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EP #85: Ria ODonnell, Managing Director at Custom Learning Design

1 Mar 2023 | 23 mins, 53 secs

In this episode of the NTP podcast we chat with Ria ODonnell, Managing Director at Custom Learning Design. We discuss Ria’s career to date, how she transitioned into her role as managing director and a focus on learning and business development. Hope you enjoy the episode!

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Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the Newcastle tech scene.

Find all local Newcastle Technology Events

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • (00:00)


  • (0:37)

    Ria’s career to date

  • (02:18)


  • (04:12)

    Emerging trends in technology

  • (07:00)

    University degrees

  • (11:00)

    Training internally

  • (13:30)


  • (18:00)

    Graphic design skills

  • (22:00)

    Podcasts and resources

  • (23:30)

    Get in contact

00:00:20:09 – 00:00:37:08
Welcome to another episode of the New Tech People podcast. On today’s episode, we have Ria O’Donnell, Managing Director of Custom Learning Design. James. Welcome. Thanks for having me. All right. I’ll try to open up most of our podcasts for a little bit of an introduction for those of our audience that don’t know who you are and give us a bit of an overview.

00:00:37:18 – 00:00:59:14
Yes. So I’m Ria O’Donnell. As you just said, I’m the managing director of Custom Learning Design. We’re actually located at Charlestown in the Dutch workspace, which is a really good space to be. We provide training consultancy to businesses and also we do e-learning development and design. Very nice, very nice. That e-learning design stuff have been a space.

00:00:59:20 – 00:01:18:15
It’s grown over the past few years. Absolutely. Yeah. Nice. U-Bahn in Newcastle, you’re in Charlestown in the greater Newcastle area for quite some time. What? You’ve always been in Newcastle? What sort of led to you starting a business here in Newcastle? So it’s a good question actually. So we’ve been in Newcastle for about ten years. I am from Sydney.

00:01:19:05 – 00:01:38:10
During that time though, we moved to Melbourne for a couple of years, so one of the reasons that we moved well, the predominant reason was that my daughter was going to university there, so we all followed along. But one of the reasons was actually that we thought that there’d be better job opportunities and then the pandemic hit and then everything went into lockdown and the world changed, as we know.

00:01:38:17 – 00:01:57:09
And then we ended up coming back to Newcastle. And what we’ve noticed now is that there’s just as much opportunity in Newcastle as what there is in Melbourne or any of the other major cities. Yeah, for sure. You mention the pandemic. Has the pandemic affected your line of business? I imagine? I know like a lot of things have moved online training obviously been one of them.

00:01:57:18 – 00:02:17:17
Have you seen a massive shift from the way the businesses operate or training gets gets done from a learning perspective? Yeah, absolutely. So our business is only 18 months old, so we really knew. But prior to having the business, I was doing this sort of thing anyway, just for other companies. So yeah, the pandemic really did change everything.

00:02:18:03 – 00:02:46:02
It just turned things into everyone had to upskill with their digital skills. Everyone had to learn sort of to slot into new roles and taking on responsibilities that they didn’t usually. Everyone switched to e-learning rather than face to face because of the issues with the pandemic. So it really was that big boost for e-learning. But then you started to notice the gaps that that came out of that, where it was like people needed that consultancy as well.

00:02:46:03 – 00:03:09:17
So you can’t just sort of have your, you know, CEO or your project manager or whatever, and they say we need training on this and they actually need to understand the whole flow and the methodology behind it. So the consultancy part is really important as well. Very nice. You business evolve eight months old now, but I know you’ve got quite a history beforehand which involves writing a book as well.

00:03:09:23 – 00:03:28:12
Yeah, super interesting. I don’t think I’ve had any guests on the podcast that I’ve written a book before, a publisher book, so I’d love to some insights into, you know, how that came about and that experience. Yeah, for sure. So the book’s actually about learning technologies, which is something that I’ve been really interested in sort of since they’ve evolved.

00:03:28:23 – 00:03:51:05
I’m showing my age going back sort of 20 years when you had the first middles and wikis and things like that. So I had studied education, technology, globalization, business, all of those sorts of things at university, I’ve got a number of degrees. I got approached by a an agent who was looking for someone to write a book in that sort of area.

00:03:52:03 – 00:04:12:08
So then I was able to go through the process with them of getting that approved through university because it’s actually an academic books and they’re using it in actually mostly in America, in universities. Teaching people in that space. So it did need to go through quite a stringent process of being approved by five different professors across the world.

