Office of Continuing Education

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Christa Sterling

November 6th, 2017

Monica Savage, president of Obsidian Learning, is an experienced leader with a burning passion for learning and performance support.

We recently asked Monica for her insight on the value of continuing education and how adult learners should approach getting advanced training. Here’s what she shared:

Can you tell us the story behind Obsidian Learning. What is your mission? Who are you trying to help?

Obsidian started in 1998 as a technical documentation company. We have changed and grown since then and tried to always stay at the forefront of technology, learning trends and approaches.

Obsidian supports the people end of change. We help our clients communicate to build consensus, understanding and adoption of new practices.  We help our clients understand and maximize learning solutions.  We set them up with performance support to enable ongoing success. We help them target the message so the change agents can get the job done.

Our Mission:

Engage people in change by delivering compelling communication and learning solutions based on a compassionate understanding of the perspective of the audience:

  • Maximize value to our customers by bringing together a team of experts that has been expressly assembled to ensure both precision execution and “where-is-the-box?” creativity.
  • Design solutions that reflect a creativity and freshness unsurpassed in our industry because we consistently review our processes and deliverables asking a single question:  “How can this be improved?”
  • Maintain mutually beneficial relationships with our clients and consultants by staying authentic and deeply committed to their success through the twists, turns and shifting priorities that characterize today’s complex change initiatives.

What types of organizations seek out your services? How do you help them?

We generally work with large organizations, Fortune 500 companies, but we have had many small business clients as well. We meet with our clients and help them identify their needs, design, develop and deliver their learning/communication programs.

Obsidian gathers, designs and distributes information that supports job performance during times of business change. We provide services in the areas of End-User Performance Support, Corporate Learning / e-Learning, Portals / Intranets, Knowledge Management and Change Management. We listen, learn and consult to clarify strategy and recommend the most appropriate solution. We ask questions, clarify aims and agree on priorities.  We thoroughly evaluate our client’s employee performance support issues in light of all significant factors, such as business drivers, impact of the transition, organizational culture, employee profiles (roles, technical skills, expertise, age, education, attitudes, etc.), current practices, expectations, technology, history, timeline and budget. In cases of large-scale changes requiring employees to significantly alter the ways in which they conduct their business or learn new skills and competencies, Obsidian helps clients to envision the steps or phases necessary to transition their people successfully. It is our goal to begin adding value on our first meeting.

What is your approach to continuing education? How should working professionals approach advanced training?

Continuing Education is critical for all adult professionals. Our belief is that we never stop learning. Advanced learning helps learners refine and clarify their messages and deliver inspiring communication and sustainable models for learning; helps them develop new competencies so their organizations can move differently and successfully in the changing cultural landscape; helps them see the possibilities for their own teams and their ownselves.

What is adaptive learning? Why is it effective? Who benefits from adaptive learning?

Learn more about adaptive learning here.

What are some of the challenges facing working professionals with training and advanced education? What sets them apart from more traditional students?

The challenges are many, of course. I would say that continuous change in technology, skills, demands, is the most critical challenge for the adult learners today. For adult learners with advanced education, the demands are even more significant. They usually have more responsibility, more challenges and less time. For them, the focus should be mostly on performance support and learning at the time of need.

What tools or resources have you found to be the most useful in helping working professionals get the training/education they need to advance their careers and/or do their job better?

Our belief is that for any learning goal, a successful learning experience can be designed. The tools and technology are there to support the design, the design itself being the most critical aspect. That said, the adult learners today are mobile, so providing them with responses and learning events accessible on multiple devices is important.

Why should organizations invest in training opportunities for their employees?

Because without learning, there is no progress. We like to replace “training” with “learning” as much as possible, since the ultimate goal should be knowledge acquisition for the purpose of application on the job. I think the more standard way of “training” relies significantly on teaching the theory, while the application, critical thinking and problem solving are left for on-the-job training. We, on the other hand, implement problem-solving scenarios and activities within the learning, so we can keep learners very engaged and simulate as much as possible the situations and problems that people will be facing in their day-to-day job.

How can these organizations ensure that a particular training opportunity is the right fit for their goals?

The way to start is determining the goals. Then, based on audience, timeline, budget, etc., a proper design has to be developed. Only through a very thorough stakeholder analysis before designing a learning program, we can understand the audience and can target desired outcomes. To many times, companies rely on “off-the shelf”, cookie-cutter training. This approach hurts more than helps. Learning is very personal, so we need to treat it that way. Try to immerse the learning designers in the learners’ job requirements, so they can figure out what the gaps are and determine the most effective training to fulfill the needed competencies.

What advice can you offer adult learners on getting the most out of their training/education experience?

Be curious, be demanding. I think learners have to challenge the status quo and demand change according to their needs. Learners should take an active role in their learning experience. Collaboration and sharing are the building blocks for a global learning environment, which is needed everywhere in the corporate world.

What trends or innovations in education are you following today? Why do they interest you?

I am not too big on trends. The reality is that, while technology has changed significantly, the way we learn has not. “Learning is life”. We just need to design it that way. I am excited about the opportunities that technology brings to the table– mobile, VR/AR, xAPI, etc. These are pieces of the learning puzzle with great value for a learning designer, but also for the decision makers. One trend I hope to start is to involve the decision makers (CLOs, VPs, CEOs) in the learning experience, so we can all learn and grow together.

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