Meet the Patrons: Learning Pool’s Sharon Claffey Kaliouby

Posted by Learnovate

Sharon Claffey Kaliouby

As part of Learnovate’s Meet the Patrons series, we speak to Sharon Claffey Kaliouby who is VP, North America, for Learning Pool, which was established to bring online learning into organisations in a collaborative way.

Learning Pool is a full-service e-learning provider, offering a range of courses, tools and content creation to over 1,100 organisations and 5.1 million learners around the world. Their solutions deliver highly-customised learning experiences, combining their expertise in personalised learning, gamification, and AI-driven performance.

Headquartered in Derry, Learning Pool was founded in 2006 by CEO Paul McElvaney and now employs more than 260 people across seven office locations in the UK and US.

Sharon joined Learning Pool in January 2020 to help guide the company’s North American expansion delivering Learning Pool’s unique value proposition in a crowded learning technologies market. She was most recently a Learning Fellow & Advisor for Elliott Masie Productions and previously Head of Global Learning & Development for State Street Global Advisors in Boston, Massachusetts. Prior to that, she held roles at Enterprise Ireland and Thomson Reuters.

Sharon is co-founder of the #WomenInLearning initiative to support awareness of gender equality in learning. She was one of the Corinium CLO Forum’s 2019 Top 50 Leaders in Learning & Development – Americas, and her Learning & Performance Institute Learning Awards include: 2018 Gold Winner Learning Professional of the Year, 2018 Finalist Team of the Year, 2017 Bronze Winner Onboarding Program of the Year & 2015 Finalist Learning Technology of the Year Award and a two-time member of the USFA National Gold Medal Women’s Sabre Fencing team.

What are the biggest lessons you learned in your career?

  1. Be part of the solution and be part of the industry.
  2. Be intentional and deliberate with your career. If you are not passionate about your work and the industry – change it! Life is too short. If you love what you do, but lack confidence or need help, reach out.
  3. Be authentic.
  4. And most importantly – have a voice! Stand up for what you believe in (this aligns with being passionate about your work).  Co-founding #WomenInLearning allowed me to actively support women in learning and leadership and promote an environment committed to a more diverse future.

What was the best advice you ever received?

A manager at Thomson Financial (currently Thomson Reuters) said to me early in my career, “If you want to attend industry events, become a person who can speak about topics relevant to those events. It’s harder for a manager to decline your development if you are part of the solution.” (Thanks, Donna Beccaria!) That was the best advice because it allowed me to learn what matters to the industry from colleagues, practitioners, thought leaders and vendors.

How would you define your work style and how has this changed over your career?

 I had some amazing people lead, manage, and guide me, so I try to replicate their styles. I like to be attentive, timely, organised and start with the end in mind (keeping in mind business goals and criteria of success). I believe it is the little things, the details, that make us successful.

Over time, I realised my background in sports played a big role in my work style in the office.

There is a grit and resilience you gain from sports and the importance of being a team player; it all adds great value in the workplace.

What have you learned about managing teams and individuals?

‘Engage, Educate and Empower.’ It is so simple as it relates to your team as well as your customers. You want to engage every team member, educate by supporting career development and behavior change and then, as a result, there is an opportunity to empower your team and the workforce. Empowerment is the key component – it stops you being a micromanager and allows you, your team, and your organisation to be in control of their own success.

What are your favourite tools and resources in work?

Way back before COVID, I used Skype with industry contacts outside of my organisation and internally used video conferencing and WebEx. I preferred face-to-face engagement versus conference calls as far back as 2013 and, since then, video calls were always part of my work. It was Skype initially but now I use Google Hangouts. They all have their ups and downs. The worst ones are those that are designed to make things ‘easier’ but, in fact, make things more complicated by adding in too many options; keeping it simple and intuitive is key.

There is lots of innovative learning technology out there so keep your eyes open. If you are only aware of the Learning Management System (LMS) world, it’s worth exploring Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) like Learning Pool’s Stream LXP, a comprehensive learning suite that delivers learning at scale. Investigate Learning Record Stores (LRS) like Learning Pool’s Learning Locker if you need to reconcile learning experience data from multiple systems. Keep yourself up to date with modern/pioneering technology and know what your options are so you are confident about what best serves your organisation.

In these unprecedented times, learning technologies are instrumental in moving businesses forward as our world goes virtual.

Lastly, I still love my old school L&D books – Performance Consulting by Dana Gaines Robinson & James C Robinson is my absolute favorite and it’s been revised and around for decades!

In what sectors and markets do you see untapped opportunities for Irish and Northern Irish companies?

 In my honest opinion, the best learning technology/edtech/eLearning companies are Irish. Even the start-up companies in Ireland have a lot of innovation right from the start, but perhaps my work experience has led me to be more biased. In North America, we see Ireland as having education and entrepreneurship embedded in the Irish culture, whether it be Dublin or Derry.

The untapped opportunity is the ability to leverage the Irish brand in North America. Let people know you are an Irish company, you are award winning, and your customer service is #1. Irish people are stereotypically modest, but you need to make more noise. Everybody in the industry sees Ireland as the holy grail for education and corporate learning and I still think that’s true.