00:04:12:08 – 00:04:39:03
And it was it really involved thing, but it was just a really great topic to be into looking at all of the emerging trends in learning technologies, understanding all of the the ways that different organizations were moving. But what turned out really well was that it actually coincided with the pandemic as well. So it’s something that we were already on board with due to globalization and the digital economy and things like that.

00:04:39:09 – 00:05:04:04
And then the pandemic just sort of pushed everything spread and everything else. Yeah. Are there some audiences, predominantly technology people? And I think one of the topics we often talk about is learning and career development. And you continual improvement, continual learning. So I’m super interested in this space. How, how is that evolve that, that your online learning aunty said the Murdochs and they might have got you know, different aspects.

00:05:04:12 – 00:05:36:17
University is an interesting topic, a topic that comes up, you know, very differently. Everyone’s got different opinions on the importance of university or university’s place in the greater education system. Yeah, super interesting to say you know he your thoughts on how how it’s evolved. Yeah so obviously like with all technologies it’s evolved massively so everything and it feels like the more it does evolved and the quicker it evolves to something higher and something better, we deal with business learning, not school learning or university learning.

00:05:36:17 – 00:06:06:20
Yeah, so it is a little bit different. So business learning, I feel in more recent years has really opened itself up to those types of things, whereas it was a bit more closed off before it was a bit of a sit and forget type learning or you come to the job already educated in what you should know. They are starting to realize that it’s an ongoing thing and you need to have the tools and the technological frameworks that are embedded to be able to have everyone come along the journey and and make those ongoing changes all the time.

00:06:06:20 – 00:06:27:04
In regards to universities, I know that you said that that is an interesting topic. Obviously, there is a huge place for universities, but when it comes to the speed of information changing, now we’re looking at a completely different world. So yeah, it’s something that inevitably is going to be revolutionized and changed how that’s going to look, I don’t know.

00:06:27:16 – 00:06:46:05
But it’s definitely something that’s that people are talking about. Yeah, definitely. I just think access to education, as you said, has grown with globalization and the Internet and access to it. You could be sitting here in Newcastle and access to a professor in a, you know, short course or something like that as well. Yes, I definitely believe in universities.

00:06:46:05 – 00:07:06:10
I’ve done a degree myself and now I think I that core ability to learn or learning how to learn and that using and learning the core foundations of a particular subject are really beneficial through university. And then you come out and you add on the short courses, are the business specific organization specific training that I had been assuming that you’re involved with?

00:07:06:10 – 00:07:25:11
Yeah, that’s right. And you hit the nail on the head saying learning how to learn because that is the thing. Now it’s not so much regurgitating the information out of a textbook, it’s more so you understand how to go about finding the new information or incorporate it in that into your way of working and things. And digital skills plays a really big part in that.

00:07:25:14 – 00:07:44:03
Yeah, things are and I think that I continue to change with more recently AAPT. And so it’s like you can very easily between get on chat every day you know find out some information like that and even get that to regurgitate some information for you on just having information regurgitate that you can put in an essay doesn’t mean you understand that.

00:07:44:03 – 00:08:00:24
So yeah, figuring out that learning pace and genuinely learning a topic is going to be super important, I think. Yeah, that’s right. And that is a sticky situation that people have at the moment. When you look at something like chat beauty, I know that a lot of people will sort of say, Oh no, you can’t use it, and they try to push it away.

00:08:01:17 – 00:08:17:06
But I look at it more like you’ve got calculators and they used to be not allowed because it was considered cheating, but it’s a tool that does the job right? And then you look at Google, so people had access to Google and that was seen as, Oh no, you’re finding the information, you’re supposed to memorize it and so on.

00:08:17:13 – 00:08:35:09
But it’s more about moving with the technology and understanding it’s going to be a part of people’s lives. Yeah. So how do you use it? How do you make sure that you’re not plagiarizing and and you are learning how to learn, but still using those tools where they have a place? Yeah, for sure. That’s great. Or if it’s interesting, obviously you can gain by incorporating these tools.

00:08:35:17 – 00:08:59:24
I don’t think any one of them’s about an end all, but if you can incorporate a lot of them, you’re kind of get a lot of efficiencies and be able to find out something, you know, hopefully a higher quality or quicker or more efficient like, yeah, exactly. Yeah. There’s a place for them that yes, I think that that’s a nice little segway this I’m talking about Iowa and new technologies into the first chapter of your book which is are technology in the new normal.

