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Profiles in Diversity: Lauren O’Brien

June 21, 2024

Get to Know Noodle Senior Manager of Learning Design, Lauren O’Brien

“I will always prioritize being human first over any role I occupy and believe this helps me to build genuine relationships with my colleagues.”

Lauren O’Brien is a Senior Manager of Learning and Design at Noodle. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. She recalls that her career in education seemed inevitable—she always wanted to make an impact in people’s lives. She received her undergraduate studies in English and Philosophy with Honors and she received her Masters in English Literature with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. Lauren shares that she originally thought she’d be an English teacher! She shares she’d had some unconventional teaching experiences that involved her feeling disillusioned with the traditional education system in South Africa and looked for other ways to be involved in education. Lauren eventually found her way into learning design where she now supports my team in helping to create impactful, didactic materials and assessments related to real-world competencies.

What elements or traits does a great leader exhibit?

It’s a complicated balance – a great leader needs the strategic vision to guide people towards a goal worth pursuing, trust to empower a team to do what they need to to drive towards the goal (and to get out of the way to let them do it!), compassion to face challenges with the team, and the resilience to bounce back from setbacks. A great leader also  inspires others to do the same when facing setbacks. They demonstrate integrity and lead by example—fostering a culture of honesty and accountability. 

When you think of great leadership, who comes to mind? Why?

I’ve learned lessons about leadership from various facets of life. I resonate strongly with Brene Brown’s approach to leadership. I also really admire the organizer of my local community garden, who clearly articulates her expectations of others and asks for what she needs. She  expects to hear a “no” but is often being surprised how many people will step up and say “yes”. 

How has your personal leadership style evolved? 

In a prior role, I experienced burnout which resulted partly from my resistance to asking for help. As a leader in this role, I felt like I needed to shield my team from the leadership’s lack of planning and impossible requests by taking them on myself. It was an incredibly difficult lesson to learn, but now I really value transparency and vulnerability. I will always prioritize being human first over any role I occupy and believe this helps me to build genuine relationships with my colleagues.  

What is it about your background or career experiences that successfully positioned you for your role at Noodle? Describe that role.

My role is Senior Manager of Learning Design. I lead the Learning Design team and we work with faculty members and subject matter experts to plan and develop their course content and produce EPIIIC learning experiences. 

Since I started in the field of Learning Design in 2015 at GetSmarter (acquired by 2U), I’ve worked across a range of subject areas, learning contexts, and with a range of prestigious partners. I’ve occupied roles of increasing seniority over the years and am really passionate about people’s development and growth – it’s a privilege to play a small but nonetheless important role in someone’s growth. 

How do you support the success of your team?

I try to create systems and structures that make their work easier, find opportunities that will support their growth, and move problems out of their way so that they can do their work without interruption or hassle. 

Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places or experiences.

I am very grateful to work with people from across the globe and located in a variety of places. I am regularly inspired by my colleagues!

What are some of the most effective tools in your leadership arsenal?

Transparency and authenticity are cornerstones of my approach to leadership. I aim to build strong relationships with everyone I work with and then create a clear vision around what we’re working towards – clarity around ‘why’ is compelling and motivating and means that small obstacles aren’t perceived as insurmountable – they’re challenges along the way to our collective goal. 

Please tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.

Although I’m not very good at them, I enjoy playing PC games. My most played game is a sci-fi colony simulation called RimWorld. 

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