Why is R&D important in the learning technology industry?

 R&D is so important as it prevents us from making the same mistakes over and over again. As seasoned learning technology companies sometimes get ‘fat and lazy’ with time and unchallenged revenue they may think: “this works so we are just going to keep doing it”.  This is not the way to move forward. A research centre like Learnovate will keep corporate learning technology, higher education and K-12 honest and innovative.

From your experience, what are the current trends in learning? 

The trends in learning reflect today’s times and events especially during the current pandemic. Developing a workforce with evolving roles, such as the Chief Executive Officer into a Chief Empathy Officer, will help lead companies out of crisis. ‘Future Skills’/‘21st Century Skills’ and the ‘Future of Work’ curriculums need not be technology-based content alone; it is about combining tech with being human, taking care of each other and our own mental health that matters most. If we look back to the way things were in the 1990s; you went on corporate-funded picnics with your spouse and kids. Everyone knew you and your family (your authentic self). That disappeared in the 2000s when people felt too busy to care and companies were more concerned about the economic health of the company (versus its employees). What I am seeing now is a return, and increased importance, to the development of soft skills like empathy, leadership and personal productivity. This will be even more important as we figure out how we are going to return to the workplace following these unprecedented times.

How has Covid-19 impacted the industry?

 In general, we all seem to be working harder, longer and at all times of day or night due to Covid-19. It feels like a blur. However, it is an exciting time for the industry – a disruptive and monumental time for learning and development to shine. We’ve never been needed more than now to help support corporate business goals and illustrate success by way of learning technologies.

In the US, we dropped the ball after 9/11 in L&D as everyone was going through such a traumatic time. People were not travelling, and we were using video conferencing rooms in every company but we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. We didn’t really provide new ways to learn or use technology. A few years later, we were offering learning the same way we did in 1999/2000.

We then experienced the financial crisis in 2008. Once again, we did not move the needle or change the future of learning technology. If anything, we may have made it worse with hours of ‘click next’ mandated online training attempting to solve all of the mistakes and risks in regulated environments.

Learning and development must now change how our children learn (from our homes via Zoom or on their tablets), how employees prepare for risk, and how managers lead their teams and companies back to the workplace. We must do so safely and innovatively via great learning solutions. L&D is queued up to do this really well in order make an impact.  This is our time to be mission/business critical.

How should we prepare for the future of work?

In my opinion, I think once there is a confidence with the Covid-19 vaccines, the ‘return’ (back to the workplace, industry events, meet ups …) is going to be warp speed. I hope that we can have a healthier, blended lifestyle where we get the right type of food, rest and exercise. We may even need to set out programmes on how to balance it all, as executives and employees return to the workplace. Learning Pool’s Future of Work online curriculum includes three key areas: take care of yourself, take care of business and COVID essentials. Learning Pool offers this online curriculum to all – for NO COST for 90 days. This matches one of our core values – ‘Do the right thing’ and this is how we will prepare for the future! We are all in this together.

Please give an example of an excellent learning experience you’ve come across on any topic that is free, easily accessible to the public and takes less than 30 minutes.

We have two catalogue modules: The Uncomfortable Truth and The Uncomfortable Conversation Regarding Racial Inequality which are for a limited time, free, and non-linear so you can pop in and out. They take less than 30 minutes to complete but I have found myself going back to various parts again as it is causing me to really reflect on the topic. It has great technology and is complemented by expert thought leadership.

What book would you recommend on learning, technology, business or understanding people?

The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life by Jodi Ecker Detjen and also her new book The Next Smart Step. I also liked the fact that Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg started a conversation but I did not agree with much of its content.

Why is membership of Learnovate important to your company?

The partnership with Learnovate for Learning Pool is ideal, not only because both are out of Ireland, but it provides unbiased insight, perspective, and research in regard to innovation.

There is the opportunity to focus on agenda items that may speed up the launching of new learning solutions as well as the discovery of “what not to do next!” The Learnovate Centre R&D group strengthens any learning vendor’s position in the marketplace by providing a team of R&D scientists for the sake of research. Learnovate is one of the only places that puts education together – be that corporate, K-12, or higher education – and in many places across the world, that bridge is missing.

Why do companies in Ireland & NI need the support of a centre like Learnovate?

Learnovate provides access to brain power and research. When business strategy is backed by academic research, this is a key differentiator for Learnovate and its partner companies.  Applying academic research to fill the gap between higher education, K-12 and corporate learning is needed in these unprecedented times – a bridge to provide upskilling and reskilling in education & business.

What does Learnovate do well?

The Learnovate Centre is amazing! There are very few centres like this across the world. I am a big champion of The Learnovate Centre – it’s a dream area for the industry and for Ireland. There is a ‘Learnovate mindset’ which is always about innovation and thinking outside the box and always, how to support reaching its members’ business goals.

Become a Member

Find out how Learnovate membership can help you solve challenges in learning and technology by contacting