all the steps it takes to get there. But it takes time, persistence, and patience. For the Core Learning Exchange, I came up with the idea in 2010, but here, in 2016, I feel like we’re three-quarters of the way towards where I want to be.

EJ: When you talk to others about your initial ideas, what’s that look like?

JEFF: I can diagram and articulate my ideas pretty well, but convincing others that you’re not insane, especially when you’re first getting started, is another issue. For Core-LX, I just want to do my part to help fix education. The old textbook models are a dying breed. When I told people I trusted my ideas, about how I wanted to enable competency-based learning, with personalized sequences of learning events and a way to maximize the results of learning online and learning in classrooms, they bought into them and we moved forward.

EJ: What’s it like to start a new venture?

JEFF: Both wonderful and terrifying. I’ve taken a lot of risks. Some have paid off really well, and others, like Core Learning Exchange, we’ll see. I’m still in the middle of this one, and I’m putting everything into it.

EJ: When you come up with a new learning system idea, do you do any coding yourself?

JEFF: No, not anymore. I work with others to do that.

EJ: As you know, I’m in this Executive Chief Learning Officer program at George Mason University. What’s your definition of a CLO?

JEFF: The CLO is the one who sets the vision and direction for learning and performance for an organization. The CLO defines the instructional model that the company will use and the learning goals that the organization needs to have in order to meet that organization’s strategic goals. Then the CLO hires directors to implement the plan. Most CLOs have no idea what’s going on in day-to-day operations, or even what specific steps were taken to meet the goals they set. I’ve met dozens of CLOs. When I was at Xyleme, that was the person you had to sell to. You had to sell your learning product to the CLO.

EJ: Sounds like you’re uniquely suited to be talking about this, in a lot more ways than I would have thought. What do you think the top pain points of a CLO are?

JEFF: They need to develop their work force as cheaply and effectively as they can. They need an ongoing way to make sure they’re doing that. CLOs also need to make sure they’re doing a good job onboarding people and getting new hires acclimated to the corporate culture and contributing to the company as soon as possible.

EJ: How does a CLO go about doing that?

JEFF: The CLO needs to figure out how they’re going to listen and meet these needs responsively. They need to model the job competencies and give any required training at the moment they’ll apply it, because that’s really the only time that they’re absolutely going to learn it.

EJ: That sounds like the five moments of need.

JEFF: Yes. Exactly. Gottfredson and Mosher have a really good model that’s exactly what I’m talking about. You need to provide the training opportunities in alignment with the moments that your workforce will actually need them and use them.

Jeff and I talked more about his work history and what the Core Learning Exchange is all about before we ended the call.


I really enjoyed talking with Jeff. Based on our conversation, I’ve compiled a list of core attributes that I think an ECLO should have.

The Executive Chief Learning Officer should:

  • Be a visionary: The ECLO has a clear vision of what the needs are and what it’s going to take to meet them.
  • Be a leader: ECLOs are able to get others to follow them, to believe in and help implement their ideas.
  • Be able to think strategically: The ECLO is able to see the big picture and what major steps are required to get there.
  • Be a master student: The ECLO never stops learning.
  • Be a master teacher: The ECLO has deep knowledge of the learning and development process.
  • Be a consultant: ECLOs need to know the businesses they’re in and make them better.

If you have any thoughts on this interview, or if you would like to comment on my list of attributes, I’d like to hear from you.