It wasn’t the shot heard around the world by any means, but it should have been. Last week LinkedIn announced plans to acquire content aggregator Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. I am a learning technology analyst focused on the business of learning and my jaw literally dropped when I heard the news. I quickly recognized the strategic significance of this move and how LinkedIn completely outfoxed and disrupted the learning, talent, content, higher education, extended enterprise, social media, continuing education and workforce development industries. Not bad for a day’s work.
Let me explain my uncharacteristic acquisition optimism. In my opinion, LinkedIn is quietly the best and most useful of social media sites from a business and professional perspective. For free, it allows anyone worldwide to create a living resume and build a personal network of colleagues throughout their entire career. By collecting skill endorsements and recommendations from your network and posting content, comments, presentations, awards, articles, certifications and other relevant data, you create a historical profile of credibility that any other LinkedIn user recognizes and values – more so every day with 347,000,000 users and growing in 200 countries.
A LinkedIn user (or now learner), by participating in groups and growing their network, can have unlimited access to relevant, current, thought-provoking content, in any medium, on any topic curated from the best minds in the world. Whether you are searching for information, job candidates, a job or new customers, LinkedIn is my favorite place to go especially since you don’t have to endure countless political or religious rants nor cute kitten videos.
Lynda.com is one of many eLearning content aggregation sites that exist in 2015. It is neither the biggest nor the best, but it is certainly worthy. Varied competitors in this broad content aggregation space include BizLibrary, OpenSesame, Udemy, Grovo, Skillsoft, 360Training and Coursera. I would not rule out LinkedIn purchasing many more content aggregator companies in the future because it is easy to handle more content but almost impossible to build your own 347 million user network.
Lynda.com will come with 4 million active members, a catalog of 3445 software, technology, creative and business skills video courses taught by recognized industry experts. I believe the most exciting thing about Lynda.com is their business model. With a $25/month base subscription, members receive unlimited access to the entire library and can take as much content as they want. That’s a great deal for learners and LinkedIn.
Here are my top 4 reasons why I like this acquisition and inferred foxy business strategy:
#1 – LinkedIn Created the World’s Largest Extended Enterprise (For-Profit) Learning Site
Think of extended enterprise or for-profit learning as the business of training your non-employees. It can be students, customers, channel partners, professionals or in Lynda.com’s case lifelong learners. Extended enterprise learning is different from internal employee learning because all extended enterprise learners are voluntary users. You can’t tell them what to do like employees, you need to woo them, make them pay for content and want to come back and do it again and again.
The goal of every extended enterprise learning site is to build a large, active, loyal community of customer learners and continually drip knowledge, content and marketing to them. LinkedIn will be the biggest extended enterprise site in the world by factor of 10 or even 100 on day 1.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s assume that LinkedIn doesn’t get creative with the Lynda.com pricing models, but just integrates the content and markets the courses at the current $25/user/month price via the LinkedIn machine. Let’s also assume LinkedIn does a terrible job and only gets 1% of their user base to sign up.
Well that amounts to approximately 3.47 million new content subscribers and a cool $1 billion in annual sales. If 10% sign up that’s $10 billion in annual sales and that could eclipse the rest of the learning technology market’s annual sales combined. By doing things right, the sky is the limit.
#2 – LinkedIn Created the World’s Largest Workforce Development Site
One of the biggest criticisms of formal education, especially here in the US, is that we are not preparing our students for the real world and the real world isn’t getting the candidates they need. There always seems to be a market disconnect between the skills desired and the skills available.
I believe this can be partly attributed to a lack of global skill and job definition standards as well as lack of portability of personal skill profiles and non-formal education credentials throughout a career. Skills have historically been defined and monitored at the company level and not shared due to competitive concerns.
Not at LinkedIn. They now have 45,000 unique skills identified for the world to use. They also have 3 million businesses that have pages and currently have the ability to post jobs and tools to find candidates. Now with Lynda.com, they have formal eLearning content to associate with the attainment of all those skills.
Based on the existing capabilities in many learning management systems (LMS), LinkedIn should be able to do the following now or in the near future:
- LinkedIn can look at any job position you have and the skills you had when you got the job and left the job and whether those skills come from endorsement or the successful consumption of learning and then map this skill data from job to job throughout your career.
- LinkedIn can compare this data with everyone that has your job regionally, globally, by industry, language or anything and determine standards on required skill sets, career trajectories for every profession that exists in the world.
- LinkedIn can then tie every single minute of their Lynda content to a deep and granular skill and competency model so that users can compare their current skills with any profession in the world and create personalized training paths to get there.
- Recruiters and companies can search for candidates based on unique and detailed skill requirements.
- LinkedIn can use all the data they collect about every user and create more and more targeted marketing campaigns to sell content, resources, certifications and skill acquisition based on market demand.
For the first time ever the world might have a global standard of skills defined, skills needed and skills available for any profession allowing for near real-time market supply and demand adjustments.
#3 –LinkedIn Validated MOOC and Low Cost Certificates
With the emergence of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) the debate has raged about the validity or importance of obtaining certificates of completion from non-accredited university classes. Is taking 128 credits of free or near free online college courses and passing the tests the same as paying Harvard $500,000 to take the same 128 credits? Most employers would say no, but it would be difficult to discount their value totally. The LinkedIn acquisition of Lynda.com will finally shatter that glass ceiling.
LinkedIn has already taken the first step by allowing users to document external certifications on their profile. For example, did you complete your Project Management Professional or CPR certification?
Now LinkedIn will be able to automatically update your profile with your Lynda.com course certification upon completion, post to your news feed, update your employer or potential hiring companies, allow you to offer discounts to your contact network and market additional content and services to you. Requesting and accepting this type of certification can’t help but become more mainstream and accepted with such a reputable content broker. Lynda.com is only the beginning and I predict many more strategic content acquisitions or partnerships.
#4 – LinkedIn Created the World’s Largest Holistic Learning Platform
As every learning specialist is taught and knows, most of learning is informal or social and not formal. You can learn sitting in a class no doubt, but you learn quicker, better and for longer when you practice skills, research, interact with others, ask questions, share, teach and so forth. In the learning industry, we’ve been great at formal learning but not so good at all the informal and social learning.
Using a new standard called xAPI and some fresh thinking, some learning management solutions like Tessello, DigitalIgnite, Expertus, eLogic Learning, RISC and Saba are pushing the cutting edge of integration of informal with formal learning in one platform but they don’t have a few hundred million captured users to work with.
Social media including LinkedIn has already conquered the challenge of informal learning. On all social media sites, users can post, review, share, rate, comment and like content. You can join topical or professional groups, search, ask questions and receive advice and resources and curate the best content you find.
With Lynda.com, LinkedIn now takes the first step into the much easier management of formal learning. There is really no technical nor business limit on how much formal content LinkedIn can integrate into their existing informal learning platform. For a learning provider, going informal to formal learning is the easiest thing in world when you have three hundred million members. Going formal to informal with 500, 5000 or 50,000 users is like climbing Mt. Everest.
In case you are wondering, I haven’t called Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and run the above thoughts by him. I could be way off base of course. All I know is that I have spent 20 years studying the learning management and social learning space and thinking about the business of training. I’ve written 50+ articles and hosted 20 webinars on the topic in the last year alone and…
I’m excited. Anybody that loves lifelong learning should be excited. Anybody that is interested in seeing LinkedIn outfox Facebook and Twitter should be excited. LinkedIn with their skills and immense user base is the only one who could pull off market disruption at this scale. I hope they do. The world will be a better, more educated place and how could that be anything but good?
Thanks for reading!
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