How LinkedIn’s Acquisition of Lynda.com Will Affect Training

The Lynda.com/LinkedIn deal represents the most promising step to date toward the goal of providing effective, relevant general professional skills training to mid-career professionals.

On April 9 2015, LinkedIn announced the acquisition of online learning leader Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. Many of us in the training community have been debating the ramifications of this purchase on our industry and profession. Here’s one point of view on the likely impacts on the skills market from what could be a seminal industry event.

What Does Lynda.com Allow LinkedIn to Do?

LinkedIn is already the marketplace for employers and hiring managers. A recent Jobvite survey stated that 94 percent of recruiters already are actively using LinkedIn to fill positions. In fact, they consider LinkedIn their main hub for job posting, communication, and candidate sourcing. But at 94 percent market penetration, LinkedIn is looking to new markets to continue its rapid growth. So, over the last two to three years, it has quietly expanded its strategy to deliver more valuable content and services to the job seeker.

Today, only 36 percent of job seekers say they use LinkedIn as their main tool to identify and research new opportunities. Why such a low percentage adoption—especially when compared to hiring managers? One key reason: LinkedIn historically has not offered content or services that give the job seeker regular, recurring reasons to visit. In the parlance of Silicon Valley, LinkedIn’s offer is not “sticky” to the job seeker. By offering Lynda.com courses from their site, LinkedIn will give job candidates a reason to return to the site regularly, increasing their data collection and advertising capacity on job candidates worldwide in the process. How? It might take a Lynda.com student 10 hours and 20 unique sessions to complete a Lynda.com course. That’s a lot of visits to LinkedIn.com and a staggering opportunity to serve advertising to learners.

But what are the potential benefits and challenges to our industry? I see three critical potential impacts:

1. An increase in the relevant skills and knowledge of new college graduates. If LinkedIn achieves its stated vision, college administrators, educators, and students will have access for the first time to accurate, searchable information on the job skills required in the cities, industries, and companies they are targeting as employers for graduates. I believe trainers nationwide will welcome LinkedIn’s help in narrowing the acknowledged skills gap between graduate skills and entry-level job requirements. But this is potentially the biggest stretch goal in LinkedIn’s ambitious plan. According to their own numbers, college students and recent college graduates represent only 10 percent of the professional network’s user base today: just 39 out of 364 million.

2. Creation of a viable platform for life-long-learning in our current workforce. Our profession long has advocated for the need for effective, continuing education. According to The Economics of Skills Obsolescence study by Andries De Grip and Jasper Van Loo, employee skills now are depreciating at three times the rate they were a decade ago due to technological advancements, lower graduation rates, and skills degradation. However, ongoing training isn’t happening in spite of these disturbing trends. In a recent survey conducted by my company about on-the-job training and retention, we found that more than 40 percent of workers surveyed did not obtain any skills training on the job over the last two years.

I believe the Lynda.com/LinkedIn deal represents the most promising step to date toward the goal of providing effective, relevant general professional skills training to mid-career professionals. How? By eventually offering personalized, qualified recommendations for courses based on the employees’ interests and experience to date AND their target industry’s/employer’s stated skills requirements. It’s that public marketplace, offering frictionless matching of buyer with seller, that’s been a critical missing link in the landscape of professional development.

LinkedIn has the opportunity to change that situation, and it can’t happen soon enough in my opinion, given the rapidly declining skills value mentioned above and the increasing average number of years in the workforce. In a world where more employees need more frequent skills training over more years, it’s time we had a recognized “academy” for ongoing professional education that has the respect and confidence of employees and employers alike. LinkedIn is putting in place the pieces to become that career university.

3. More opportunity for re-entry or re-training among the currently unemployed. Our industry has struggled long and hard with the fact that undergraduate and post-graduate credentials are still the only universally recognized and valued signals of intellectual and skills accomplishment. “Accreditation” in ongoing adult online education is still the Wild West, lacking standards and, often, credibility. How will LinkedIn tackle the issue of credibility in the marketplace, especially when its courses are being purchased and taken by individuals looking to update their skills or get effective retaining in order to return to the workforce?

