CLO Series: Dr. Marie Cini of University of Maryland University College

Cognota® CLO Series features interviews with current and former Chief Learning Officers and senior learning professionals. We are pleased to share the results here in our blog.

We recently were fortunate enough to catch up with Dr. Marie Cini, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at University of Maryland University College.  This blogpost incorporates her responses to questions related to the challenges of designing learning systems, taking advantage of trends, measuring ROI, and seeing solutions. 


Dr. Cini shares her top three biggest challenges when designing experiences for learners. For starters, to design learning experiences well involves a team of highly skilled professionals, including learning designers, subject matter experts and instructional technologists.

“This is an expensive and sometimes unwieldy process,” says Dr. Cini.

Second, she points out that those for whom we are designing the learning experience may not be the same as those who will pay for the learning or who are setting the expectations for learning outcomes. Dr. Cini cautions that this triangulation “may be difficult to reconcile at times.” 

Third, keeping learning experiences up-to-date is increasingly difficult as fields and technologies
change so quickly, which is an opinion shared by other CLOs in selecting technology providers to create and deliver learning.

As for working with subject matter experts (SMEs), Dr. Cini admits that “it is actually harder than you might think to extract the knowledge from an SME.” By the time they are experts in a field, much of their learning is tacit, not explicit. They often have a hard time understanding how a novice approaches their field and find it hard to meet them halfway.

“And being an SME doesn’t necessarily mean you can communicate what you know very well,” she cautions.

Our Cognota® blog has previously covered working with SMEs, a continuing challenge for learning designers.

 Learn how instructional designers can scale design efforts

When addressing challenges of designing learning, Dr. Cini cites issues including a lack of a clear consensus on learning goals, lack of a clear and agreed-upon learning theory/model, and timeline difficulties. To address this, her best suggestion is to engage a highly-skilled project manager “to help the team form, set expectations, navigate disagreements, and keep to the deadlines.”

In order to take advantage of rapidly shifting corporate L&D changes, Dr. Cini suggests hiring a variety of skill types, using vendors as appropriate for missing skill sets, and creating smaller teams focused on certain tasks.

But to measure the ROI of a particular learning initiative, Dr. Cini admits, “The truth is, we don’t do this very well.”

The future of corporate learning is “more online for sure,” she adds, with “more competency-based learning approaches.” The future of learning will be more modularized and in smaller chunks.

“We need to produce more learning scientists who can truly help us advance in the design of learning experiences.”

As for three additional challenges, Dr. Cini explains that there is never enough time to fully design, develop, perform QA, and other tasks in developing learning. 

Another challenge is keeping up with the rapid pace of change and advances in the fields, including technologies.

Effective leadership and management of learning design groups is a final challenge she points out.  “Good leaders are hard to come by. When you find one you need to do all you can to keep them.”

Though learning leaders try to close the skills gap within their organization, Dr. Cini explains that there may exists a skills gap within the L&D department itself.  

“We need to produce more learning scientists who can truly help us advance in the design of learning experiences,” she suggests. “The science is out there and we need more folks steeped in it—not just the ADDIE model.”

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CLO Series: Dr. Marie Cini of University of Maryland University College