00:09:00:02 – 00:09:18:22
Yeah I’d love to get your opinion on a little bit of a date dive. Obviously, if it’s an opening chapter, it’s something that you’re you’re quite passionate about. I’d love to get your insights from that perspective. Absolutely. So in that chapter does address some of the things I mentioned before, that you’re looking at your globalization and your digital economy and the enablers of those things.

00:09:18:22 – 00:09:38:01
But then you’re also looking at the way that the world has shifted and technology as is a really important and integral part of that. So everyone is working from home some of the time. They’re traveling everywhere. Life is a lot different to what it used to be when you’re talking about the workplace and without technology, those things wouldn’t be possible.

00:09:38:11 – 00:10:01:03
So when you’re looking at the new normal of business, you’re looking very much at things like artificial intelligence. Your collaboration tools, software, of course, all of those types of automation and things like that. But then you’ve also got to consider the other side of that when it comes to cyber security and safety online. And those are the new skills that people actually have to learn.

00:10:01:22 – 00:10:21:12
Yeah, Yeah, I think that’s really interesting part there, as well as these new tools that’ll come along, there is a learning curve to actually come up to speed with them before you actually generate the efficiencies on the back end, right? Yeah, that’s right. I actually heard someone talking the other day with something about that where you said you have to sort of keep up with it.

00:10:21:12 – 00:10:40:08
So if you think about software that we use now where it used to be, you implemented a software system, you could use it in the workplace. Now most things are hosted in the cloud, so there’s continuous updates. So you need to be learning about, you know, what does this new functionality do, what does this button do? And there is that continuous learning that goes on as well.

00:10:40:12 – 00:11:04:13
Again, it’s not just that set and forget. Yeah, I agree. I think learning a learning and learning for businesses obviously is a big part in creating competitive advantage for businesses. I think businesses, the software in the talent or the people business, right? I genuinely believe people are the biggest differentiator between businesses having success or not and keeping those people educated and up to speed is a big part of that.

00:11:04:21 – 00:11:27:23
Have you worked with many companies where you’ve really seen a big change, where they’ve implemented some, you know, some learning or some training internally where you’ve seen, you know, significant differences in the business? Yes, probably the best examples that I’ve seen of that would be large scale projects where they are implementing a new software program and processes and things like that across the organization.

00:11:28:05 – 00:11:54:10
And when they do manage the learning frameworks for that, then it can be so much more effective than if they don’t. So one of the other examples there is mergers. So when you’ve got two companies that merged together and there’s a huge learning curve to go on them being able to sort of effectively teach both sides of the merger into sort of becoming one organization is something that’s really delicate.

00:11:54:10 – 00:12:22:23
But if done well, it’s something that I’ve seen be really successful. Definitely. I think you’re you’re not only creating efficiencies, but you’re eliminating a bunch of problems. Think upside if you do that. Well, yeah, yeah. Really nice. You mentioned you’ve got a couple of degrees before. This is an interesting topic. Dave Yeah, a niche topic, I guess where you’ve learned what’s your career path Obviously from an education perspective and through like created to get to where you are today.

00:12:22:23 – 00:12:46:14
So I’d love to get, you know, a little bit of background on how you come to where you’re at today. Yeah, So back in another life time, I was actually a teacher, so my first degree was a bachelor of teaching. So that’s obviously got me into education for my whole life. And I was just really, really interested in, in everything behind the education, not just what to teach people.

00:12:47:04 – 00:13:09:23
So obviously technology played a huge part in that. The next degree I did was my master of education and I majored in technology for that one. And then more recently I did a graduate certificate in globalization, but it was in the School of Education. So again, it was the same types of topics, but we were looking at the globalization and the impacts across the world.

00:13:09:23 – 00:13:37:10
When you’re looking at social mobility and people being able to access learning that usually couldn’t. And in between those, I actually started doing an MBA at Newcastle Uni, which was awesome, but I didn’t finish that one. NICE You obviously real well invested in that education space, obviously. What was your experience for university like? We mentioned before, the that learning how to learn was a big part and I think you agreed that there are any other benefits, mass benefits you found through your education degrees.

00:13:38:15 – 00:14:06:05
Yeah, I found obviously going to university is really valuable, not just because of the information that you learn more about the the personal development. So the way that you’re able to collaborate and grow with other like minded people, the way that you’re exposed to information that you may not otherwise have been exposed to. And then, of course, when you need to do assessments and things, then it sort of put forcing you down that road of learning new topics and things that you might not otherwise take that time to do.

