Driving the patron membership, Sharon joined Learning Pool in January 2020 to help guide the company’s North American expansion. 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.
Sharon is co-founder of the #WomenInLearning initiative to support awareness of gender equality in learning. She was one of Corinium’s 2019 Top 50 Leaders in Learning & Development – Americas, the 2018 Learning & Performance Institute Professional of the Year 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) Become part of the solution and be part of the industry.
2) Act intentionally and deliberately 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?
Some amazing people have lead, managed, and guided me, so I try to replicate their styles. I like to be attentive, timely, organized and start with the end in mind (keeping in mind business goals and criteria of success). It is the little things, the small details, I believe, that make us successful.
Over time, I realized 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 organization to be in control of their own success.
What are your favourite tools and resources at work?
Way before COVID, I used Skype with industry contacts outside of my organization and video conferencing internally. I preferred face-to-face engagement versus conference calls as far back as 2013 but since then video calls have always been 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.
How about technology?
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). Learning Pool’s Stream LXP is a comprehensive learning suite that delivers learning at scale. Investigate Learning Record Stores (LRS) like Learning Pool’s Learning Locker reconcile learning experience data from multiple systems. Keep yourself up to date and know what your options are so you are confident about what best serves your organization. In these unprecedented times, learning technologies are instrumental in moving businesses forward as our world goes virtual.
Which 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. Seasoned learning technology companies sometimes get ‘fat and lazy’ with time and unchallenged revenue. It’s easy for them to 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 current events especially the pandemic. Developing a workforce with roles such as a Chief Empathy Officer will help lead companies out of a crisis. ‘Future Skills’ and ‘21st Century Skills’ are not all technology-based; it is about being human and taking care of each other and our own mental health. Let’s look back at the 1990s when we’d goto corporate-funded picnics with our spouse and kids. Everyone knew you, your family and your authentic self. That disappeared in the 2000s. People felt too busy to care and companies were more concerned about its economic health (versus its employees). What I am seeing now is a return to the development of soft skills like empathy, leadership and personal productivity. This will be even more important as we figure out how we return to the workplace.
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.
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/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 to make an impact. This is our time to be mission/business-critical.
Is it different in the US?
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, we were using video conferencing in every company but we didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. We didn’t 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.
How should we prepare for the future of work?
In my opinion, I think once there is confidence with the COVID-19 vaccines, the return is going to be warp speed. Once things start up again, there will be the FOMO (fear of missing out). I hope that we can have a healthier, blended lifestyle where we get the right type of food and rest and exercise. We may even need to set out programs on how to balance it all as executives and employees. The future of work will include 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 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 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.
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. 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.
Let’s discuss Learning Pool’s position as Patrons. Why is membership of Learnovate important to your company?
Us becoming a Learnovate Patron is ideal for Learning Pool. 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. 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 brainpower and research. When a 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.
Find out more about Learnovate and how we became its newest Patrons here.
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