E-learning: LinkedIn buys lynda.com in biggest acquisition to date

LinkedIn's headquarters in California. SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

News that LinkedIn had bought e-learning provider lynda.com was received positively by industry watchers, but what will it mean for the site’s 347 million users? 

LinkedIn made its biggest acquisition to date last week, spending $1.5 billion on e-learning company lynda.com – a 20-year-old business that offers courses on everything from coding to business skills.

It is part of a strategy by the business networking site to increase visitors’ involvement and interaction while they are on the site – pushing them beyond accepting invitations and writing the odd recommendation to a much deeper experience.

According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, it is a match made in online heaven: “Both companies believe strongly that the growing skills gap is one of the biggest challenges to the future of the global economy.

Millions of professionals around the world are in a constant state of learning to achieve their professional goals every day.” – Ryan Roslansky, head of content, LinkedIn

“We also believe passionately that education without economic opportunity is not enough; neither is access to opportunity without the ability to acquire education and skills.

Boosting profiles

For LinkedIn’s 347 million users, the idea is that they will be able to add lynda.com course data to their profiles, and be able to assess the skills they need for certain roles, before enrolling for those courses to boost their recruitment chances.

Most of the courses are video (there are more than 3,000 online video tutorials), and existing users typically pay $375 per month.

Colin Lucas-Mudd, CEO of Scredible, which produces “personalised social training” tools, said the acquisition made sense.

“With this move LinkedIn can use its data and expert knowledge to effect real change in the continuing education of its professional base,” he said. “This makes sense in terms of income and the reduction of professional subscriber churn, and the combined products we can expect to see have the potential to deliver better qualified and prepared candidates, while reducing investment in wasted screening and interviews.”

But perhaps the biggest endorsement for the acquisition came from LinkedIn’s head of content, Ryan Roslansky.

He used lynda.com while he was at college when he started up a business and needed to create a website from scratch.

“The fact that I had to take a crash course to acquire a new professional skill is not unique to me – millions of professionals around the world are in a constant state of learning to achieve their professional goals every day,” he blogged at the time of the announcement.

It will also help skills experts connect with a wider audience, according to Weiner. “It’s not just about completing these courses and sharing that you have these skills. It’s also about the coursework itself,” he said.

“If you’re a domain expert and you have a Lynda video, what better way to represent your expertise than to show that Lynda video on your LinkedIn profile?”

Big data

But some questions remain around how the partnership will work in the long term for LinkedIn users. It is unclear how it will structure the pricing, for example, or how much will be available to non-premium members.

David Reilly, managing director of UK-based online course provider Let’s Learn Digital, believes the move will also help LinkedIn to increase the already massive amounts of data it collects on users.

He said: “The merger further strengthens LinkedIn’s data arsenal. Capturing user data has always been at the heart of LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality and is the key reason why it makes such a strong proposition for recruiters and potentially, now with Lynda’s data, bigger brands.”

Geographical expansion could be on the cards, too. Offering coursework through an easily accessible channel could offer greater opportunities for people in emerging economies to boost and market their skills, believes Weiner.

This aligns nicely with LinkedIn’s “Economic Graph” strategy, which aims to “map the global economy to connect talent with opportunity at massive scale”.

Whether it achieves this grand aim or not, the acquisition is certainly a major endorsement for online learning, and will situate LinkedIn alongside increasingly popular MOOCs (massively open online courses) in opening up skills improvement to a wider audience.

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