00:14:06:16 – 00:14:23:20
So I think it’s really valuable in that way. Yeah, very nice. You obviously finished, you finish your degrees and you went in teaching to start with. Yeah. Went into teaching to start with. Yeah. How did you transition from teaching to where you are today? Again, that’s a really good question because it’s something that a lot of teachers are looking at doing at the moment.

00:14:23:20 – 00:14:43:01
So I’m finding that to be increasingly popular. So when I left teaching, it was it was a really big jump to sort of go from a stable job and go, I’m going to go into the corporate world. At the time, my children were younger, so I enjoyed the school holidays, being able to look after them, which is something really important to me.

00:14:43:18 – 00:15:06:06
So moving into the corporate world was was a big jump for me. From there, though, I was able to really use those skills that I’ve learned in teaching and then put that different lens on it and say, everyone needs to learn all the time. It’s not just kids. So how does this continuous lifelong learning journey go and how can that be developed in the workplace?

00:15:06:15 – 00:15:27:05
So that led to you leaving teaching and starting consultancy, or is that I’m sorry, because that was when I had left teaching and went into the corporate space. Yeah, Yeah. So I was in the corporate space during that learning and development microphone and I’m being a training consultant. But it wasn’t until around 18 months ago that I actually started my own company very not.

00:15:27:19 – 00:15:47:01
I’ll take into that right quickly. How was that experience jumping out and running and starting your own business? It’s actually really good. It’s it was daunting to start with and obviously, as it would be, I’ve actually had another business before that, though, so I had that little bit of advantage of understanding that. And then both companies as well.

00:15:47:01 – 00:16:13:17
So I had the understanding of how to sort of set it all up. It was daunting because you’re going into the unknown, not knowing if it’s going to take off. We’ve been really, really lucky because it’s just the right place at the right time. Everybody needs to have learning in the organizations. It’s an unsaturated market for now. I mean, there’s plenty of providers, but it still is unsaturated, so the demand is higher than the supply.

00:16:14:07 – 00:16:33:12
We were lucky enough to get some really big clients as well. So in Melbourne and Sydney, so that sort of carried us through. And then we’re also working with a lot of little clients as well. Very nice, very nice and what does the future look like in an ideal world? Is it just continuing growth? You see that market continuing to grow?

00:16:34:02 – 00:16:58:02
Yeah, absolutely. I think I think it definitely will grow. And what I’d like to see is the advancements in educational technologies. So when you’ve got always start ups, which I’d love to invest in, actually if, if you have any other listeners that are interested in building these things because there’s so many exciting opportunities in that education space at the moment for technology, I think it is going to keep growing.

00:16:58:08 – 00:17:23:19
It’s the perception of it as well that’s changing. So people are understanding that learning is a lifelong thing. It’s no longer just for childhood or whatever the thought was. It is definitely expanding and it’s going to be really exciting to see where it goes. Yeah, I agree. I think we touched on it before, but that you mentioned there was an expectation for some companies previously maybe that somebody comes in with all the key skills.

00:17:23:19 – 00:17:49:11
That’s why they hired for they’re going to go from there, they’ll do their job. But the world and technology is obviously influencing that massively. They continue to change and evolve jobs and companies change and evolve and put people to continue to succeed. Is that that ongoing investment in training development, I think I’ve seen in maybe the past five, seven years, companies place greater importance on internal learning and development and training programs.

00:17:50:02 – 00:18:06:16
Yeah, definitely. I heard someone using the analogy. They said it’s like if you were a professional tennis player, for example, if you were to go out on the court and play a game all the time, 8 hours a day, you’re really going to run yourself down and not be able to perform at your best or learn any new skills.

00:18:06:24 – 00:18:24:04
If you’re able to go away and do some coaching, then you’re obviously going to perform better. So it’s the same way in business that you need to take that time and you need to actually coach yourself in where things going because things are constantly changing as we know, because of all the technological advancements in the workplace in general.

00:18:24:19 – 00:18:46:22
So people do need to take that time. In custom learning design, we actually have an hour of power. So every Tuesday at 11:00, everyone just has to spend the hour learning something new so they can source things from LinkedIn, learning Udemy, YouTube, wherever they choose, and then they need to learn about that topic. It can be anything associated with their business.

00:18:46:22 – 00:19:14:13
So whether it’s like the neuroscience of learning or graphic design skills or whatever it may be and then they come together in groups and share what they learned. So that way people are able to share that knowledge as well. Therefore, one of the other things you mentioned before, I think I just find quite passionate about it is that the access for people around the globe or people in maybe more unfortunate situations than we are to access learning, access, education that they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to do.