Likely impacts on Corporate Trainers and Our Profession

While I’ve outlined some of the greatest potential benefits of the ultimate potential for LinkedIn’s strategy, they won’t be realized without change within the ranks of corporate HR, L&D, and Training departments. Key adaptations I believe we can already anticipate:

Closer partnerships and stronger accountability between industry and tertiary educators. While trainers have benefitted from third-party institutions working alongside corporate America, the potentially direct connection of employee/college/candidate data within LinkedIn will generate new demands on corporate trainers. Trainers will need to ensure that their organizations make public their information on the skills required for their jobs open to fresh graduates, and follow through to hire based on those stated skills. Further, they will need to work closely with the community colleges and universities they hire from to ensure these institutions are aware of and educating on these newly public skills statements. Trainers should be mining LinkedIn and hiring data to present feedback analyses to their local educators (and their own C-suite) on which courses and degrees are or are not meeting their expectations for new hires—on which courses and degrees provide the best foundation for employee success even after Year One with the company.

New demands for ongoing evaluation of relevant, external online course content. Today, recruiters and trainers have little to no insight into the actual content of a college graduate’s education beyond the course names on his or her transcript. Similarly, they know little about the actual knowledge and skills gained through current, third-party courses purchased and completed by employees seeking proactive professional education. In a future state, corporate trainers will have the opportunity and the responsibility to deeply vet the course curriculum and content hosted and boasted on LinkedIn as it will be 100 percent online.

Trainers will need to form and maintain teams of subject matter experts within their companies to review and vouch for course certificates that are truly relevant to their organization’s unique circumstances. A Lynda.com Introduction to Python course might meet the expectations of the engineering team at an energy company, but not at Google. A course on Strategic Leadership might be fine for a fast-food franchise, but not a contractor to military organizations. This will be a particular challenge for trainers looking to hire long-term unemployed workers who are signaling effective re-training by virtue of the course completion badge shown on their LinkedIn profile. Recruiters and their trainer partners will have to assure themselves that the Installation of Solar Panels course is as effective in preparing a new hire for an installer role whether he or she was formerly a Detroit auto worker or a middle manager.

Adapt to more rapidly growing demand for hybrid and online learning. If an increasing number of graduates, employees, and tenured professionals are turning to online courses recommended by and delivered on LinkedIn.com, it’s likely reasonable to expect that their expectations for internal, proprietary company training and education will move to the Internet, as well. I expect the scale of a potential LinkedIn University will drive improvements in the quality and accessibility of on-demand learning, and drive higher expectations for course engagement, online and mobile access, and social learning provided by employers themselves.

This should accelerate the adoption of LMSs certainly, as well as drive faster innovation in that industry. I’d also anticipate many companies will try to deploy a similar model to LinkedIn’s for their internal and proprietary training: more public transparency on skills and courses required for promotion and higher compensation, more social and mobile delivery, opportunities to comment on or review internal courses, and more trainee feedback via badges, which, in turn, will become “exportable” to LinkedIn.

What’s the Probability of Success?

With its Lynda.com acquisition, its outreach to colleges and universities, the addition of recent badging functionality, and an increasingly effective tagging and recommendation engine, LinkedIn is showing itself to be capable of assembling the key components required to execute on CEO Jeff Weiner’s stated “Economic Graph” strategy of which this Career University (my description, not his) is a critical part. The company’s investors perceive this strategy as one that will enable their next phase of rapid growth, expanding their market beyond 400 million hiring managers to serve the planet’s 3.3 billion workers. Even the U.S. government sees private-sector training initiatives as key in getting the 14 million chronically unemployed back into the workforce. I think they’ll pull it off, and I’m recommending that the training profession start preparing for that coming reality right now.

Donna Wells is the CEO of Mindflash.com, a leading online training platform. She was previously CMO of Mint.com, the online personal finance service, where she was responsible for driving the company’s growth to 2 million users from its launch in 2007 to its acquisition by Intuit in 2009 for $170 million. Wells also has led large marketing organizations for industry leaders including Intuit, Charles Schwab, and Expedia, where she was SVP of Marketing for the U.S. She started her career at American Express, where she launched the Gold Rewards and Platinum Corporate Card products for small businesses. Wells’ work has won multiple Webbys, an OMMA award, and has been cited in Newsweek, Brandweek, and Web Marketing for Dummies. She was named one of the Top 25 Women in Tech to Watch by Accenture in 2009. For more insight from Wells, the Mindflash team, and the online training community, read more at The Daily Mindflash blog. You can follow Wells on Twitter: @DonnaWells

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