00:19:14:16 – 00:19:32:15
Yeah, I understand you have more in the business space at the moment, but how do you say that that space continuing to evolve? I think that that’s going to evolve and it’s going to be a real game changer globally for everybody who is in maybe less fortunate positions to be able to uplift themselves if that’s what they choose.

00:19:33:06 – 00:19:51:00
There’s a really good video that I’ve seen on YouTube. I think it’s called The Hole in the Wall, or it was a documentary, and it’s where in a sort of slum area of India, where they’ve put a computer in the wall, sort of covered in glasses so it can’t be damaged in whatever and with no instructions or anything.

00:19:51:00 – 00:20:12:03
And all of the children in the town are sort of coming over and experimenting with it, and they’re actually figuring out how to use it by themselves. And it just shows that if you give them the tool, know people are really intuitive and they actually know how to stop, start the learning journey. And when once you learn one piece, then it sort of leverages you to learn the next piece and the next piece.

00:20:12:03 – 00:20:37:22
And I think that we’re going to see a huge shift in globally in people being able to access not only the education but the jobs as well, because they’ll get educated and then they can work on teams or on Zoom or whatever, and it’s actually accessible for the first time. Yeah, and I think fast track because of the pandemic, obviously, I think there were companies beforehand and that gave flexibility with working and working in the office of working remotely.

00:20:38:03 – 00:21:14:01
Everyone was forced to do that during the pandemic. They fast tracked everything and it’s no excuses anymore. We had to do it. And now so post-pandemic hopefully, and companies making those decisions but no longer is their excuse that we can’t do it. So I think that’s just fast track, that whole decision making process around remote work or access to do that, which then opens up the first step is, Hey, we’ve got current employees we’re going to allow to work remotely the next stages and it might not be the next, but a couple of runs down, down, down, down the track is we could hire fully, remotely from another country.

00:21:14:05 – 00:21:36:18
Yes, potentially another time zone. I don’t think most companies are there yet, but it does open there’s definitely a path to that happening. Yeah, there’s a path to it happening. And it’s also allows people to access the best talent because you’re no longer just limited to a radius of 20 kilometers from where your office is. Correct? It’s like you can actually just scour the globe and find the best people for the best jobs.

00:21:36:22 – 00:21:57:16
Yeah, I completely agree. And then personally, from an educational perspective, do you have a book or a podcast that you recommend to anyone that you think’s either been significant to you and in your continual learning? If I think of a book and a podcast, probably the standout book for me sort of on this topic would be The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly.

00:21:57:16 – 00:22:19:04
So I don’t know if you’ve read that one, but it’s a bit about all of the technological advancements. It’s an orange cover. It’s what? Yeah, yeah. All of the technological advancements that he thinks are inevitable. And then he sort of gives different examples of how that could play out, but saying nonetheless, they’ll still play out. It’s just how does it sort of unfold?

00:22:19:08 – 00:22:44:03
And then thinking about podcasts, the one that I’ve just started listening to at the moment, which is really good, there’s actually only one episode available so far, but it’s the wedding lounge. Yeah, and it’s actually people talking about learning technologies. Yeah. So they’re talking about analytics and gathering the data and how you’re actually using the information that you’re collecting and and using that to reinforce what you’re teaching people next and things like that.

00:22:44:03 – 00:23:13:08
So it’s really good. Yeah. And as I did like Kevin Kelly, I think I came across him on a couple of episodes of Tim Ferriss podcast as well, and I came into his books as well. So yeah, I think it’s super interesting. And then for people that again, this is predominately technology, but somebody that might be, you know, in a business and are looking at, you know, how to improve their technology or how to improve their learnings for those of our listeners that, you know, that came across even the first time today and have an interest in this learning space and how they might be able to, you know, look at their internal processes or

00:23:13:08 – 00:23:31:20
internal learning development. How do people get in touch with you? People can get in touch with me through our website, Custom Learning designed by you. Yeah. And would be the best way you could drop into Duckworth’s office if you’re up at Charlestown. Yeah, there’s always at least a couple of us in there. Yeah. Yeah. We’re always ready to.

00:23:31:20 – 00:23:45:00
To have a chat with people and. And even just to talk about what their potential needs would be in the future and things. It’s it’s great to just start those discussions beautifully. Thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us today. Thanks for having me. Just.

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